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Wednesday, 26 February

BoJo Moves to Protect Central Activities Zones

The Mayor of London is bidding to preserve London’s key business districts by urging the Government to reconsider proposals that could see valuable office space in the capital turned into homes.

Last year, Boris Johnson negotiated for four defined areas in central London to be exempt from a Government policy that allowed office space to be converted into homes without developers applying for change of use planning permission.

These areas included the ‘Central Activities Zone’ which incorporates the City of London, the South Bank and the West End. More than a third of London's jobs are within this area, and a further 280,000 jobs are expected to be created here in the next 25 years. The Mayor also successfully gained exemptions for the commercial area north of the Isle of Dogs and London's Enterprise Zones in the Royal Docks, plus the part of the City Fringe in east London which makes up the emerging 'Tech City' opportunity area.

The Government has just finished consulting on a raft of planning proposals including one that would see the exemption for these areas removed – a move that the Mayor says would damage London’s internationally important business locations.

London accounts for over a fifth of GDP. It is also a global centre for business, so the Mayor believes it is vital to maintain a stock of quality office space in key areas to ensure the city can continue to attract jobs and growth. The city is home to a number of clusters of economic activity from government offices, to financial services, institutions and professional bodies, which employ millions of people, contributing billions to the national economy. The Mayor believes that if these clusters were to be converted to residential, these benefits would disappear.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, the Mayor, together with London First, the British Property Federation and the Planning Officers Society London say that 'incremental unplanned loss of office accommodation in strategically important office areas of London can significantly weaken the agglomeration benefits provided by these locations'.

Johnson, told ThisWeekinFM: “London is a colossal powerhouse of jobs and growth and the motor of the UK economy. While increasing housing output is of vital importance, I am concerned that removing the exemption in our most thriving business districts could compromise both London and the UK’s future economic growth. London’s success depends on a rich mix of uses and more high value residential property in central London could upset this balance and change the area for good.”

Faraz Baber, Director of Planning Policy at London First, and a signatory to the letter, said: “We see merit in expanding permitted development rights , such as the ability to change land uses in the high street (like turning shops to banks and vice versa) without going through the planning process. But we have serious concerns over the proposal to remove existing exemptions from PDR in areas like the Central Activities Zone. These internationally recognised hubs of economic activity have a finely balanced mix of land uses that are carefully managed by the planning process. They must remain managed through the planning system.”

Picture: The City of London is included in Boris Johnson's Central Activities Zone protection campaign

Article written by Brian Shillibeer

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