'Shop to home conversions have damaged streetscape'

Highgate High Street. Picture: Ken Mears

Permitted Development Rights could change the face of Highgate High Street - Credit: Ken Mears

In August, the government removed the need for a change of use planning application to enable the conversion of shops to residential under Permitted Development Rights (PDRs).

While the stated intention was to revitalise high streets, providing housing and jobs within the construction sector, opposition has been widespread and, somewhat surprisingly, from property professionals including the British property Federation. The Highgate Society gave its evidence against this at parliamentary level.

Highgate High Street has a range of shops to meet most daily needs. The longer Archway Road, with a Sainsbury’s and Co-op, contains valued non-retail premises providing affordable business incubator units. Both rely heavily on local support and passing trade.

With residential property values being so much higher than for businesses in areas like Highgate, there is a real risk of numerous applications resulting in the permanent loss of vital shops and services.

Elspeth Clements, Highgate Society

Elspeth Clements is concerned about change of use planning applications - Credit: Harry Richards

A developer must still apply to the local planning department for Prior Approval, but limited criteria offer little scope for refusal. The only exception to this is listed buildings. A recent application in Archway Road, was only refused on the grounds of day lighting. The decision is now subject to an appeal and fresh application.

Across London, shop to home conversions have caused extensive damage to the streetscape, with non-reversible and substandard accommodation impacting on the future viability of these important shopping and community hubs.

Islington Council has mounted a legal challenge to this legislation, a move we hope will be followed by other boroughs. Camden Council voted in July to introduce Article 4 Directions borough wide to prevent this- hence the notices posted near shops requesting comments. If approved, these will come into force in July 2022. Haringey has yet to clarify its policy.

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We can all help by lobbying our local MP and ward councillors, and by shopping locally. The pandemic and lockdowns have underlined the importance of local shops and services.

The Highgate Society Planning Group will continue to scrutinise all planning applications. Find out more and get involved by dropping in to regular Saturday coffee mornings from 10.30am at 10a Pond Square. 

Elspeth Clements is a practicing architect, past chair of the Highgate Society and prior to that chair of the Highgate Society Planning Committee