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Conversion and Stress: Part 1

Planning consultant David Kemp BSc (Hons) MRICS Barrister* (*non-practising) and Director at DRK Planning Ltd, comments

Although the planning process can test your sanity at times, this article is not about mental health when dealing with planning applications – that would probably need a ‘handbook’ rather than an article!

Instead, this article is about the concept of ‘conversion stress’ and how you can overcome this to unearth opportunities in your target area (where policy allows). This relates to policies imposed by the local planning authority to control the number of single dwelling houses in a street that would be allowed to convert to smaller units – either as HMOs or as flats.

Developers in more Inner-London Boroughs may come across this more often in my experience – but the issues that follow will almost always be relevant even if no such policy restriction exists locally.

This article is the first of two, and calls upon our recent experience of client cases that have brought challenges in taking such schemes through planning.

What is a Conversion Stress Policy (CSP)?
Local authorities will often seek in some largely suburban roads to, in some way or another, control the amount of properties converted to smaller units, flats or HMOs. This can be for a number of different reasons:

  • Retain a stock of smaller family housing.
  • Protect local residents from the undesirable or unchecked impacts of conversion (e.g. more noise and ‘comings and goings’, overflowing bins, insufficient parking etc.).
  • Ensure that new homes from converted buildings provide a good mix, size and layout of new accommodation.
  • To not harm the ‘lower intensity’ feel of more suburban residential neighbourhoods.

Policies will vary from one local authority area to another. However, this issue engages the very principle of development where permission is sought for a conversion. Not all local authorities will have such policies – it depends on the nature of local pressures on that authority’s housing market.  Regardless, you should be sure before focussing on an area for sourcing opportunities that you know whether you will be caught by such a policy. It could save you a lot of time, cost and energy.

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