The loss of employment land space in Hertfordshire over the past decade is equivalent to the total office space in St Albans, Watford and Welwyn Garden City combined, according to a major survey commissioned by Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

This net loss equates to over 771,000 sq. m. of commercial floorspace across the county, creating very real problems for existing, expanding and new businesses and for those looking to move into the area, notably international investors.

The report, Loss of Employment Space in Hertfordshire by commercial chartered surveyors Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH), concludes by urging the LEP to lobby central Government on the impact of the loss of commercial floorspace on the Hertfordshire economy.

One of the biggest drivers of this loss in Hertfordshire has been Permitted Development Rights (PDR), a national grant of planning permission which allows certain building works and changes of use to be carried out without having to make a planning application.

This has been responsible for the vast majority of the increased rate of loss of office floorspace since 2013-14 to housing. This is having a very significant impact on existing and potential occupiers and has created serious imbalances between supply and demand in the market.

The report makes a number of recommendations and concludes that the Government should halt the existing PDR conversions and should not proceed with the proposed extension to PDR contained in its recent consultation document, Planning Reform: Supporting the High Street and increasing the delivery of new homes.

It warns that a failure to do so would ‘seriously impact the efficient, effective and sustainable operation of city and town centres as economic growth locations, especially for the creative and knowledge-based economy’

Hertfordshire LEP Chair Mark Bretton, said:  “This report indicates that the impact of PDR is more keenly felt here in Hertfordshire than in other parts of the UK. Collectively we must push Whitehall to ensure that local planning authorities continue to deliver sustainable economic development by being able to plan adequately for employment. PDR clearly weakens their control, flexibility and freedom to shape local communities for the future.”

Hertfordshire Councils established a Growth Board for Hertfordshire in 2018, comprising the 11 local authority leaders in the county and Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership. The Growth Board will take a long term view of the growth needs of Hertfordshire, helping to plan for and support the delivery of some 100,000 new homes in the county over the next 15 years.

In January, Growth Board Chair and Hertfordshire County Council leader Cllr David Williams responded to the Government’s planning reform consultation outlining his grave concerns for Hertfordshire’s economy should the proposed extension to PDR go ahead.

In a letter to Kit Malthouse MP, Minister of State for Housing, Cllr Williams said: “From an economic development perspective, the inability to retain control over the best and most versatile employment spaces and sites completely undermines our objective to support and develop key sectors of the local economy and will make the delivery of an effective Local Industrial Strategy more challenging.

“We would urge you to examine the evidence of the consequences in Hertfordshire and the wider South East of the proposed approach to PDR and consider whether this is appropriate in an area which supports key sectors of the UK’s economy and where local jobs are crucial to sustainable growth.”

Hertfordshire LEP is now looking to hold a conference with Hertfordshire’s Growth Board and local developers to discuss this report, formulate its response and ask of Government.