Enfield now has hundreds of flats in converted office buildings, but how will these flats cope in heatwaves?
Controversial Permitted Development Rights (PDR) for office to residential conversions were introduced by the Conservative Government in 2013. The aim was to create homes quickly by allowing developers to convert offices into flats without going through the normal often lengthy planning process.
The policy backfired, and there has been particular concern over the poor quality of some of the homes built. Conservative MP Robert Halfon described PDR as: “… a policy that is possibly the most ill-thought-out, ill-conceived and subject to the law of unintended consequences, than almost any other policy … over the past few years”. (1)
Flats in office conversions are at an increased risk of serious overheating
One of the concerns about flats in converted offices is the risk of overheating. A 2021 report from the insurer Zurich warned that overheating is emerging as potential ‘deadly risk” and that small studio type flats in office conversions were at particular risk of overheating and could become uninhabitable. (2)
Enfield has hundreds of flats in converted offices, and hundreds more are being built.
Unfortunately, Enfield Council was one of a few councils in London that did not put appropriate measures in place to control office conversions, despite being recommended to do so. (3) As a result, there are hundreds of flats of variable quality in converted offices across Enfield, and hundreds more are being built or have planning approval. Other boroughs that did put the measures in place are able to refuse these types of conversions in specific locations and have greater control over the quality of office conversions.
Case Study – Refuge House, EN1
Enfield Council granted developers permission to convert Refuge House into 76 studio flats and building work is currently underway.
Almost all of the flats will be extremely small, with many not much more than half the minimum size usually allowed. (4&5) The flats will be smaller than 2 standard sized car parking spaces. (6) Measurements show that floor to ceiling heights will also be below what is normally considered permissible. (7& 8) The dimensions of the flats are important because reductions in the volume of air within a flat increase the risk of overheating.
The studio flats are a single small room consisting of a sleeping area, seating area, kitchen, and bathroom. This design is also likely to contribute to the flats warming (e.g. as a result of the residual heat from cooking or showers). There will be no alternative room to go to if the flat begins to overheat and the majority of the residents will not have access to any outside space (e.g. a balcony), to escape to if the heat in their flat becomes uncomfortable.
A large number of the studio flats will be single aspect (i.e. with windows on just one side). This reduces cross-ventilation (i.e. cooling air blowing through the flats). Furthermore, many of the flats will have windows which face South or West and which will therefore bear the greatest impact of heating from the sun. (9)
The approved plans do not suggest that any shading will be installed to reduce the risk of overheating (e.g. awnings or brise-soleil). Neither do the plans indicate whether or not air conditioning will be installed, and in any regard, air conditioning should be avoided wherever possible as it is energy-hungry and expensive to run and will ultimately only add to problems linked to climate change.
Will new Building Regulations help?
The Government has recognised the serious risks associated with overheating and has introduced new Building Regulations with the aim of protecting the health and welfare of occupants of buildings by reducing the occurrence of high indoor temperatures. (10) These new regulations came into effect in June 2022, but they will not apply to schemes that already have planning approval.
Unfortunately, the new building regulations will not apply to the hundreds of flats in office conversions in Enfield which already have planning approval or are already built. This could have serious impacts on the health and welfare of the residents in these flats and as the weather warms, it will be an increasing concern.
FOOTNOTES AND REFERENCES
- Robert Halfon: The choice for Conservatives. Back the Prime Minister, or face election oblivion. Conservative Home
- Office to flat conversions are at increased risk of serious overheating (zurich.co.uk)
- Article-4-Directions-for-Conversions-to-Residential-Use-2021.pdf (planninginsight.co.uk)
- Technical housing standards – nationally described space standard – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Schedule of Accomodation.xlsx (enfield.gov.uk)
- Bay Sizes- Jul 2016.pdf (britishparking.co.uk)
- Mayor of London – Housing Quality and Standards.pdf
- 19072-13-B-2 (enfield.gov.uk) – Plans show structural ceiling height is 2.3m
- 116885-Overheating-Guidance-v3.pdf (bre.co.uk)
- Overheating: Approved Document O – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)