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News - 25 February 2013

Brighton applies for exemption from offices to flats rules

The City Council has applied to exempt the city centre, London Road and New England Quarter from the new rules allowing commercial property owners to convert their offices to residential use without the need for planning consent.

Together with dozens of other local authorities, Brighton & Hove fears that a free-for-all without planning constraints could ruin the delicate balance between providing homes and employment space, neither of which can be supplied in sufficient numbers to meet projected demand.

The city will need somewhere between 16,000 and 19,000 homes over the next 20 years but only has identified space for 11,300. This might increase if identified site like Toads Hole Valley can accommodate more than the 700 homes proposed or if windfall sites like the Greyhound Stadium come onto the market [see earlier story] in the future.

Just as homes are in short supply, the city is projected to need an additional 112,000 sqm of employment space if it is to cater for growth in our indigenous industries and avoid becoming a dormitory town for London commuters.

The government believes that, with vacancy rates in the office sector running as high as 21% in some areas, there is a case for changing empty office buildings into flats. But in Brighton & Hove the vacancy rate is just 8% and an amount of that is ageing stock for which there is little demand.

The city can only provide 85% of the required new employment space and conversion of office stock to flats would exacerbate this problem. The loss of just 10% of our office stock would displace 700 jobs and reduce the value of the economy by over £25m per annum.

The deadline for exemption applications is today and councils were only given three weeks to assemble their evidence to support their applications. Secretary of State Eric Pickles has said that the bar for exemptions will be set “very high” but Planning Minister Nick Boles has indicated that the government would be “open to good arguments" [see earlier story].

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