Watford Borough Council has expressed serious concerns about the negative impact that new Government development proposals could have on the employment and economy of the town...
The proposals, which were announced in December, look to extend permitted development rights (PDR) which currently allow for small scale commercial and some industrial buildings to be converted into housing without the need for planning permission.
Under the new plans, a wider range of properties including retail, restaurants, gyms, banks and creches can be converted into residential dwellings and local authorities will have little say in the plans. There will no longer be a size limitation on the properties that can benefit from the new rights.
Currently key employment hubs in the town like Clarendon Road are protected from PDR under a planning directive (article 4 direction). If the proposals are successful these protection orders could become redundant and the council would have to apply for new protection orders.
There is also a significant risk that this proposed extension to PDR’s could see the unplanned introduction of residential uses into the town centre particularly into key ground floor retail spaces on the High Street and Watford shopping centre.
Currently Watford’s draft Local Plan supports the introduction of more residential accommodation into the town centre, but away from or above the main High Street frontage and other key shopping frontages, so the key retail and leisure offering remains intact.
The new proposals, if successful, could result in a reduction of available retail space in the best locations and a more fragmented High Street where residential and other town centre uses are inter-dispersed.
Elected Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor said: “It is no surprise to anyone that we need new homes in Watford, but delivery should not be at the expense of employment space which drives the economy of our town and not if it damages our High Street and town centre. These proposals undermine the ability of local people to decide what is best for Watford. I am meeting with our local MP to seek his support to push back against these proposals which would have a detrimental effect on our town.”
In 2019, Mayor Peter Taylor wrote to the Secretary of State about the substandard conversion of an upholstery warehouse on a service road in Watford into development of flats. Many of the flats had no windows and did not meet the minimum requirements of the building regulations. While Watford council’s planners objected to the development on the basis of quality of life for potential residents, their appeal was denied.
The proposals are being consulted upon until 28 January 2020 and the council is currently compiling its response.