| LONDON, June 16
LONDON, June 16 The City of London said it was
concerned about government proposals to relax planning rules
that restrict shops and offices being converted into residential
developments, in a bid to ease Britain's housing shortage.
"If implemented, the impact on the City of London will be
disastrous," said Peter Wynne Rees, a planning officer at the
Corporation of London, which runs the City of London district of
the capital, an area with few residential properties.
"The City would no longer be a commercial district and
London would loose its role as a world financial centre."
The government plans involve freeing up more land and
buildings for residential development and conversion.
Finance minister George Osborne said in his budget in March
he wanted to cut much of the red tape that prohibits converting
commercial property into homes, with the government proposing
that if all long-term unoccupied office space was converted,
250,000 homes could be delivered.
"Our hope might be that this would encourage more change of
use from commercial to residential. If you look at the amount of
land that is around, there appears to be a high potential,"
said a senior official at the Department of Communities and
Local Government (DCLG).
This came hot on the heels of government plans to sell
public land worth an estimated 10 billion pounds, after housing
starts have fallen to record lows.
The Home Builders Federation estimates a shortage
approaching 1 million homes in England, and forecasts 232,000
homes need to be built annually to close the gap, with just
100,000 homes built at present.
Developers widely welcome the move to ease planning
regulation, with London's residential property values expected
to undergo a sustained rise according to the head of property
investor Quintain Estates and Development's .
A spokesman at residential landlord Grainger said:
"It makes sense to be more flexible and try to release unused
vacant stuff that has just been sitting there for decades
potentially and turn it into housing that we need.
He noted office space purchased in London's trendy
Shoreditch area in 2005 is finally being converted into flats,
after lying empty for over a decade.
"If you look at high streets that have vacant office space
about retail space, those could become good flats," he said.
Industry participants are mindful of potential dangers, such
as the mushrooming of residential developments destablising
prices and current projects in the pipeline.
Other issues raised include the desirability of housing
estates in the middle of industrial estates, related
infrastructure around the conversion of heavy industry buildings
as well as noise and traffic problems.
"The crucial thing is, is it going to be possible to put
safeguards in place in a way that will be clear and can be
applied nationally ... so there is no ambiguity," said the
senior official at the DCLG.
The government will reach the end of its consultation period
at the end of June with an announcement from ministers possible
as early as autumn.