Norwich City Council has confirmed an Article 4 direction which when brought into force on 29 July 2022 will prevent the change of use of offices to residential unless planning permission is granted for it by the council.
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.
Documentation includes council committee reports and the evidence base:
- A Review of Office Accommodation in Norwich (Ramidus, July 2020)
- The impact of the Covid pandemic on the office market with reference to the city of Norwich (Ramidus, May, 2021)
- Sustainable Development Panel Report - 22 July 2020
- Sustainable Development Panel Minutes 22 July 2020
- Sustainable Development Panel Report - 1 October 2020
- Sustainable Development Panel Minutes - 1 October 2020
- Sustainable Development Panel Report - 22 June 2021
- Norwich City Council Cabinet Report - 7 July 2021
- Norwich City Council Cabinet Minutes - 7 July 2021
- Sustainable Development Panel Report – 16 November 2021
- Norwich City Council Cabinet Report – 8 December 2021