Providing good housing in the Town Centre
We have two thousand people on our housing waiting lists. And over the fifteen years of our Local Plan we have identified a shortfall of five thousand homes in Crawley. So to many of us it seems like a good idea, when we see empty office buildings across Town, to convert them to flats. And the Labour administration has taken this idea on board and is encouraging the conversion of empty offices above the retail units in the Town Centre into flats. I visited one such conversion this week and it has resulted in two very nice apartments.
But instead of allowing us to manage these conversions properly through the planning process, the Tory led coalition decided to give building owners a right to notify the Council that they were going to convert offices to flats, without applying for planning permission, even if the offices were occupied and without any right for Crawley council to object or refuse the conversion. This policy change is seriously flawed to the detriment of both Crawley residents and businesses.
In Manor Royal, although there have been empty offices and sites, we have seen recently that most sites now have developments on them and most units are now let. And we are short by 35 hectares of economic opportunity land in Crawley over the next 15 years. Once a site is converted to residential, in what tends to be totally inappropriate locations, they are lost to business for ever.
And in the Town centre we are seeing large office buildings given this ‘Permitted Development’ right with flagrant disregard for the needs and wishes of their neighbours, and Crawley Council is powerless to stop it! We do not even have the opportunity to require proper provision of refuse bins let alone issues related to the suitability of flats in the specific location or their impact on residents living in adjacent sites.
We are taking our protests, on behalf of Crawley residents and business, to the Tory Central Government who imposed this unwanted and unnecessary obligation on us. And we live in hope that the Crawley MP, now working in the DCLG, will take the issue up for Crawley at some point, rather than blaming us, incorrectly, for preventing the problems this policy causes, as he has done so far.
Cllr Peter Smith -; Labour Ifield and Ifield West
Cabinet member for Planning and Economic Development