Jeez. Talk about closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Labour is a bit late to the party with its pledge to end office-to-resi permitted development, isn’t it?

Liz Hamson Leader

As we reported last month (01.03.19), people have been cooling on PDR for yonks, blaming a range of factors including: the poor-quality accommodation that often results; the loss of office space; and the impact on the housing market of a sudden flood of new accommodation of this sort.

Plus, there’s the small matter of there not being an awful lot of office space left to convert. Why else would 15 of the 17 councils that decided to exempt themselves from PDR opt to extend that exemption when the current exemption period ends on 31 May?

Yet this week, shadow housing secretary John Healey wades into the debate to loudly decry the Conservative government that introduced PDR in 2013 for creating “a get-out clause for developers to dodge affordable homes requirements and build slum housing” and to slam the housing created under PDR as “rabbit-hutch flats”.

I’m with Carl Dyer, head of planning at Irwin Mitchell, on this one. He dismisses Labour’s pledge as naked “political posturing”. Why is Labour making the point now?

Given that people are not using PDR as they once did because they can’t, you have to question if there is a need to ban it. While in some cases, things may have gone too far and people are right to question the quality of some of what has been produced, it has also done a lot of good. For one, it has right-sized a lot of regional office markets, redeploying obsolete, secondary and tertiary stock. More importantly, it has fast-tracked the delivery of thousands of much-needed homes up and down the country.

PDR will run its natural course without the need for political intervention. Now if there was more of a concerted push to convert retail to residential, it might be a different story. PDR could still have legs. But it is a far more complex play than office to resi.

Retail properties are not necessarily the right shape or size or in the right location to redevelop as residential schemes. It certainly wouldn’t help much on Oxford Street, which is rapidly losing its allure as one of the UK’s premier shopping destinations.

Once dominated by the crème de la crème of the UK and global retail scene, the street is now awash with tacky souvenir shops. They are prepared to pay the high rents. Others aren’t or can’t. What a contrast to neighbouring Regent Street, which thanks in no small part to being owned by a single entity – The Crown Estate in joint venture with Norges Bank – has gone from strength to strength in the past few years.

Oxford Street could be in real danger of losing its crown to The Crown Estate if it’s not careful.