Offices turned into hundreds of new flats in St Albans

Ziggurat House, Grosvenor Road

Ziggurat House, Grosvenor Road - Credit: Archant

Close to 500 new apartments are either in the pipeline or have been created in offices across the district following changes to planning laws, statistics show.

In response to a query from the Herts Advertiser, St Albans district council has released figures pinpointing where permitted development rights, which allow offices to be turned into houses without planning permission, have been applied.

This temporary rule was introduced by the Government in May 2013.

But it has not been welcomed by all in St Albans because it has resulted in a severe reduction in office space.

A breakdown of the council’s figures show that of the 489 office-to-residential conversions, 10 were for apartments in London Colney, 56 in Harpenden, 13 in Bricket Wood and over 400 in St Albans itself.

The bulk of new apartments, 194, are mooted for iconic ground-to-roof glazed Ziggurat House in Grosvenor Road, St Albans.

But there are also 24 flats with prior approval in Keystone Building, London Road, and 18 at Hertfordshire House, Civic Close, near to the rear the Alban Arena, across the road from the Bricket Road car park.

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The latter has caused consternation as in 2012 the council publicised hopes of revitalising the civic centre area – located in the heart of the city – from an unattractive and poorly functioning sector into a vibrant new quarter.

Hertfordshire House lies within the St Albans conservation area, and is a five-storey office block which has been vacant since March 2007.

Back in 2010, the council refused permission for 47 residential units, a hotel and car parking at the site.

Executive leader of the council Cllr Julian Daly said that in 2012 the council sought control over possible conversions by asking the Government for permission to exclude chunks of the city centre from such development but the request was refused.

However, the council has a housing target to meet, to the tune of a proposed 436 new homes a year and this is helping it to do so.

Cllr Daly said: “Four hundred homes is around a year’s worth of housing supply.”

The council’s spatial planning manager Chris Briggs said that while the council had not become complacent about such brownfield development, the reality was that “people need homes”.

However the pressure is on developers who have recently gained prior approval to now build the apartments as the conversions need to be completed by May 2016 under the temporary rule.

Mr Briggs added: “That is unless the Government makes it permanent legislation - but we haven’t heard anything definite as yet.”