A blog post by Hertfordshire Growth Board Member – Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership
Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), a member of Hertfordshire Growth Board, supports the TCPA’s Healthy Homes Campaign to transform the way the built environment is regulated. Here in Hertfordshire we have seen at first hand how a combination of planning permissions and permitted development has directly resulted in significant losses of employment land. This has had a dramatic impact on the local economy and its implications are far-reaching and, in some cases, irreversible. The erosion of employment space not only impacts on the viability of existing businesses wanting to expand, it also pushes inward investment relocations outside Hertfordshire. For the county to grow sustainably and provide job opportunities for its growing population – a fundamental requisite of Levelling Up – local authorities must be able to plan adequately for employment.
The scale of this problem in Hertfordshire cannot be under-estimated. In 2019, Hertfordshire LEP published a report by Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) into the Loss of Employment Space. This found that the county had lost significant amounts of employment floorspace over the last decade. In total, there had been a net loss of over 771,000 sq. m. of commercial floorspace countywide over the last decade. That is equivalent to the total office stock in St Albans, Watford and Welwyn Garden City combined. The impact of permitted development rights (PDR) from office to residential conversion will, the study warned, seriously impact the efficient, effective and sustainable operation of town centres as economic growth locations and hinder local authorities from delivering their sustainable place-making agendas.
This repurposing of employment premises to residential via PDR all too often results in sub-standard housing with limited provision for supporting services such as schools, healthcare and civic amenities and little access to green spaces. This is further compounded by councils being prevented from seeking Section 106 contributions to provide or improve local services. It often resulted in the loss of fully viable tenanted businesses, whose landlords saw more profit in conversion to residential flats. Many local planning authorities were so concerned by the extent of the loss of office space that they introduced Article 4 Directions to help control further loss in the future.
Hertfordshire LEP is advocating to Government that securing sustainable communities and economy requires a balanced approach to housing and commercial land/floorspace provision – not just a housing emphasis. With the Hertfordshire population expected to rise by up to 175,000 by 2031, at least 100,000 new homes and jobs will need to be created over the same period. We are also calling on Government to halt PDR conversions, or if this cannot be achieved, to prioritise commercial floorspace in key town centres, allowing automatic exemptions from the PDR that permits conversion of commercial floorspace to residential use.
Hertfordshire’s economy delivers £41.57bn for UK Plc annually (ONS May, 2021). We are home to several globally significant sectors including creative media, film and TV, cell and gene life sciences and advanced manufacturing. These sectors alone have attracted over £4.1bn of new private sector investment in the past 12 months. This surge in investor confidence is helping to super-charge the UK’s recovery. If we want to fully leverage the economic, social and environmental value from this activity, for Hertfordshire and beyond, then we need to ensure there is an appropriate amount, form, quality and distribution of employment floorspace to serve the needs of the Hertfordshire economy and its people.
We endorse this campaign and the TCPA’s Healthy Homes Principles.
Head of Infrastructure and Regeneration,
Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership