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London boroughs legal challenge fails

A group of London boroughs has failed in a bid to challenge the government's introduction of permitted development rights for office-to-home conversions.
The High Court ruled that the process of deciding where to allow exemptions from the policy was not unlawful and rejected the application for judicial review.
The challenge, led by the London Borough of Islington with backing from Camden, Richmond, Sutton and Tower Hamlets, said the policy is creating a free-for-all in the planning system. 
Apart from loss of valuable employment space, the boroughs had argued that councils had no control over the quality or size of the converted flats or any power to demand an affordable housing element.
The government introduced the policy last May, prompting 165 local authorities to seek at least a partial exemption. Only 17 were subsequently granted, including London's “central activities zone” and three other areas in the capital.
The boroughs said that the way in which applications were to be assessed had not been explained to councils and was unfair and unlawful.
 The court disagreed and said although it “would have been sensible” for communities secretary Eric Pickles to give this information to planning authorities, failure to do so did not amount to the process being unlawful.