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Office to Flat Conversions Challenged

Monday, 30 September 2013

Developers in the capital should take heed of Lambeth Council’s challenge to the permitted development rights introduced in the Spring of 2013. A successful challenge may entice other councils to follow suit.

On 19 August 2013, Lambeth Council filed a judicial review application against the government’s decision not to exempt certain areas in Lambeth from the development right to convert offices into flats without planning permission.

Before this, on 30 May, the government granted 17 exemptions from the right to convert without planning permission (165 Councils applied to opt-out), but apart from some areas in Waterloo and Vauxhall, Lambeth Council was unsuccessful in its petition to opt-out for its 31 areas.

Why Has Lambeth Launched its Challenge?

The decision to launch judicial review application comes after the government’s statement that it will not exempt such areas as Brixton and Streatham town centres from the development rights.

Lambeth Council pointed out that the government did grant exemption to such areas as the Central Activities Zone and the Isle of Dogs. It stated that it did not see how it was possible to grant exemption to such areas as Kensington and Chelsea, but fail to grant similar exemption to Brixton and Streatham areas, which depend heavily on local economy for their stability and growth.

What Would a Successful Challenge Mean for Developers?

If the application by Lambeth Council is successful it could potentially mean that developers will miss out on the chance to renovate and convert buildings into flats in such areas as Brixton and Streatham.

The government’s position is that such office-to-flat conversion is much desired in the designated areas because the need for living space is ever growing. The government also stated that it desired to regulate housing prices in these areas.

What are the Consequences of Conversion?

The government points out that its conversion policy is directed to tackling underused offices in the area and making good use of the available space. However, some property businesses, together with Lambeth Council, point out that the offices-to-flats conversion move could harm trade in the key Lambeth areas, leading to problems as a rise in unemployment and reduced funding for infrastructure.

The Lambeth area of London is known for its diversity and a great number of independent shops. It is clear that if the legal challenge is unsuccessful, many independent businesses could potentially come under a threat of closure. Moreover, Lambeth Council is convinced that if the legal challenge is unsuccessful and the development is to go ahead, it would provide neither quality nor affordability with regards to housing in the area. It also points out that it is unclear how lucrative housing developments can be the answer to the effective regulation of housing prices in the area.


If the legal application by Lambeth Council is successful, it is likely that the government will continue spending money on its decision-making process. The government has stated repeatedly that it would fight fiercely any legal battle. It would likely reach the same conclusion that development in the key industrial areas of Lambeth is needed but developers should remain cautious in the meantime. For more information contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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