Harrow Road shops
Harrow Road shops

Westminster Labour today draws attention to the threat to our local high streets from Government decisions to allow landlords to convert shops, cafes, restaurants and offices into flats without planning permission. This deregulation of “permitted development rights” for Class E premises threatens all shopping parades outside conservation areas.

The government has decreed that all shops, services and office premises are now the same for town planning purposes and now intends to permit any such building to be converted to homes without planning permission. Councils only have powers to stop this within conservation areas. Westminster has also asked that the West End be excluded under what is called an Article 4 direction. The new rules would not apply to pubs, music venues and theatres.

The shopping parades most at risk are:

  • Edgware Road
  • Harrow Road
  • Kilburn Lane
  • Lower Kilburn High Road & Maida Vale
  • Fernhead Road
  • Shirland Road
  • Chippenham Road
  • Marylands Road
  • Great Western Road
  • Bell Street

These are all streets with (often thriving) commercial use at street level but situated outside a conservation area. All are now fair game for landlords to make a quick profit by converting their commercial units into flats. Once a few premises in a shopping street become flats, the area quickly loses footfall making it harder for the remaining traders to make a living. This soon leads to a downward spiral of falling rents and more incentive to create flats where the commercial premises used to be.

Retail units were not designed to be lived in and conversions are often low quality with little natural light or outside space. Worryingly, there is also no obligation on landlords using these new permitted development rights to provide any affordable housing.

Councillor Geoff Barraclough, shadow cabinet member for planning said

“The Conservative Government’s nationally imposed planning policies risk ripping the heart out of the much-loved local streets of Westminster. We know that shopping parades need to move with the times but this should involve adapting commercial property for new uses such fitness studios, restaurants, home-working hubs and craft workshops rather than letting landlords profit from low quality residential conversions.” 

Councillor Tim Roca, Harrow Road Ward councillor said:

“Harrow Road’s shops are the life blood of our many local communities providing jobs as well as good and services. And have been thriving during the pandemic. We welcome new uses for redundant retail premises but once lost to residential, they will never return. Westminster needs to use all its powers, including designating new conservation areas, to preserve an active street frontage along Harrow Road.”

Councillor Matt Noble, Church Street Ward councillor said:

“Edgware Road is one of London’s most dynamic streets and it caters for communities not well served elsewhere. Property prices in the surrounding streets are very high and landlords will be tempted to convert retail and restaurant units into low quality flats with little natural light. Westminster Council needs to take this threat seriously and produce a plan to save Edgware Road.”

Westminster Council briefing paper on proposed Class E permitted development rights

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