Moves to save precious office space from conversion into residential accommodation across parts of the City of Bath are being considered in a bid to stop local jobs being lost and to attract high-value employment to the area.
The city centre, which is the key office location in Bath and North East Somerset, is losing office space over to residential use, due to national planning policy.
Currently planning permission is not needed to convert office space, built before 2013, into residential accommodation unless planning authorities seek what is known as an Article 4 Direction under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.
So far more than 13,500m2 of office accommodation has been lost in the city and this reduction in office accommodation is having an impact on the local economy and the potential for future growth in high-value industries to the city.
More than half the buildings subject to a change of use were part or fully occupied which meant businesses having to relocate, downsize or even cease trading resulting in a loss of jobs in the area, reduced income from business rates and less available office space to attract new businesses to the city.
A report by Bath and North East Somerset Council is recommending, to the leader of the council, Councillor Tim Warren, that the council starts proceedings to allow it to withdraw permitted development rights for change of use from office to residential use, in certain parts of the city.
Councillor Tim Warren, said: “The council has a range of objectives including meeting housing needs, increasing employment and protecting the environment. Promoting a strong economy and growth is a key component of our Corporate Strategy and our ambitions are set out in the authority’s Economic Strategy and Planning Policies. I will be considering this proposal with that in mind”.
He added: “A record number of new homes were built in Bath and North East Somerset in the past two years. We are also working hard to ensure that sufficient land is made available to meet our housing needs, with nearly 57% of the homes completed in 2016/17 built on previously developed land and we are making good progress in the delivery of new affordable homes, however under the current permitted development rules with a change of office to residential we cannot place a requirement for any of it to be affordable housing.”
The report says since 2013 when the Government introduced permitted development rights the council has had 43 applications, in relation to 28 separate properties, in the Bath Central Area, seeking to change from office to housing accommodation, ranging from modest schemes to convert offices into single residential units to big schemes affecting large areas of office space.
The report says the council’s Economic Strategy wants to create a diverse economy and increasing the availability of modern office and unit space in Bath would promote a higher value-added economy where local companies could stay in the area and grow, as well as attract new business to the city.
If approved the Article 4 Direction will be subject to a 12 month notice period including the opportunity for public consultation.
In addition to addressing office accommodation almost 1,000 new affordable homes are anticipated to become available by 2020 on around 40 housing developments if the current rate of delivery of new homes continues as predicted. Affordable homes are currently being delivered on 12 developments across the district and are being delivered as a range of both rented and low cost home ownership and will be made available through the Council’s Homesearch register.