Claims St Albans is suffering from shortfall of new office space

Ziggurat House

Ziggurat House - Credit: Archant

The Government’s “big wheeze” to fast-track conversion of offices to flats has come under fire with a local watchdog group warning St Albans will turn into a dormitory city.

St Albans Civic Society has recently objected to a scheme to convert modern offices at Grosvenor Road, “at a time when the economy is recovering and expanding and no new-build offices are in the pipeline”.

In June last year, a change to planning rules meant that such conversions were hastened by the granting of permitted development rights, without the need to obtain permission from the district council.

Michael Fookes, a committee member of the society, said the viability of city centre shops, pubs and eateries was being adversely affected by the loss of large amounts of office space as a result.

He explained: “Local shops and services derive a significant amount of trade from office businesses and their staff, particularly at lunchtime and in the early evening.”

Michael said the scale of the impact of the government’s “big wheeze” to fast-track such schemes with its rule changes was “now dawning”.

The government had estimated just 140 such prior approval notifications would be received each year for the whole country, but more than 2,250 applications were received in just the first six months.

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Michael said while St Albans was not quite in that league, “the fear is that so far we have seen just the tip of the iceberg”.

The society has objected to several proposals for converting offices to flats, including a recently lodged prior approval application to turn the west wing of Ziggurat House in Grosvenor Road into 29 one and two-bedroom apartments.

In its objection, the society warned that the cumulative effect would be to “seriously deplete the city’s stock of employment space.

“This will only lead to an increase in out-commuting and a reduction in in-commuting to the detriment of the local economy.”

The society wants the council to urgently adopt a policy introducing a direction to remove such permitted development rights in specific areas.

Michael explained: “Objecting to these prior approval applications is seemingly futile in view of planning authorities having had their development control power nullified.

“Once sliced up into long leasehold flats, this change will never be reversed.”