New bid to limit city centre offices being turned into flats

Westlegate Tower is an example of Norwich city centre offices which were turned into homes. Picture:

Westlegate Tower is an example of an office which was turned into apartments. - Credit: Archant

A fresh bid is to be made to stop so many offices in Norwich city centre from being turned into flats.

Council bosses believe that, while Covid-19 has meant more home working, there will still be a need for offices, post-pandemic.

They want to avoid a situation where there is a shortage of offices in the city centre, because developers have turned it into housing.

A report commissioned by Norwich City Council showed 30pc of the city’s office space has been lost since 2013.

At the moment, developers wanting to change offices into flats do not need formal planning permission, just prior approval for conversion.

That limits reasons councils can reject changes to the impact on transport, contamination, flooding and noise from neighbours.

To give themselves extra control, councillors want to agree to an Article 4 direction, taking away the permitted right to convert offices into flats, mainly within the inner ring road.

They had wanted to bring that in last year, but put it on ice after getting legal advice it could lead to compensation claims from developers.

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But councillors are set to revive it, after officers said changes to legislation means they can push ahead, although they have warned there is a "significant risk" it could fail.

Councillor Mike Stonard. Pic: Archant.

Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth. - Credit: Archant

Mike Stonard, the Labour-controlled council's cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth, said it was important that where housing is permitted, it is in places with appropriate infrastructure and services.

He said: "We need to have that overall control to ensure we have a good quality, liveable city and offices will still be a really important part of the city's economy."

A report by consultants Ramidus concluded that, while the role of the workplace would change, offices would still be needed.

Mr Stonard said: "Their report says the demand for offices in Norwich is not going to reduce significantly.

"People will probably switch to hybrid working, with maybe three days in and two days at home, but quality office space will still be needed.

"So the view is we need to protect office space in the city."

The council's sustainable development committee will consider the issue on Tuesday, June 22.