Standing up for London's employment spaces (Supplementary) [3]

Session date: 
September 17, 2014
Question By: 
Andrew Dismore
Organisation: 
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor

Question

I assume from your reply, such as it was, that you have not yet put your submission to the Government about this.  There are only ten days or so to go and it will be interesting to see what you say. 

Thank you for your letter, by the way, about Premier House in my constituency, which was helpful but a little vague.  Are you aware of the existing permitted development rights that if an office block like ‑‑

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  The existing permitted development rights? 

Andrew Dismore AM:  Yes, which the Government want to extend.  If an office block is converted to housing, there is no obligation to provide any affordable housing whatsoever in that conversion.  Will you be making that point?

 

In relation to Premier House, the Chief Scientific Officer at Barnet said that if they were able to, he would have refused the application on environmental health grounds. However they cannot refuse on environmental grounds because that is not taken into account.  Will you make that point in your submission as well?

Answer

Answer for Standing up for London's employment spaces (Supplementary) [3]

Answer for Standing up for London's employment spaces (Supplementary) [3]

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You are asking about Premier House in Edgware? 

Andrew Dismore AM:  I am asking about the principle, in your submission -- 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Look, let me be clear.  I ‑‑ 

Andrew Dismore AM:  Let me ask the question. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Go on. 

Andrew Dismore AM:  Will you first of all make it clear that you do not approve of the conversion of offices to residential where the office block is occupied by businesses and that it should have proper planning consent through the council?  Will you also make clear in your representations that the existing rights do not work anyway, because of the lack of affordable housing provision and the lack of objections permissible on environmental health grounds? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  The Premier House Edgware case, which is the subject of your letter, is really for Barnet Council to decide.  You mentioned the ‑‑ 

Andrew Dismore AM:  No, it is not.  That is the point.  It has been converted under permitted development rights.  The council has no power to stop it.  That is the point.  That is the problem.  There are 150 businesses and 600 jobs going because there is no right on the council to stop it.  That is the point and that is the point you should be making in your submission to the Government. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I am grateful for what you say.  My information is that this is a matter for Barnet but if ‑‑ 

Andrew Dismore AM:  No, the issue for Barnet, which they have washed their hands of, is relocating the offices that are being displaced.  The point about it is Barnet has no power to object, even if it wanted to.  It has no power to object and the same applies for most of London.  It seems to me you need to get yourself properly briefed on this issue, Mr Mayor.  The impact is horrendous throughout London.  In Camden we have also lost 700 jobs and another office block in Camden Town.  It is similar.  Start-up businesses are all thrown out at the drop of a hat. 

Nicky Gavron AM:  You are now going to lose all the warehouses. 

Andrew Dismore AM:  You need to get to grips with this. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I will be very happy to send you the response to the Government’s consultation when we send it.  We will be making a very vigorous case for the retention of business space in London.  Whether we can save Premier House in Barnet I do not know. 

Andrew Dismore AM:  It is too late.  It is too late now.  

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  This is, as far as I know, a matter for Barnet Council. 

Andrew Dismore AM:  Can I also ‑‑ 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I totally share your hostility to the loss of business space.  It is very, very important that we do not lose the potential for London to generate jobs.  I would, however, remind you that the economy is going absolutely gangbusters.  We have employment at ‑‑ 

Andrew Dismore AM:  We have to find places for those people to work. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ a record high and unemployment at a record low.  We have a housing crisis.  We have a housing crisis of epic proportions.  There will be cases where it is sensible to convert some commercial property to housing.

Andrew Dismore AM:  Fine.  Let me put to you, Mr Mayor, what Brandon Lewis [Minister of State for Communities and Local Government] wrote to me in a letter I received today.  Brandon Lewis says: 

“We believe the market will make the best use of existing stock which may in some cases mean the relocation of businesses to other available office space.  This is making good use of existing building stock.” 

