Protection to prevent two key commercial areas in Luton from becoming housing developments renewed

A measure to prevent valuable business and employment space from being transformed into poor quality housing is being renewed in two of Luton’s key commercial areas.

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 29th April 2022, 6:08 pm
Butterfield Business Park
Butterfield Business Park

Butterfield Business Park and Capability Green in the town have had an ‘Article 4′ direction confirmed by the borough council’s executive from August 1.

Article 4 directions are used by local authorities to remove specific permitted development rights in defined areas, according to a report to the committee.

“This wouldn’t restrict development altogether, but ensures a planning application and granting of permission is required,” said the report.

“The justification and proposal to update the existing Article 4 directions at these two locations was considered and approved by the executive in January.”

After a consultation process required by law, the executive was required to confirm the new directions at its meeting on Monday (Apr 25th) to start when the current arrangement runs out on July 31st.

“This is to reduce the risks of incremental loss of commercial space in these key employment locations,” added the report.

Labour Limbury councillor Rob Roche told the executive: “To protect the high quality employment spaces at Butterfield and Capability Green, which play an important economic and sub-regional role, it’s necessary to update the current Article 4 directions at these locations, which expire soon.

“The council received three representations to the public consultation,” he said. “One opposed it and two were neutral.”

The objection suggested ’empty offices are being kept vacant which should instead be repurposed to address homelessness through extra housing’, according to the report.

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Historic England and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities raised no objection.

Liberal Democrat Barnfield councillor David Franks said: “It was a unanimous decision of the scrutiny board to fully support your attempt to protect the employment uses of office blocks from some of the disgraceful conversions which have taken place already in parts of the town centre.

“The government’s decided the owners don’t need planning consent. Some of the flats in these buildings are a complete disgrace and ought not to be allowed.

“So the board backs this and encourages you to seek opportunities to use the Article 4 direction in other parts of the town where appropriate.”

Labour Challney councillor Tom Shaw said: “We’re in a ridiculous situation where we can identify properties which aren’t suitable for Luton residents.

“They get converted by people out to make money from this. When we say ‘No, we’re not putting our residents in there’, they fetch them in.

Watford, Tower Hamlets, Milton Keynes and Newham all have people in town centre office blocks, which we declined.

“The quicker we get control of the town centre, and stop those conversions, the better it’ll be for housing applicants and for Luton.

“If it goes through building control and planning, we know it’ll be of a decent standard.

“The other councils have so much pressure on them they put people in these (places). It’s wrong. This is the only way we can stop it.”

Portfolio holder for sustainable development and highways councillor Roche replied: “The planning policy team intends returning to executive in June for the making of the Article 4 direction for the town centre as a real high priority.”