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Relaxing planning rules so shops can become homes could kill off Hampstead High Street

17:00 07 February 2013

Hampstead High Street

Hampstead High Street

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

Government proposals to allow shops to be converted into expensive housing could spell the death of Hampstead High Street, Camden’s finance chief has warned.

The plans to relax planning laws would trigger a “bonanza” of property development in the village as shop landlords seek to cash in on the lucrative house prices in the area, claims Cllr Theo Blackwell.

Conservation and business groups have been mustering to protect the village, applying for powers under the Localism Act to control development in the area, including shaping the high street. But if changes to permitted development rights are given the green light, property owners will be able to convert offices into homes without the consent of Camden Council or the new resident-led neighbourhood forums.

“It could potentially spell the end of the high street,” said Cllr Blackwell, who wrote to business leaders in Hampstead on Tuesday to inform them of the threat. “We will obviously support them (business groups) as this is a major shift in planning laws.

“It’s for a three-year period so there will be an absolute bonanza for property investors in Shanghai who are already buying up a lot of properties on the very stable property market.

“They are just sitting on a gold mine. “This (changing offices to residential use) will mean fewer and fewer jobs because of fewer shops in the area.”

Town hall officials have warned that the council will be powerless to guard against developments which could infringe on people’s privacy, ignore basic residential standards and create parking problems, according to papers seen by the Ham&High.

Andrew Lavery, of the NW3 Hampstead Business Association, said: “We would not be pleased if there was any radical change to the nature of the retail business in Hampstead without a detailed, full and proper consultation with all the interested parties.

“We would like to see greater improvement of the environment in the village, including making it more attractive to shoppers. But Hampstead is a very vibrant and profitable shopping area and we are not deteriorating by any means. Empty shop units only stay empty for a short while.”

The council can apply to the government for exemptions for specific areas. But these will only be allowed in exceptional circumstances and officials do not believe they will be able to make a convincing case for Hampstead should the plans be approved.

The government claims the plans will boost the economy by cutting red tape. The council is calling on people to write to Cllr Valerie Leach, cabinet member for growth, who is compiling a dossier of evidence to submit to the government.

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