‘Loss of commercial property to housing is leaving Hertfordshire companies unable to expand’

Terry Gilbert, managing director of Fix Auto in Stevenage, is looking to expand the business but say

Terry Gilbert, managing director of Fix Auto in Stevenage, is looking to expand the business but says there is nowhere to go. - Credit: Archant

The boss of an auto repair company says there is nowhere in Hertfordshire to expand his business, with the Federation of Small Businesses blaming the increased rate of loss of commercial property to housing.

Terry Gilbert, managing director of Fix Auto in Stevenage, said: "We are looking to expand to other towns in Hertfordshire but there are no premises available.

"We would employ another 30 people, but all units are either not available or far too small."

Pam Charman, FSB area leader for Hertfordshire, said: "The trend seems to be to grant permission to knock down pubs and other small commercial premises and put up houses. Not only are we losing great buildings and social meeting areas, but also local employment opportunities.

"If we want Hertfordshire to be a place where local businesses thrive and people can find good jobs near their homes, rather than by commuting to London, we must stem the decline. Otherwise, Hertfordshire towns will become merely dormitories, with little sense of community."

Pam says one of the biggest drivers of the loss of commercial property to housing has been permitted development rights, which allow certain building works and changes of use to be carried out without having to make a planning application.

She said: "It is having a very significant impact on the ability of businesses to expand their businesses and supply local jobs and services to local people."

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Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland said: "In all the local authority Local Plans, which identify housing over the next 20 years or so, I have tried to force in more land to be set aside for employment. Sadly, Stevenage Borough Council continues to eat ours up and has put in its Local Plan that new employment land for Stevenage businesses will be in Baldock."

A SBC spokesman said: "To help protect key employment sites in Gunnels Wood Road and Pin Green we have put in Article 4 directions, which remove PDR for change of use from office and industrial to residential.

"These were put in place to prevent any further loss of employment land in Stevenage and to help retain the balance between homes and jobs.

"The Local Plan allocates 20 hectares of new employment land, intended to provide capacity to support the growth of businesses in the years ahead."

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