An influential figure in British architecture has hit out at office-to-flat conversions – of which there have been thousands in Croydon – describing them as “ghastly little fuck-hutches”, and all thanks to policy which is being ruined by “political pygmies”.
Paul Finch, the editorial director of Architects’ Journal, was writing his regular column for the magazine, and responding to some suggestion from the Royal Institute of British Architects, or RIBA, that architects should refuse to take on work for developers who seek to turn old office buildings into “micro-flats”.
Such get-rich-very-quick developments were recently featured in the Financial Times, which explored Permitted Development Rights, the Conservative government policy which seeks to set-aside the kind of planning controls that had been developed over more than a century to try to ensure that homes were fit for habitation.
PDR, as it is known, has managed to strip local authorities of their planning powers, but left them to deal with the costs and consequences arising from such developments. The government is considering extending PDR, allowing shops to be converted into flats or for extensions to be built without requiring any planning permission.
In Croydon, where the local authority used legislation to block any further office-to-resi conversions in the town centre after 2014, senior councillor Sean Fitzsimons has called such flats, “the slums of the future”.
But that was not before planning permission had already been given for the lucrative conversion of offices to at least 2,700 flats in the borough, and where some of the “micro-flats” are being marketed to Chinese investors, with one-bed apartments fetching £280,000.
In his Architects Journal column yesterday, Finch wrote: “Office-to-resi conversion as of right is an excellent idea which, in the British way, is being ruined by political pygmies.”
Inside Croydon’s loyal reader won’t need reminding that one of the housing ministers who oversaw permitted development was none other than gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell.
Finch continues: “How can this government, which claims to believe that Scrutonesque ‘beauty’ is the answer to our housing and planning problems, allow the creation of a generation of ghastly little fuck-hutches (© Philip Larkin) via its permitted development policies?
“It is no bad idea to make it super-simple to change redundant offices to homes – at a time when some places have a glut of redundant offices and a dearth of new housing – the situation in Croydon until quite recently. All Whitehall needed to do was insert a simple clause in the legislation requiring minimum space standards (for example those introduced by Boris Johnson when London mayor) and conformity to latest building regulations.
“Its blind belief in the free market is producing rubbish – but not always. The RIBA should surely be campaigning for proper standards, not telling architects to abandon the market to the less scrupulous.”
That’s them told then.
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Although I agree that there should be minimum sizes for flats, which is covered by planning law, this law basically states what can be built where. Building Regulations are a different set of legislation, which covers how a building is constructed.- fire safety, insulation, drainage etc. All these new flats have to comply with Building Regulations. It is frightening that the editor of the Architect’s Journal does not know this.
You may find that legislation passed in 2015 enabled office blocks to convert to residential accommodation without planning permission (and hence not subject to building regulations). I would find it hard to believe that the Editor of the Architect’s own journal would not be talking from an informed position about “Permitted Development Rights”.
George, I am an architectural technologist specialising in building law, which is incredibly complicated. All but a few buildings (eg, garden sheds) must comply with Building Regulations, otherwise they could be built without toilets, fire escapes, insulation, ventilation etc. This applies whether or not they require planning permission. Paul Finch is a good journalist, but he is not an architect, and has made the common mistake of assuming permitted development rights exempt the building from Building Regulations as well as planning.
This point takes a view that building regs are being applied efficaciously. Developers know that this outsourced service is a light touch and enforcement is variable. Grenfell shows an outcome of such a system.
I have no access to the Architects Journal so am unable to challenge your assertion of a conflation occurring that no requirement to have planning approval has been made to mean building regulations are not required. This is not made in this Inside Croydon article. Pragmatically such conversions will rely to a certain extent on the standards enforced at the time of the construction of the original building and will be a compromise at the very least with current regulations. Light touch enforcement means a full rigorous inspection may never take place.
Fair enough, I bow to your expertise but I do see a fair amount of companies on the internet who offer help towards optimising PDR to utilise office space.
There is an adjective “Rachmanism” that applies here and it shows that the slum landlordism of the 1050’s has been revived, with the connivance of Croydon Council.
How can it be acceptable to place those in housing need into office space that is so over utilised and poorly partitioned that aspects like proper space, ventilation, safe insulation, lighting, heating and noise levels are simply not of the levels required for domestic dwellings? This runs alongside another Inside Croydon insight into the way this administration continues to drop many bricks with Brick by Brick’s failure to develop any actual housing of a proper standard for those who require it. We are not so much having the ‘Slums of the future’ as the ‘Slums of the present’ in the Borough. We need to get out and vote at every opportunity for politicians and party leaderships that have a real commitment to serving the housing needs of all and not just those of the wealthy.
Oops -1950’s not 1050’s, although probably the Vikings and Saxons made a better job of things than Croydon Council.
Permitted development rights have further compromised safety regulations and must provide questions about the safety efficacy of such developments. The example of the removal of the second flight of stairs in Green Dragon House to increase space for additional units demonstrate the permissive attitude to developers whose primary concern is with the bottom line of profit rather than safety standards. No doubt they will state they comply with the regulations, but in their case it will be the minimal compliance.
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