Blow to bid to stop more offices being turned into flats

Westlegate Tower, Norwich

Westlegate Tower is among the Norwich office buildings which have been converted into housing - Credit: Jamie Honeywood

A bid to stop as many Norwich city centre offices from being turned into flats has been dealt a blow, after the government said it would not support the current plan.

Worried leaders at Norwich City Council wanted to bring in changes to the planning process, amid concerns the city has been losing too much business space to homes.

City Hall leaders fear a loss of office space is weakening the centre’s role as an economic hub, while some of the flats which are being created are not of good enough quality.

The city has lost around 30pc of its office stock since a change to planning rules in 2013 which made it easier for commercial properties to become housing.

City Hall sought a power called an Article 4 Direction, covering the whole of the city centre, to remove what are known as 'permitted development rights'.

That would have handed the Labour-controlled council more control over what developments were approved from July.

But the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has told the council the whole of the city centre is too big an area, so it will not allow the directive the council sought.

Officers have asked the council to review the geographic area where the direction would apply, saying it needs to apply to a much smaller area.

Residents try to protect open space by Dowding Road and Taylors Lane. Councillor, Mike Stonard. Pict

Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth - Credit: Brittany Woodman/ Archant

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Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth, said: "We remain committed to protecting the city’s office space so that Norwich’s economy continues to thrive and enable our residents and businesses to flourish in an office environment.

“The council plans to take a more targeted geographical approach rather than applying it to the whole of the city centre, which will mean that we can protect those offices of strategic value and allow truly redundant stock to be converted following approval.”

Council officers will meet representatives from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to discuss how best to revise the direction to reduce the risk of further objections.

Officers will need to collate further evidence to identify the streets or specific office buildings which need protecting.