19th March 2015

Mole Valley councillors reject concerns over number of offices being converted to flats

By Dorking Advertiser  |  Posted: March 19, 2015

 
 
CONCERNS that a government policy allowing empty office space to be converted into flats without planning permission is damaging Mole Valley businesses have been rejected by councillors.

At a council meeting last week, members said worries over lost trade or falling numbers of businesses looking to move into the district were unfounded, despite warnings from some councillors and business people.

The debate followed a report in the Advertiser in January which highlighted concerns from Dorking town centre traders that the prior notification policy, introduced by the Government in 2013, had reduced the number of office workers paying for their goods and services.

The policy removed the requirement for developers to seek permission from the council before converting office space into residential properties.

Similar concerns have been raised in Leatherhead town centre after several notifications were lodged to convert office blocks in recent weeks. James House in Emlyn Lane and Claire House in Bridge Street were the subject of a prior notification, with office space from the first to the third floor set to become 25 flats.

A bid has also been made to convert Ashworth House in The Street, Ashtead, into ten flats, while Prime House in Barnett Wood Lane, Leatherhead, could become ten flats.

Stephen Cooksey (Lib Dem, Dorking South) called on his fellow councillors to raise their concerns with Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and demand the Government reverse the policy.

He said: "The decision to deprive planning authorities of the ability to decide whether or not it is appropriate for office units to be converted into flats has had serious consequences for our urban communities.

"Mole Valley is suffering from a shortage of good commercial premises and locations and the uncontrolled conversion of some of the most valuable town centre office space into residential accommodation can only mitigate against commercial development and employment opportunities at a time when economic growth should be generating these."

But, ignoring concerns, Conservative and Independent members said the call was unnecessary, with some going as far to say Mr Cooksey's motion was "not based in reality".

John Northcott (Ind, Ashtead Common) said: "My first instinct when I saw the motion was to try to amend it but the changes I needed to bring it in line with reality would have amounted to a new motion.

"Since the scheme came into force, 170 new developments have been permitted, all except five being single or two-bedroom units, equal to a year's housing in the core strategy target."

Rosemary Dickson (Con, Leatherhead South) added that potentially 125 new flats would be created in the town through previous developments, with more expected in the next year.

She added: "This makes 125 new dwellings within the town without having to touch the green belt, which has to be excellent news."

 

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