Councillors in Hertsmere are considering moves that would make it harder for developers to convert offices into flats.

Currently – as part of changes introduced in 2013 – office buildings can be converted into accommodation under ‘permitted development rights’.

It means that so long as the developer meets certain ‘prior approval’ criteria – relating to issues like noise, air quality and highways – they don’t need to submit a planning application.

As a result, more than 500flats are believed to have been created in former office premises across Hertsmere, between 2014 and 2018.

Although it's creating much-needed additional housing, its also having an impact of the amount of business space available.

It’s been estimated that 50 per cent of office floor space in Hertsmere has been lost due to residential conversions in the past 10 years.

And in the longer term it’s feared it “could irreparably alter the borough’s economic geography”.

Now members of Hertsmere Borough Council are taking steps to protect offices in some areas of the borough.

They are looking to restrict these ‘permited development rights’ on major employment sites in the borough by introducing ‘article 4’ restrictions.

Proposals to use of ‘article 4’ – which would require developers of specified employment locations to seek full planning permission – were backed by a meeting of the council’s executive committee on March 20.

Now there’ll be a period of public consultation, after which the proposals will be re-considered. If they are agreed, they will be implemented 12 months later.

At the meeting, Cllr Dr Harvey Cohen, responsible for planning, said ‘article 4’ restrictions were already applied to conservation areas in the borough – preventing those homeowners from using ‘permitted development’.

Speaking in favour of the proposed restrictions he pointed to the loss of office space and to resulting accommodation, that could be limited in size and quality.

At the meeting Cllr Seamus Quilty, who is responsible for environment and transport, said this was a “sensible mechanism for the protection of our commercial properties”.

Leader of the Labour group, Cllr Jeremy Newmark, said it was “ludicrous” that the local authority was having to jump through hoops to be able to shape the local environment.

The council does not intend to impose ‘article 4’ restrictions across the whole borough, in order to support new housing on brownfield sites close to town centres.

They would apply to the following locations:

Elstree Way and Stirling Way, Borehamwood; Cranborne Road and Station Close, Potters Bar; and Otterspool Way, Bushey; Centennial Park, Elstree; Wrotham Business Park; Borehamwood Enterprise Centre and Theobald Court, Borehamwood; Lismirrane Industrial Park, Elstree; Hollies Way, Potters Bar; Beaumont Gate, Radlett; and the Farm Close site, Shenley.