Change of use from commercial to residential – the latest position in Kensington and Chelsea

Since 2013, Kensington and Chelsea Council has used a Borough-wide Article 4 Direction in order to disapply the national Permitted Development right allowing change of use of buildings and floorspace from office to residential. These ‘Directions’ are usually applied to named streets in a Conservation Area to remove Permitted Development right to e.g. install front rooflights or vary roofscapes and frontages.

The Council obtained agreement from Government on the Borough-wide application of this Direction, by arguing that the differential between office and residential values is so great in this part of London that the loss of office space would have a substantial and damaging impact on the local economy.

An extension of time for this ‘Borough-wide exemption’ from national PD rights was accepted by the then Ministry for Housing and Local Government in 2019.

In July 2021 the Council introduced a further ‘non-immediate’ Direction with similar aims. This was due to be confirmed this summer, and applied to proposed change for use from the new E1 use class to residential. The E1 class includes most commercial uses (shops, businesses, warehouses, restaurants, cafes) as well as ‘offices’.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Government has been keen to make the planning system more flexible in terms of change of use. Future demand for conventional office space in London seems likely to fall as ‘hybrid’ working becomes the norm for many businesses and organisations. Traditional department stores are having to think about alternative uses for their floorspace.

In February, the Minister of State for Housing Stuart Andrew wrote to six inner London Boroughs along with Kensington and Chelsea, asking them to revisit their proposals for Article 4 Directions. His letter said that these councils have failed to take a sufficiently targeted approach to their assessment of the impacts of the permitted development right in each location.

His letter continues ‘Additional evidence is requested to demonstrate that you have considered the applicalion of Article 4 Direction to indlvldual streets or smaller areas wilhin the Central Activities Zone, and taking consideration of the safeguards that apply to the new commercaal to residential permitted development right to ensure that the Article 4 Direcilon is proposed only where it would have wholly unacceplable adverse impacts and applles to the smallest geographic area possible.

Where you :a re also proposing an Artide A Direction an areas oucside of lhe Central Activities Zone. the same policy applies and therefore you are also requested lo provide additionaI evidence for each of these areas lo demonstrate why lhe application of Article 4 Directions are necessary or cannot be reduced to apply to a smaIler geographic area’.

So the Council is having to come up with a revised set of smaller areas, and better evidenced justification for the use of an Article 4 Direction.

The StQW Neighbourhood Forum has consistently opposed restrictive policies on use of buildings and floorspace in Latimer Road. Many of the office buildings have remained under-occupied with some vacant floorspace since the days when we were preparing the neighbourhood plan back in 2014/5. At the examination of the Draft plan in 2015, the independent examiner accepted our evidence for more ‘mixed use’ in the street. This introduced a new policy allowing for housing use at Units 1-14 provided the existing employment floorpspace is retained.

We also asked the Council in 2017 and again in 2021 to leave out Latimer Road from the area to be covered by an Article 4 Direction.

We have made the same request again, now that the Council is redrawing its map of areas to be covered by a Direction. It is not yet clear whether a revised Direction will apply only to the main business areas and ‘town centres’ (e.g. Kensington High Street, Notting Hill Gate, Sloane Street) or whether the Government will accept wider areas. It is clear that a ‘Borough-wide’ Direction is not acceptable to Government.

We are hoping that this time round the Council will accept that the best future for Latimer Road lies in mixed use, combining housing alongside a range of employment activity and ensuring that buildings remain in use rather than lying part empty.

A copy of our letter to the Council is below: