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Article 4 direction relating to the conversion of offices to residential

Norwich City Council made an Article 4 Direction on 28 July 2021 in order to prevent the change of use of offices to residential within the city centre unless planning permission is granted for it by the council.

The Article 4 Direction was due to come into force on 29 July 2022, however, government feedback has meant that the council need to review the Direction - in particular, the geographical areas to which it will apply. 

This review process is currently underway, and therefore, the Direction will not come into effect in July 2022.

Read the latest committee report

What is an Article 4 direction?   

An Article 4 direction is a direction under Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order which enables a local planning authority to withdraw specified permitted development rights across a defined area. This means that any change of use from an office to residential would require full planning permission rather than only needing prior approval.  

Why is the council bringing into force an Article 4 direction? 

Since the introduction of permitted development to change from offices to residential in 2013, there has been a significant loss in office floorspace with around 30% of the total office stock since 2008 being lost. This has significantly impacted upon the supply of available office space in the city centre. 

Norwich City Council commissioned consultants Ramidus to undertake a review of office accommodation in Norwich and this found that Norwich’s office market is in a fragile and vulnerable condition and concluded that an Article 4 direction is required urgently in order to safeguard offices of strategic importance. 

Since this piece of evidence was produced in July 2020, the office economy has largely been functioning with people working from home which has led to much speculation as to whether there is still a need for office accommodation. Norwich City Council therefore asked Ramidus to provide a supplementary note to their report, specifically looking at how things have changed since March 2020 and to give their thoughts on the impact of the pandemic on the office market, particularly in Norwich.

This updated evidence suggested that while the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that people can work from home on a scale, and in ways, not envisaged by the mainstream before, it is not yet clear what the impact on physical footprint will be. The office has a key social function, not to mention areas such as training, mentoring, leadership, corporate ethos and so on. These needs have not disappeared. 

The supplementary report sets out that while the pandemic is likely to have a negative impact overall, it is difficult to foresee a structural change in the demand for offices in Norwich city as a direct result of Covid-19. The report concludes by saying that there remains a requirement for an Article 4 direction in the city centre. 
  
A six week consultation on the Article 4 Direction took place from Thursday 29 July 2021 to Thursday 9 September 2021. All comments received have been taking into account when deciding whether to confirm the Direction and a summary of the consultation responses can be found within the 8 December 2021 Cabinet report. The Council is satisfied that no issues have been raised through the consultation process that should prevent the Council from introducing the Direction.

Therefore based on the evidence and consultation responses, Norwich City Council confirmed the Article 4 Direction on 15 December 2021 and it will come into force on 29 July 2022. This will not prevent all offices changing to residential, but instead it enables the council to manage it and to consider all material planning considerations including the impact that the loss of individual offices will have upon our economy as well as ensuring that housing is of good quality. 

What area does the Article 4 direction apply to? 

Once brought into force on 29 July 2022 the direction will apply to the majority of the city centre. Any land or premises which fall within the area outlined and hatched in red on this map would be affected by the Article 4 direction.

Documents

Supporting documentation

Documentation includes council committee reports and the evidence base:

Other Article 4 directions

Article 4 directions in a conservation area