Do you agree with the Government that what is going on is making the best use of existing stock?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No, as I began ‑‑ 

Andrew Dismore AM:  Good. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ in my answer to Nicky [Nicky Gavron AM] ‑‑ 

Andrew Dismore AM:  I am pleased to see you do not agree with what the Government is saying here.  That is a good start. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I do not agree with what is being proposed and we are sending not just a particular objection to the loss of the power of councils to prohibit such development in particular areas but also to the general principle of the loss of councils to ‑‑ 

Andrew Dismore AM:  OK. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ guarantee that London has adequate office space, adequate employment space, adequate warehousing and all the rest of it.  London is the motor -- 

Andrew Dismore AM:  Fine, thank you. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ of the UK economy and it would be a disaster if we were to lose that.  I would just ask Assembly Members to bear in mind that there will be also cases - and I have seen them in Croydon and elsewhere - where actually there is completely underused office ‑‑ 

Andrew Dismore AM:  That is right.  No objection.  That is right. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You should acknowledge it.  There are completely underused office blocks that are ‑‑ 

Andrew Dismore AM:  Anyway, thank you for your answer.  

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ capable of being turned to residential use to deal with our housing crisis.

Tony Arbour AM:  I, Mr Mayor, on this occasion, endorse pretty much everything that has been said by the Labour side on this.  This is not an imminent problem.  This is not an imminent threat.  This is a threat that is already with us.  In the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames we have already lost 20% of our office space.  This has the most tremendous unintended consequences.  What is happening is - and here I have very considerable sympathy with what Mr Dismore says - the landlords of occupied office blocks are going around and saying to existing tenants, “Look, tomorrow we can convert this to housing and the only way that you can stay here is if you pay an increased rent”.  It is all very well and I had this out with Mr Boles [Nick Boles MP, former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning] and happily he has moved on, although from what was being said Brandon Lewis is not much better; but surely there has to be a balance between jobs and housing. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  There does. 

Tony Arbour AM:  When I raised the matter with Mr Boles, I said there is no point in converting all this office space to housing if there are no local jobs for the people to go to. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Of course. 

Tony Arbour AM:  The only thing that you have said that relieves me a little on this matter is that your representations have not yet been made. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  No, you should be relieved also, Tony, by the fact that I began my answer by saying that I was hostile to the proposals and we would object to them and we will make sure that they are changed.  

Tony Arbour AM:  ‘Hostility’ is a nice strong word and I very much hope that absolutely no punches are pulled on this one.  I fear that it may be too late because this has already happened.  We have already heard about the fact that there is no requirement for affordable housing in relation to these conversions.  It is far worse than that.  There are no section 106 commitments at all.  In Richmond where, as I say, the problem is rapidly becoming uncontrollable, we are going to have to provide schools and we are going to have to provide the infrastructure for all these characters who are coming in.  The Government has ‑‑ 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  They are called ‘people who need to live somewhere’.  That is what they are.  They are called ‘human beings’.  

Tony Arbour AM:  There is no point in them living somewhere where there are no jobs for them to go to and those people who are already living there are going to have to bear the burden of the cost of this infrastructure.  This thing has been very badly thought up.  

I am equally relieved by what you have said in suggesting that this really is a borough matter.  If Croydon wants to convert its office blocks to housing let them get on with it, they know best.  The same ought to apply right across London.  This really is an example of where regional government should be saying to the Government directly, “This is a chance for you to bypass giving the regional government the power.  It should go to the local government”.  This is a crisis which is here.  It is not something which may happen.  It has hit us very hard indeed already.  

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I absolutely understand what you are saying.  You can rest assured that we are going to oppose this very vigorously.  I do not know what more dramatic words I can use.  Thermonuclear weapons will be used. 

Tony Arbour AM:  Pretty much. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  We will go ballistic on this.  I do not want to see the loss of vital office space.  Before everybody gets into a state of total depression about this, things come and go.  If you look at Mayfair, which is currently occupied by a load of hedge funds and banks and whatever, it used to be loads of homes.  The same phenomenon can be seen across all sorts of formerly residential areas of London within the CAZ.  Historically, things swap around a bit.  I am not, however, prepared to see boroughs overridden by developers who are just going to, as you described it, put in huge numbers of residents without proper control.  On the other hand, where there are good housing schemes, we would be foolish to stop them.