Front of building.
Freud Communications offices in Newman Street. Westminster council has given permission for conversion to flats.

The PR firm Freud Communications looks set to say farewell to its long-time home on Newman Street after Westminster council gave permission for the office block to be converted into 23 luxury flats. A planning application submitted by Newman Street Ltd was approved at Tuesday’s planning application committee which was chaired by deputy council leader Robert Davis. 

In 2012 Matthew Freud owner of the company spent £22m buying the freehold interest in the PR group’s Newman Street headquarters, reported PR Week. The property is held by Newman Street Ltd a subsidiary of Freud (Holdings) Ltd and was subsequently valued at £30m in the company’s latest published accounts.

The PR company on leaving Newman Street will take advantage to the high price of land in Fitzrovia. Unlike other media companies including including Saatchi & Saatchi who are leaving the district, which is known for its media industry, Freuds are not being priced out or pushed out. Instead the successful Freud has cashed-in and will profit handsomely from having acquired the freehold and then quickly increased the value of the building by securing planning permission for apartments which will be within five minutes walk of the future Dean Street entrance of Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station.

Only a couple of weeks ago Westminster council also gave similar permission for BBC Worldwide offices in nearby Foley Street to be converted to flats.

Bit by bit office premises in Fitzrovia are being replaced by luxury apartments, a trend that is unlikely to halt anytime soon.

Westminster’s planning officer in a report to the committee had recommended “refuse permission” because of an absence of on-site affordable housing contrary to policy and lack of parking. Newman Street Ltd is not providing any affordable housing on-site, and was only offering £1.5m towards Westminster’s affordable housing fund. 

However, after discussing the plans the committee said the proposals would be acceptable provided a “policy compliant” payment of £4.3m was paid to the council’s affordable housing fund. The committee agreed to approve the plans subject to this payment and the applicants making suitable arrangements for residents’ parking.

Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association had raised concerns about lack of affordable housing. This was also a concern of the Charlotte Street Association who also lodged an objection about the loss of the office which they said would damage the economic vitality of the district.

“For its economic well-being Fitzrovia requires a wide range of office space in terms of size and quality ranging from the modern highly serviced space to older and poorly serviced and cheaper space. The latter being potentially suitable for SMEs which play such an important role in the economic activity in the area, its vitality, and the range of employment and opportunity,” warned Max Neufeld of the Charlotte Street Association.

Neufeld argued that Westminster’s planning policy is not giving any protection to this type of building which is “under threat since it is the most profitable to change from office to residential.”

Westminster’s core strategy states: “Offices are supported as an important use within Westminster. However, because of the unique market pressures for office floorspace and long-term stability in provision, it is not considered necessary to provide a specific policy to protect offices,” (page 82 Westminster Core Strategy 2011).

But as times change, market forces are favouring flats over business uses.

“It is hard to understand why Westminster council sought exemption from the recent amendments to the General Permitted Development Order as the continued employment use of this building in the core Central Area Zone is not protected,” questioned Neufeld.

It is not known where or when Freud Communications will move. Fitzrovia News has not asked them to comment.

Planning applications committee 10 December 2013.

55 Newman Street, London W1T