Office-to-flat conversion plan appeal rejected in Bedford over ‘poor living standards’

A planning inspector has thrown out a developer’s attempt to convert offices to flats on the basis that they would create poor living standards.

By David Tooley, local democracy reporter
Monday, 18th January 2021, 4:40 pm
Updated Monday, 18th January 2021, 4:43 pm

Inspector Andrew Smith also rejected Homelink Properties’ argument that Bedford Borough Council had acted “unreasonably” because there is no policy requirement for the amount of living space in the local plan.

Homelink’s proposal to create one flat and one studio flat above 44-46 Bunyan Road, in Kempston, had been refused by the council at the end of July last year.

The smaller, studio flat, would have its bedroom, lounge, and kitchen in one “modest” sized open-plan room, as well as a shower room and a small entrance hall.

The appeal site, in Bunyan Road

Mr Smith said: “The future occupier’s combined sleeping, cooking and general day-to-day living requirements would predominantly be confined to a single room of relatively modest expanse.

“Indeed, the proposed floor plan indicates constrained internal arrangements that would provide living conditions of a poor standard.”

The studio flat would also not have its own outside space, the inspector found.

He added that “acceptable living conditions for future residential occupiers of the studio would not be created.”

The developers had told the council that the flats would be of an “appropriate size, scale and design in the context of the application site and the wider area”.

The inspector ruled that the council should have had reference to living space in the local plan that was adopted only last year.

But he said the local plan and national policies sets out that “planning decisions should promote health and well-being and secure a high standard of amenity for existing and future users.”

He said he was “un-persuaded that a high standard of amenity for future occupiers would be provided” in the studio flat.

He also said that the creation of new flats would need their own parking spaces, and most of the external area was used by business occupiers who often parked back to back.

Mr Smith, who visited the area on January 4, said this would “likely be to the detriment of highway safety and the free-flow of traffic, particularly given the constrained site circumstances.”

He said that the scheme would be a benefit for young single people but would not make a noticeable difference to borough-wide housing.

It would also be a “relatively modest” benefit to the local economy but these “would not outweigh the harms and associated policy conflicts.”

In another decision also made on January 13, the inspector dismissed an appeal for costs against the council.

The applicant thought the council had behaved “unreasonably” by imposing technical housing standards, which do not form part of the Bedford Borough Local Plan.

“I do not consider that it was unreasonable for the council to have had regard to the space standards as part of its assessment of the merits of the proposal,” he ruled.