8 July 2013

Council moves to protect office space

Councillors are to consider re-introducing measures to protect office space in central Brighton and at other key employment sites.

It follows from a temporary change in planning law introduced by the government in May that has removed the need to obtain planning permission for change of use from office space to residential. The council and their leading partners in economic development of the city fear that this could affect the city’s business growth.

Brighton & Hove City Council is the first in the country to bring forward a proposal for an article 4 direction in some areas of the city to ensure that owners of office buildings would still need planning permission to change their office building to residential use.  

Brighton & Hove was one of around 160 councils to apply to the government for an exemption to the policy as a practical way of protecting businesses and jobs in the city but only 17 local authorities were successful. A number of other unsuccessful councils are also looking at the possibility of introducing an article 4 direction but Brighton & Hove is the first to actively consider it.

The Economic Partnership, Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership and Wired Sussex all supported the council’s application for an exemption.

If agreed, the article 4 direction would apply to central Brighton, New England Quarter and London Road Area and two office sites at the Edward Street Quarter and City Park in Hove. The direction, which would remove the temporary permitted development rights, would come into force after 12 months to allow for extensive consultation.

Council leader Jason Kitcat said: “Central Brighton accounts for 32% of the city’s stock of office space and the economic cost of losing even 10% of it could be equal to a loss or displacement of up to 700 office-based jobs, with an impact of £25.6 million Gross Value Added (GVA) a year.

“The city centre, New England Quarter and London Road are very well located for business as they offer affordable workspace for new companies. Many creative, digital and information technology businesses are in these areas and the sector is growing at twice the national average. The government recognised this with a £5 million award to provide ultrafast broadband services to serve central Brighton.”

The government’s ‘permitted development’ rights introduced in May apply to all buildings in/ last in use as (B1 a) offices. The government’s new rules apply until 2016 when they will be reviewed.

There is no control over whether the units will provide a contribution to affordable housing but developers have to seek prior approval from the council in relation to transport and highways, contamination and flooding. Since May, five prior approval applications have been submitted to the planning authority in Brighton & Hove.

The independent Employment Land Study which looked at employment space in the city revealed a shortage of available office space in the central Brighton area and that need is reflected in the City Plan. This cannot be achieved through new development alone, but also requires renewal and upgrading of existing office space.

A shortage of good quality office space has also led to rents increasing and becoming uncompetitive for many of the city’s small and growing businesses.

Councillor Kitcat added: “We have limited space, so need to provide a balance so that growing businesses have affordable premises where they can develop and provide future employment, and avoid the danger of Brighton & Hove becoming a dormitory town.

“This proposal is designed to give the council control through the planning process to help protect existing office supply that is of the greatest importance to the city’s economy.”

Introducing the need for planning permission in the selected areas would not mean that office space could never be converted to residential. Annual average losses of 3,000 square metres of office space to other uses shows that the council considers change of use applications on merit against local planning policies.


Additional information

Brighton and Hove is one of the fastest growing economies in the south east. Over the past 15 years job growth has exceeded the regional and national average. The Centre for Cities recently identified it as having the second highest per capita stock of business outside London and a 5.3% growth in private sector jobs, the fourth highest in the country.

Forecasts show that the city has the potential to generate 20,000 jobs over the next two decades, of which about 7,900 (40%), will require office premises.

In January, the government announced that new rules would be introduced in the spring to remove the need for planning permission when changing use from office space (B1a) to residential space (C3) for a period of at least three years.

In February the council applied for an exemption to the new rules for central Brighton office space and 15 other employment sites in the city.

The Policy & Resources Committee is open to the public and will be held on Thursday, 11 July, at Hove Town Hall, from 2pm. The Article 4 Direction report is Agenda item no. 19