By Kaye Wiggins
Lambeth council is taking the government to court over a plan to let offices in Brixton and Streatham town centres be converted into flats without planning permission.
The council claims the policy could harm trade, damage local high streets and lead to job losses and lost business rates.
However, the government believes it will bring underused buildings back into use and create much-needed new homes.
Lambeth has launched a judicial review, meaning the courts will have to assess the government’s decision-making process when it determined which areas of the country should be exempt from the new rules.
Lambeth applied for exemptions for several areas, including Brixton town centre, Streatham town centre and a number of industrial estates. However, only an exemption around Waterloo and Vauxhall was granted.
Councillor Pete Robbins, Lambeth’s cabinet member for housing and regeneration, said the government’s decision-making process lacked transparency.
“Based on the information provided, it is impossible to understand how the government could have exempted residential areas in places such as Kensington and Chelsea, while ignoring the value to our local economy of Brixton and Streatham,” he said.
“Landlords in Brixton and Streatham have been handed a free reign to turn offices into flats – it’s simply unacceptable,” he said.
“The new regulations could harm trade in these key areas and raise the prospect of job losses, lost business rates and reduced funding for infrastructure.”
Islington council has also launched a legal challenge against the same policy.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “The department introduced the office to residential change of use policy in order to bring underused offices back into effective use and provide new homes, and we will vigorously defend any legal challenge to the policy.”
The plan to let offices be converted into homes is a national policy, and more details are on the DCLG website.
The opposition Liberal Democrat councillor Jeremy Clyne told the Blog that the council’s move seemed “hypocritical”.
“It’s a bit rich coming from this council which has waved through developments involving loss of commercial sites to residential and which itself is developing a plan to sell off its own properties in Brixton town centre for conversion into flats,” he said.