17 Park Road Conversion (Letter July 2019)

There is a planning application to change the use of the offices at no 17 Park Rd to residential use to provide 36 tiny flats. You can see the application on the council’s planning portal using reference number 19/3654/PNO. Unfortunately this and other schemes around the country are occurring because of sloppily drafted Government legislation – the Permitted Development Order 2015. This allows conversion of offices to residential by-passing all the usual planning controls, including minimum space standards.

We have looked carefully at the application and cannot identify any reason why it should be rejected by the council. But what is unusual about the application is that it is from a charity. We have written to the charity asking that they withdraw the application and a copy of our letter is below.

LETTER TO DEVELOPER RE PARK RD CONVERSION OFFICE TO 36 FLATS

17 July 2019

Mr S.M. Itzinger
Secretary
Moishe and Esther Itzinger Foundation
43 Bridge Lane
London NW11 0ED

Dear Mr Itzinger

17 Park Rd, High Barnet.

We are aware of the recent approval of the Prior Notice application to convert this property to eight flats. We did examine the application and had no difficulty with this as it should provide good quality and reasonably spacious accommodation.

We are however decidedly perturbed by the follow-up application to convert the property to 36 studio flats under the provisions of the Permitted Development Order 2015, a concern shared by many people locally. I expect you are aware that an apparently unintended consequence of this order has been to allow developers to provide accommodation that does not need meet established space requirements. Developments that have appeared have attracted widespread criticism. Many councils have issued Article 4 Directions overruling the Order, including Barnet where the Article 4 Direction comes into effect in September. The Government has also signalled that an amendment will be made to attach space standards to the Order.

From scrutinising your application we estimate the average unit will be around 14 sqm with many 13 sqm or less. The current standard for a studio is 37 sqm, so it appears you are aiming to provide units that are barely more than one-third of the recognised space standard. It is certainly our view, widely shared, that it is not acceptable that people should live in such conditions. It is the case that some landlords have provided accommodation with the kind of space you are proposing and even less, but in doing so have attracted considerable opprobrium. Given that both national government and councils accept that the such inadequate provision should be stopped, it does come as a surprise, and indeed is very disappointing, that a reputable charitable organisation should be seeking to go down this route.

We are also concerned about the impact on Park Rd. It is a very ordinary residential street and the influx of 36 single and probably young people has the potential to have a major disruptive effect detrimental to the well-being of residents there. There is a potential for conflict that would harm the interests of street residents, the residents of no 17, and indeed yourselves as landlord.

We do appreciate that your prime interest is raising funds for your charity and we would not wish to impede that, but we do suggest that the potential income from 36 studios compared to 8 flats would not be as significantly different as it might at first seem. The eight flats have the potential to attract good long-term tenants. But because of the inadequacy of the accommodation the studios are unlikely to attract quality tenants and few would view it as a long –term home. So the studios will almost certainly have a very high turnover with all the attendant financial impact of voids, high agents fees for re-letting and the necessity for redecoration etc, as well as a much higher risk of non-payment of rent.

Finally we would also draw your attention to the Homes (Fitness For Human Habitation) Act which came into force in March. It includes provision for tenants to take their landlords to court if they fail to meet basic standards including adequate space for living and sleeping. For a living space of 13sqm or so we would certainly support any tenant who wished to take action under this Act.

We do ask that in view of the concerns we have raised here we ask that you consider withdrawing the application for 36 studios and instead proceed with the scheme for which you have approval.

Yours faithfully

Gordon Massey
Planning Officer
Barnet Residents Association