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Commercial to Residential Conversion Causes Controversy

The vexed issues raised by widespread conversion of commercial premises into residential accommodation loomed large as the High Court struck down planning permission for a Central London furniture store to be turned into a swish new home.

The Court found that there had been serious procedural irregularities in a government planning inspector’s consideration of the matter and that an objector’s interests and right to be heard had been ‘substantially prejudiced’ as a result.

The would-be developer had applied to the local authority for planning consent to convert the building into a home and for construction of a subterranean extension. Her proposals, however, encountered objections from the owner/occupier of a neighbouring building. Planning consent was refused by the council but that decision was overturned, and consent granted, by the inspector.

The building had long been used as medium-sized office space but was said to have been utilised for warehousing furniture in more recent times. Amongst other things, the objector complained that the inspector had considered the appeal on the basis of the latter use, although the original planning application had been for a change of use from office to residential.

In upholding his challenge, the Court found that the inspector had acted unlawfully in failing to give him the opportunity to comment on that central issue. The description of the proposed development had been changed without informing him and the appeal had thus been conducted ‘on an entirely different basis’ than he had expected. The matter was sent back to be considered afresh by the planning inspectorate.