The government’s plans to convert commercial property into housing have got off to the most embarrassing possible start after its own Portas Pilot high-street saviours were given their marching orders.
The Grocer can reveal that a day after new rules came into force permitting the change of use from B1(a) office to C3 residential, without the need for landlords to apply for planning permission, notices to quit were served on a dozen offices operating in One Queen Anne’s Gate, Westminster.
The building happens to be HQ to the Association of Town & City Management, brought in by the government in May to oversee 400 Portas Pilots and town teams as part of its plans to save the high street.
The ATCM said the move, after 20 years in the building, had come as a huge kick in the teeth, especially as it had urged the government not to introduce the legislation, valid for three years, claiming offices that bring vital trade to retail businesses would be lost by landlords able to cash in on higher values for residential homes.
“All the tenants in our building have been given notice,” ATCM chief executive Martin Blackwell told The Grocer. “The suspicion is that the building might go to residential, being much more valuable as such. I fear the same thing will happen all across London.”
The offices also house the British Council of Shopping Centres, whose CEO Michael Green is, along with Blackwell, a member of the government’s new Future High Street Forum. The government argued that the move would address the “chronic under-supply of housing” and regenerate many office buildings it claims are sitting empty.
“We need a move away from a nationally prescriptive use class order system altogether, allowing local government and communities more flexibility over the evolution of their town centres,” said Blackwell.