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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