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Boris Johnson says he’ll tear up planning rules to allow more office to home conversions

Boris Johnson says he’ll tear up planning regulations in a bid to help Britain build its way out of the coronavirus crisis.

The Prime Minister will change the rules to allow commercial properties including office blocks to be converted into flats more easily.

But the move follows “horror stories” about tiny, cramped homes being created through office conversions – some less than 14 square metres.

Last year homelessness charity Shelter highlighted a property in Balham, South London – where a developer submitted an application to turn a two storey building into 26 ‘flats’.

Some of the homes shared an industrial skylight – but had no windows looking outwards.

Another building in Ilford was converted into 60 flats – with 42 of them described as “double studios” – but started at under 15 square metres.

And a converted block in Harlow was described as a “human warehouse” in a BBC report last year.

Changes to planning laws gave developers the power to turn offices into residential premises without seeking permission from local planning officers.

Unless there are demonstrable concerns about issues such as flooding or contamination, local councils have no power to stop them.

But the PM wants to make it even easier promising to “scythe through red tape and get things done.”

He added: “Time is money – and the newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and and the prosperity of our country.”

In his speech, Mr Johnson announced more buildings will be allowed to be converted into residential properties without applying for planning permission.

Builders will no longer be required to seek permission to demolish and rebuild vacant buildings, as long as they are rebuilt as homes.

And property owners will be able to ‘fast track’ approval to build upwards, above their properties – subject to “neighbour consultation.”

Number 10 say the new rules are planned to be in place by September, and will require a change in the law.

Lib Dem leadership candidate Layla Moran said: “The Tories are creating the homes but driving out employment, which is perverse, and it just means you are getting terribly unbalanced development, yet again.”

Here’s what else he promised in his speech


He pledged £5bn on capital investment projects, supporting jobs and economic recovery this financial year.

In comparison, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £640bn of gross capital investment in the UK’s roads, railways, schools, hospitals and power networks over the next five years at the Budget in March.

The furlough scheme has already cost £22.9bn and the three main Covid-19 loan schemes for businesses have already cost more than £40bn.

Breakdown of the £5bn promises in full

  • ‘£1.5bn this year for hospital maintenance’ including to scrap mental health dorms and improve A&E capacity.

  • ‘£100m this year for 29 road network projects’ including bridge repairs in Sandwell, the A15 in the Humber and £10m for “development work” to unblock the Manchester rail bottleneck.

  • £1bn to fund first 50 projects in a ten-year school rebuilding programme .

  • ‘£560m and £200m for repairs and upgrades to schools and FE colleges respectively this year’.

  • ‘£142m for digital upgrades and maintenance to around 100 courts this year’

  • ‘£83m for maintenance of prisons’

  • ‘£60m for temporary prison places’

  • ‘£900m for a range of ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of this year and next’

  • ‘£96m for the Towns Fund this year’ – between £500,000 to £1m for each of the 101 towns selected for town deals with £500k-£1m to spend on projects such as improvements to parks, high streets, and transport.

  • ‘Further projects to be announced in due course’

Lockdown changes in England from July 4

 

What have we yet to hear about?

Lots.

The £5bn is only a fraction of what the Government has said it wants to invest in infrastructure over the course of this Parliament.

There is little so far on planning and house-building – although we expect to hear more on this on Tuesday.

There is an urgent need for more focus on employment. 

What about jobs?

With unemployment at a its highest level in a generation and the UK suffering the worst economic hit of all industrialised nations, it is essential the PM prioritises a plan for jobs.

It needs to include concrete action preventing further job losses and supporting future employment.

Labour leader Keir Starmer warned the country faced unemployment “the likes of which we haven’t seen for a generation” unless the Government acted urgently.

He called on the PM to introduce an emergency July budget as part of its “duty” to the thousands of people who have already lost their jobs amid the crisis.

Is it enough?


It’s an important start but many will argue that the £5bn doesn’t go far enough.

Of the money announced, £1bn has already been allocated to a ten-year schools rebuilding programme.

But the first projects will only start spadework in September 2021 and headteachers warn that there is a £6.7bn repairs backlog in England.

Another £1.5billion to be allocated this year to hospital maintenance – even though official figures suggest more than four times that is needed.

The PM may have more announcements up his sleeve but if not, critics will argue that he has failed to understand the size and the scale of the targeted investment needed at this pivotal moment.

Is he the modern-day FDR?


Not really.

As well as stimulating the economy after the Great Depression, FDR rewrote the economic rules of the US.

The PM is not expected to set out a new approach to managing the British economy or to abandon the fixation with endless growth in favour of focusing on health and well-being.




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