Council cracks down on 'poor quality' conversions of offices to flats in Milton Keynes

They are insisting developers apply for full planning permission instead of using permitted rights

By Sally Murrer
Thursday, 17th March 2022, 5:48 pm

MK Councll is clamping down on offices being converted into "poor quality" small flats in the city centre.

They are set to draw up a special order to insist that no such development can go ahead without first obtaining planning permission from the council.

Currently developers can carry out some office to residential conversions under the government's 'permitted rights' legislation.

The office conversion restriction will apply to the whole of CMK business district

These rights mean councils have little say in what is happening, no Section 106 funding for the community and also no power to insist the developer provides any any affordable or social housing in their conversion scheme.

The MK Council's new order, called an Article 4 Direction, is due to be approved next week. It will waive permitted right for the whole of the Central Business District of Central Milton Keynes.

Council leader Pete Marland, said: “The Labour and Liberal Democrat administration has taken another step to restrict developers’ rights when seeking to convert offices into poor-quality residential units in Central Milton Keynes.

"We aren’t against all office conversions, but we are against those that are done badly.”

Councillors fought in vain last year against offices above CMK rail station being turned into residential flats

He added: “The government’s inconsistent and confusing planning rules can lead to bad development, but this decision means we’re able to protect Central Milton Keynes’ buildings and economy, and fight for good quality homes for our residents.”

The Article 4 Direction, will help maintain local planning control, as well as the amount of available office space in the area. It will come into force in October this year.

Without it, the amount of funding developers need to provide for infrastructure and facilities would be reduced, said Pete.

Councillor Robin Bradburn, Cabinet Member for Economy, Recovery and Renewal, added: “Without this Direction, the economy of Central Milton Keynes could take a real hit. We need office stock and floorspace for our local businesses, entrepreneurs, and start-ups.

“I’m proud of MK’s resilient economy, and this decision will simply strengthen it.”

A year ago MK Council lost its battle to prevent offices above the rail station in Station Square being converted to 200 flats.

The scheme was refused planning permission by the council after cross-party opposition by councillors. But, following an appeal, the developers were granted permitted development rights.

Pete Marland had previously described the proposed Station Square flats as "poky", saying they will be sited above an "exceptionally busy and noisy railway station" and have windows that do not even open.

At the time, he told the MK Citizen: “The Conservative Government’s relaxation of the planning rules takes away a local say for people over whether development is suitable for their area or not. It is a system that hands power to developers to convert office spaces into poor quality apartments with few standards, some of which are little more than future slums.

"It simply isn’t right. I have no problem with the principle of converting offices if it is done in the right way and where local people get a say. Relaxing permitted development rights has meant Milton Keynes residents have missed out on over £1m in funding that would have funded new school places, new infrastructure and eased the pressure on our health service.

“We all know that more affordable housing is needed, but bad quality office conversions with no local say over things like parking standards is not the way. It is handing power to developers, and if these polices are not reserved it will see thousands of badly planned, sub-standard homes created without proper infrastructure being provided for them and it’s something we oppose.”

Last year Pete wrote to the the Secretary of State to highlight how allowing office blocks such as at Station House to be converted into housing without proper planning permission has allowed developers to avoid paying out over £1m in Section106 funding.

His letter stated: "The most recently proposed changes are simply building on a legacy of extremely poor quality housing that has already been delivered in the conversion of offices to dwellings. Within Milton Keynes this has included the conversion of Station House to 200 apartments, resulting in homes directly above an exceptionally busy and noisy railway station with windows that do not even open."