St Albans business premises to be saved from housing conversion under council plans

St Albans city centre - one of the areas which would come under the article 4 powers

St Albans city centre - one of the areas which would come under the article 4 powers - Credit: Archant

Business premises vital to the district’s economy could be saved from conversion into housing under new council plans.

The district council is consulting on new Article 4 powers which would allow it to refuse permission to transform business buildings into housing.

Companies based in St Albans have previously warned about being squeezed out of the city by the loss of office space.

The chairman of OPAL, based in Grosvenor Square, told the council last October: “The reduction in office space in St Albans as buildings are re-zoned has put significant pressure on commercial rents.

“The economic benefit of local people working in good local jobs will be lost as St Albans becomes a dormitory town of London.”

Several bodies, including St Albans Civic Society, have pushed the council to apply for powers to slow the loss of business properties.

Society chairman Tim Boatswain said: “We drew the council’s attention to the Article 4 powers after seeing them used in Watford.

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“It presented an opportunity for St Albans to consider powers to preserve the high street.”

Cllr Alec Campbell, portfolio holder for planning said: “We know that the reduction in office space is making it harder for businesses to stay, start up or relocate here.

“It is hindering the city’s development as a centre for professional services companies.”

Cllr Campbell said: “The Article 4 directions will support businesses, allowing them to thrive and survive, and help the local economy which provides so much for our city.”

The council is targeting nine areas to be protected, including the city centre, safeguarding areas like Porters Wood, Brick Knoll Park, Alban Park, the City Station area and North Orbital Trading Estate.

The news has been welcomed by St Albans Chamber of Commerce, which helped draw up the scheme.

President David Clarke said: “We strongly support the council’s attempts to protect office and business space in key areas of the city.

“Businesses are the bedrock of our local economy, providing jobs, wages and training opportunities.”

The consultation will run from Wednesday, March 22 for eight weeks.

If the scheme is approved, it cannot come into force until this time next year and can also be cancelled at any time by central government.

Email if you wish to make a representation during the consultation.