13 June 2014

New planning regulation will help create jobs and low cost homes

From next month Brighton & Hove City Council introduces measures to protect office space in central Brighton and at other key employment sites.

Councillors at the Policy & Resources Committee yesterday (12 June) confirmed an article 4 direction which will mean that developers must obtain planning permission to change the use of their offices to residential space in central Brighton, New England Quarter and London Road, as well as the Edward Street Quarter and City Park office sites.

The council made the decision following a temporary change in planning law introduced by the government in May 2013 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 one of the first in the country to implement an article 4 direction in certain areas of the city to ensure that owners of office buildings still need planning permission. It will also enable the council to negotiate community benefits and affordable housing if change of use is recommended. As with all planning applications, each will be considered on its own merits.

Councillor Jason Kitcat, chair of the Policy & Resources Committee, said: “We recognise the need for new homes in the city, but converting offices into housing in key employment areas means the space is no longer there to create the employment opportunities the city will need over the next 20 years.

“The city centre, New England Quarter and London Road area 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.

“Allowing conversions to go through without planning permission also removes the right of local people to have a say on proposals. Some applications may well be suitable for conversion to some housing so it is important that we have the opportunity to negotiate a percentage of affordable homes to help people for whom buying or renting a home in the city is out of reach.”

The article 4 direction has been subject to public consultation and the council has taken the responses into account in its decision to confirm the direction. The new local regulation will come into force on 25 July 2014.

Requiring planning permission in the selected areas will not mean that office space can never be converted to homes. 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.

Councillor Kitcat added: “Having limited space means that we need to provide a balance so that growing businesses have affordable premises where they can develop and provide future employment.

“This new regulation will 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.”

Background 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 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.

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.

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.

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

Between 1 June 2013 and 31 March 2014 there were 61 prior approval applications to turn offices into homes in the city and 35 have been approved. If all were implemented it would lead to a loss of nearly 14,600 square metres of office space, which is four times the annual average rate of office losses in recent times. Through the government’s permitted development right changes, the council does have some say in whether these are approved, but can only decline them on grounds of lack of transport links, contamination or flooding.

Following the consultation on the article 4 direction, the council amended the article 4 area to remove most of Western Road and the Brighton Centre and area to the west. The council listened to businesses and recognised that Western Road is less commercially attractive for office use and that Brighton Centre and the area to the west are not office areas.