In May 2013, a small change was made to the planning system to make it easier for developers to turn office space into residential properties. Good news, you would think, given the undeniable housing crisis we are facing across the country and particularly in London. However, this reform is having a slew of unintended consequences, particularly when it comes to its impact on jobs in the capital.
The situation in Camden of offices being converted in to residential buildings is becoming a serious threat to the survival of local, independent businesses. Having lost enough office space to house 2,570 jobs, we believe there is a need for urgent opposition to the renewal of this policy in 2016.
The government policy that made converting these spaces easier, without the requirement of planning permission, was intended to provide much needed affordable homes in vacant office spaces. However, it has had serious negative consequences on the economic climate in Camden. Developers are now paying business tenants to move out to make way for housing, in an area where vacant offices are in fact already rare. Since the policy was introduced in 2013, Camden has lost 257,000 ft² of office space - around 2,570 jobs. By their nature, the buildings most suitable for conversion are often those housing creative businesses.
And it's having a devastating impact on young entrepreneurs, SMEs and startup businesses. The aim of the Camden Collective project is to fill vacant offices with young start-up businesses that show promise and potential. Office space in Camden is in short enough demand, without the added financial incentive for landlords to convert their properties from business use to residential. This issue is having a very real effect on the efforts of projects such as Collective to keep independent businesses alive, and inject the diversity that is so needed in Camden to put it back on the map. At Camden Town Unlimited, we believe in retaining the valuable business assets and finances that independent ventures can offer.
It's not just about business either. These job losses don't exist in isolation - they will have a knock on effect to the whole local economy. From cafes and restaurants that cater to office workers to independent shops which rely partly on local workers shopping in them there are an estimated 5,000 additional jobs relying on the workers in these at-risk offices. The repercussions of this policy are having a detrimental effect on London, and are contributing to the ghettoisation of our central boroughs. There is a real danger that this policy will mean that not only are people unable to afford to live in some of our most vibrant parts of London, they will also be squeezed out of working in them too. Let's be clear - we're not talking about low income housing here.
Camden Council has commissioned economic research that points to even more disastrous effects in the future due to this government policy across London. An estimated 1.75 million ft² of office space is in danger of being converted; this translates to 11,609 jobs and £872 million in output. Vital sectors that have long been an integral part of Camden, such as publishing and architecture, are in danger of being pushed out, taking their regional and national operations with them.
Our Camden Collective project has also been the victim of these reforms. Our office space at 159 Camden High Street, which has been home to hundreds of start-ups and small emerging companies over the past few years, has sadly had to close. We've found space for our fashion retailers in Stables Market, and our art and design teams at 26 Camden High Street, but the threat to small businesses of losing their premises for the sake of the landlords making a quick buck from the sale has really been driven home.
Publishing company Elsevier is the latest firm to announce that it will be relocating operations from its base in Camden. Elsevier has global operations with offices based around the world; to think of the loss of such a business with global contacts and business, and the consequential loss of scientific and publishing sector traffic from the is devastating. This kind of resultant effect is the driving force behind the opposition to this government policy, which will be vital in preventing a renewal of the legislation in 2016.
We're urging the Government and the Mayor to reverse this damaging legislation, and we're starting to win the argument. Boris described the planning policy as "utterly crazy" and said that "Government is totally wrong on changes to permitted development rights... It reduces the space where firms can start up". Let's hope more legislators see sense soon, and stop this threat to independent businesses that are so vital for our creative economy and community.