Valuable employment space in Luton to be protected from housing developments

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The policy will be phased in over 12 month to prevent sizeable compensation claims and allow time for consultation

A policy protecting the loss of valuable business and employment space in Luton town centre to housing is set to be phased in after 12 months to prevent costly compensation claims.

The borough council wants to continue to remove permitted development rights through an Article 4 direction at seven key locations, including some just outside the central zone.

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This will allow the local authority to exercise tighter control over commercial, business and service uses to residential conversions, according to a report to its overview and scrutiny board.

The borough council wants to protect employment areasThe borough council wants to protect employment areas
The borough council wants to protect employment areas

“An Article 4 direction is sought to aid in the ongoing protection of these vital employment site allocations and retail areas.

“These play a crucial role in accommodating economic growth, increasing employment opportunities and providing important infrastructure for local residents and visitors to Luton, as well as offering a range of opportunities to shop, eat out and socialise,” said the report.

“An Article 4 direction will have the effect of requiring planning permission for residential uses, enabling higher quality development in these locations.”

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Service director sustainable development Sue Frost said: “This responds to legislative changes. It effectively replaces the Article 4 direction which expired on July 31st.

“The laws which changed mean light industrial and retail areas are also subject to permitted development rights, which allow for residential development without going through the normal planning application process.

“These sites are really important to us from an economic development perspective and we want to protect them from unmanaged changes of use and conversions to residential development.

“We’ve seen that already with the office to residential development which took place before the Article 4 direction coming in and the legislation now gives more flexibility.”

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There are seven locations proposed, including the town centre and its surrounds, all previously covered by the former direction, explained the report.

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The other six are land at Kingsway, land north-west of Osborne Road, land at the junction of Putteridge Road and Hitchin Road, the Premier Business Park in Dencora Way, land at Percival Way, Prince Way and President Way, and land to the north of the junction between between Wigmore Lane and Eaton Green Road.

“We’re recommending a non-immediate Article 4 direction,” added Mr Frost. “There are two options. We can bring it in immediately, but that brings with it a significant risk of compensation payments, which we would want to avoid.

“The lesser risk is giving the 12-month non-immediate direction and putting it in place so that we can go out to consultation.

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“We consider the feedback and eventually bring it in at the end of the 12 months. That means people can’t claim compensation and it could be a significant amount. We’ve taken some legal advice around that.

“The government require strong evidence to support any Article 4 direction and we refer it to the Secretary of State, who can decide to stop us from implementing it. We’ve done a thorough evidence base around this.”

The board agreed three recommendations, which include the non-immediate Article 4 direction at the seven sites in Luton.

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