MP and Councillors trade blame over creation of Newbury Park block labelled among 'worst new flats in Britain'
PUBLISHED: 17:00 28 August 2018 | UPDATED: 17:26 28 August 2018
An MP and councillors have clashed over who is to blame for the conversion of a seven-storey office block in Newbury Park into tiny studio flats - some as small as 12ft x 12ft.
Redbridge Council officers waved through proposals to convert former office block Newbury House, in Eastern Avenue, into 60 studio flats in August 2014.
Under laws introduced by the Conservative government, it has been possible since May 2013 to convert a building from office to residential use without approval from the council’s planning committee.
Leading architect Julia Park named and shamed the building as an example of the “abject failure” of the laws, in a comment piece for a building and design magazine.
A unnamed resident told a national newspaper that those living in the block - which has been used by the council as temporary accommodation since December 2017 - were “packed in like sardines”.
While a notice in the foyer revealed complaints of antisocial behaviour including drug-dealing and “weed smoking”.
Drawings appear to indicate that each of the six floors comprises 10 self-contained, one-roomed studio flats with the smallest single only 13sq metres.
Mike Gapes, Ilford South MP, said: “I do not believe that places like that, with such small and overcrowded facilities, are what people should live in.
“It is wrong.
“Frankly this is because the government changed the law to allow conversion of offices without going to planning committee.
“The local authority doesn’t have any power.”
But Cllr Ruth Clark, opposition spokeswoman for planning, believes the council should have ensured the conversion met the space requirements of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s London Plan.
She said: “The government policy of allowing office buildings to be converted to residential has been abused by developers at Newbury House to create ‘sardine style’ flats with Redbridge Council’s approval.
“Redbridge Council have allowed these tiny spaces of 140ft.
“The minimum size recommendation in London for one person living in a one bedroom flat is 400sq ft and with two people living in a one bedroom flat it is 538sq ft.”
She added: “It is just desperation on the part of this Labour administration to reach their housing quota so creating slums of the future.”
David Stephens, chairman of the Seven Kings and Newbury Park Residents Association, said the building is an example of “where profit has over-ruled good design”.
The building’s registered owner is a British Virgin Islands company - according to Land Registry data - called Newbury House Ltd.
While the developer listed on council documents is Dorchester Estates.
David added: “The biggest concern though is that one day there will be a fire in the building which could result in another human tragedy.”
And Philip Barker, a housing campaigner with Neighbourhoods of Ilford South Engage (Noise), highlighted the fact that one in four office-to-flat conversions have been blocked by London councils, according to a 2015 study.
But the council’s deputy leader Kam Rai argues that the council could not lawfully refute the proposals.
He said: “We can’t just manufacture a reason to say no.
“There are legal obligations on planning departments to make the necessary checks but if a building complies - whether we like the application or not - we have got to treat it impartially.”
He added: “Permitted development has greatly reduced the power of local authorities to have control of this application.”
University College London’s Dr Ben Clifford, who authored report on permitted development in May, said that “there is not much” the council could have done to prevent this scheme.
He said: “This scheme was considered by [the council] in 2014 and no significant issues in relation to the few issues they are allowed to take into account were found.”
He explained that through the permitted development route planners cannot consider: space standards; whether an area is suitable for residential use; or require the developer to contribute financially to children’s play spaces, among other amenities.
His report found that 77per cent of office-to-residential permitted development conversions have failed to meet suggested national space standards.
He added: “The only thing Redbridge could now do to try and prevent further low quality schemes like this is to introduce an ‘Article 4 direction’ which can be used to limit the permitted development and require planning permission again.”
A council spokeswoman said that the building is being used for single people on the housing register and young people leaving care moving into independent living.
She added: “Like much of London we also have high levels of rising homelessness and we need to find good quality and affordable solutions as temporary accommodation and private sector options to meet that need.
“Newbury House is part of that provision for the single homeless households.”
She added: “But the government needs to do more to help us realise our ambitions.
“Flexibility on housing finance would be start and we need adequate funding to support social housing developments.”
She said the council carries out regular checks on the management of the property and if there are any issues it will investigate them straight away.
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