Understand Eric Pickles’ New Legislation

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Proposed changes to national UK planning laws are designed to make it far easier to change commercial properties into residential ones. At first glance the changes make sense in a nation of over-expensive housing, where property owners stand to make six times more on residential property vs commercial… but any national policy change is likely to have unintended consequences.

“New planning measures will ensure empty and underused offices can be swiftly converted into much-needed housing to make the most use out of previously developed land.”

It’s hard to understand how a policy designed to support community and localism removes any control of planning from local authorities. One of the few powers local authorities have left after years of government centralisation is now also being removed. London boroughs are in a double bind, because they are largely exempt from new laws designed to support regional development.

In this case, the emerging Tech City cluster, building rapidly around Shoreditch, could be in jeopardy. Am I biased? Absolutely – as cofounder of a coworking space Shoreditch Works we’re doing everything we can to support early stage startups succeed. Do I want to be competing with the London Loft Company? Hell no. But the real point here is that the reason the cluster kicked off is because we could find reasonably priced places to work. The kind of people building economic success here are not tied to the area – they chose it.

RedMonk was on the original Tech City map seven years ago because i found a place above a pub to work, and Dopplr joined us. These kind of spaces are likely to disappear pretty quickly if the loft conversion companies have carte blanche to cherry pick the best spaces to turn into expensive flats. Sterility though rarely drives economic vibrancy.

I want to make it clear that we’re not anti-housing. But we are very much about mixed use. You could say Shoreditch Works would likely to follow the Jane Jacobs model = The Death and Life of Great American Cities. That is, choose life. If Shoreditch specially and Hackney can’t support startups, then an awful lot of people will have to leave London for Berlin or Dublin.

Which means, regardless of the national merits of the changes to planning policy, we strongly believe that Hackney Council should be able to get the exemption it currently seeks. So the UK can benefit from economic growth in Tech City and Hackney at large.