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The deputy leader of Westminster Council has voiced his concerns over the number of office-to-residential conversions taking place in the borough. Robert Davis, in a recent speech, emphasised that losing valuable office space in favour of residential developments and conversion will change the face of the area for ever, interfering with the fine balance of business, residential and cultural uses that has become established over hundreds of years.
Cllr Davis stated that 1.8 million square feet of space has been lost in just four years. The loss of space will also be contributing to the lack of supply in the face of increased demand, leading to the higher rents we see today, both in Westminster, but also in other areas of London where the ripple effect of a squeezed supply has taken hold.
The loss of space equates, according to the councillor, to 11,000 jobs, which may have been relocated out of the borough or disappeared entirely.
The Financial Times reported, towards the end of last year, that 5% of offices have been converted into homes, partly as a result of the relaxation of planning laws. The change in planning regulation aimed to see empty buildings, previously used as non-residential space, to be turned into dwellings without the usual planning restrictions. The effect, however, has been that well-established businesses suddenly see the building they lease reclaimed for residential conversion – which is in many cases more financially rewarding for the owners than office use.
Cllr Davis wants to prevent Central London becoming simply a residential area, which is not what visitors expect from the capital. Arguments have been made that the government ought to consider releasing some of its own brownfield sites for development. Savills reported last year that the government in fact owns enough such land to facilitate 100,000 homes.
The council is now looking into ways to stem the flow of residential conversions in its borough.
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