Amidst waning demand for office space and an ever-increasing need for more new homes, a plethora of commercial buildings are being reassigned for residential use. However, as a High Court case showed, planners are on the alert to ensure that conversion works are carried out to a satisfactory standard.
The case concerned an office block on an industrial estate that had been partially demolished and extended to provide 109 flats. Although the local planning authority (LPA) had previously granted prior approval for the building’s change of use, it took the view that the works carried out involved a breach of planning control.
A planning officer’s report advised that the presence of residential flats in an area designated for employment uses compromised the operation of some businesses on the estate. It went on to express the view that some of the flats were highly deficient in amenities, standards and quality, offering very poor and substandard living accommodation to current and future occupiers.
The report acknowledged that residents of the flats – who numbered about 200 – would suffer disruption, and possibly distress, if required to vacate their homes. However, in recommending that enforcement action be taken, it emphasised the public interest in ensuring appropriate land use and upholding the integrity of the planning system. It was in residents’ interests to ensure that they did not continue to occupy substandard accommodation.
The LPA’s response to the report was to serve a planning enforcement notice on the site’s owner, requiring, amongst other things, cessation of residential use of the land and demolition of three two-storey structures used as residential accommodation.
Dismissing the owner’s judicial review challenge to the notice, the Court rejected arguments that the LPA failed to have proper regard to the needs of vulnerable people and children living in the flats. It had manifestly not been established on the evidence that the notice violated residents’ human right to respect for their homes and family lives. Overall, the notice was both necessary and proportionate.
The Court noted that the obligation to comply with the remedial steps required by the notice remained suspended pending the outcome of the owner’s statutory appeal against it to a planning inspector under Section 174 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.