Basildon Council Leader Cllr Gavin Callaghan met with London Councils this week to agree a joint approach to Government highlighting the problems caused by permitted development rights that allow conversion of offices into flats, without the need for planning approval, and the Local Housing Allowance rates.
Too many conversions are resulting in cramped and poor quality accommodation with council planners powerless to do anything about them.
On top of this, private landlords know that the Local Housing Allowance – the maximum rent that can be met by housing benefit – is higher in London councils than it is out of London. They are therefore setting their rents at the higher London rate and marketing their properties to London councils. The result is that London councils, who are under huge pressure to find accommodation for homeless families and can’t afford London market rates, are increasingly using flats in Basildon and other Essex councils to house their homeless people.
“This is a toxic combination of factors that is causing real problems in Basildon,” said Cllr Callaghan. “It is encouraging the development of poor quality flats in our borough, making it more difficult for us to tackle our homelessness challenges and robbing many vulnerable individuals and families of the support and family networks they desperately need.
“We cannot go on this way and we need Government to recognise the impact of their policies on places like Basildon and to take urgent action.
“This is having a knock on effect for Basildon’s housing market as local Basildon people are being forced to move out of accommodation to make way for London Borough tenants who can pay more in rent because their housing allowances are higher than in Basildon.
“With permitted development there is no community infrastructure levy (CIL). In the last four years we have had the equivalent of an entire primary school’s worth of children leave London and come to Basildon but without any additional funding for our schools. This is putting incredible pressure on our public services and is no way to create communities.”
Council Leaders in Essex and London have now agreed to lobby Government to stop the permitted conversion of offices to flats without planning approval and to raise Local Housing Allowance levels to better reflect local market rates.
Other measures agreed include:
- councils will share information about developers that are seeking to market permitted development accommodation to them
- London councils will ensure Essex councils are properly notified when they house families in their areas
- councils will work to agree a new protocol to formalise an improved way of managing these issues.
Cllr Callaghan is writing to Basildon’s MPs to ask them to raise the issues of the Local Housing Allowance and permitted development with the new Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government at the earliest opportunity.