By Alistair Farrow
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Labour promises end to slum office housing—but Labour councils still send tenants to live in them

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Issue 2652
Conditions outside Prospect House, a former office block in Brent, north London where the Labpur council is housing tenants
Conditions outside Prospect House, a former office block in Brent, north London where the Labpur council is housing tenants (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Labour has pledged to end the scandal of developers converting office blocks into flats if it wins the next election.

The practice has become widespread, with 42,000 flats created from non-residential space in the last few years.

The Tories relaxed permitted development rules in 2013 to allow developers to convert office blocks into flats without planning permission. The flats created are also exempt from minimum requirements for space and window size.

Socialist Worker was among the first to report the scandal, revealing last year that Labour councils were sending tenants to live on an industrial estate in Harlow, Essex.

One warehouse redevelopment in Balham, south London, will create “studio flats” of just 18 square metres, and some without windows at all, just skylights providing natural light.

Speaking on Wednesday, shadow housing minister John Healey said, “Conservative permitted development rules have created a get-out clause for developers to dodge affordable homes requirements and build slum housing.

Driving out the homeless
Driving out the homeless
  Read More

“To fix the housing crisis, we need more genuinely affordable, high-quality homes. This Conservative housing free-for-all gives developers a free hand to build what they want but ignore what local communities need.”

Healey argued that Labour will “ensure developers build the low-cost, high-quality homes that the country needs.”

It’s revealing that he made no mention of council housing.

Labour’s announcement is welcome—but the party must go much further.

The Tories are in league with property developers to ensure that the people in the greatest housing need suffer cramped and unsafe living space.

Yet Labour councils are getting in on the action as well. Socialist Worker has reported how Labour councils are taking advantage of the looser planning regulations to ship homeless households out of areas with high council housing waiting lists.

It means—as in one instance in Brent, north London reported by Socialist Worker—children are playing next to roads on industrial estates where heavy goods vehicles are speeding past.

Housing regulations should be much tighter. But Labour-led councils should push back against the Tories’ attacks on housing—not use them as an excuse to get rid of “problem” tenants.

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