Hundreds of businesses fear being left homeless by “senseless” plans to turn their offices into a block of flats.
More than 160 firms in Premier House, in Station Road, Edgware, have been given between two weeks to six months notice to pack up and leave the building, which is owned by Reichmann Properties.
Barnet Borough Council agreed a change of use request after new laws introduced last year left it unable to refuse Reichmann Properties' appeal to turn the into flats.
Robert Davidson, the co-chairman of the Edgware Business Forum, has been running solicitors firm Davidson & Co from Premier House since 2003.
He said: “Where on earth are hundreds of businesses going to in such a short space of time? It’s devastating. We are all in the same boat as there’s a huge lack of office space.
“We set up the forum five years ago to try and reverse the decline in the high street. This building is absolutely full of vibrant businesses and effectively, we’re being told to sling our hooks.
“We’re being thrown out on the street. It’s going to affect footfall in the area. The Government has stated its intention to support small businesses – but how this fits in with that is a mystery to me.”
According to Barnet Borough Council, businesses were sent letters inviting traders to comment on the plans in May – a claim they all deny.
Chathan Shah, who owns travel agency Sona Tours, said: “I’m not sleeping at the moment, everyone’s miserable about this. It can’t be good for the area.
“It’s such a senseless thing to do. The unimaginable has happened.”
Colvin Jayasinghe, who has owned Colvin and Partners for three years, has been given six months to leave.
He said: “Nobody can understand why turning a vibrant office block into houses is a good thing. I am worried about where I’m going to go.”
The Labour GLA member for Barnet Andrew Dismore, and Hendon's Conservative MP Matthew Offord have both met traders to discuss concerns about the plans.
Elliot Dubey, Reichmann Properties’ sales and acquisitions director, said their original plans were to develop the car park at the back of the property into housing while keeping the offices.
But he added the firm had been “rebuffed” on all occasions.
He said: “Barnet’s stance is very surprising to us, even with the severe housing shortage. Barnet has refused to enter into meaningful dialogue to create a scheme that would add a significant housing supply and give even more reason to retain the commercial use of Premier House.
“We feel in the long run, the benefits of converting the office block into residential properties will outweigh the negatives.”
He added converting Premier House into flats will create 112 reasonably priced flats in a market that is “desperate” for supply.
Under new prior approval legislation, property owners can change use from office to residential use.
Cllr Dan Thomas, deputy leader of Barnet Borough Council, said recent legislation means there are “limited grounds” on which the authority can refuse such applications.
He said: “This is one of these pieces of legislation that has the best of intentions - making it easier to convert empty business premises into much needed housing. Ideally it would be bringing new life back to high streets.
“However this council asked for an exemption from the legislation exactly because we feared that, such is the value of housing land in London, some would be tempted to bypass local authorities to convert viable business premises to housing, whether or not it is appropriate or if alternative premises are available for businesess to move to.”
The council is talking to tenants to see where it can assist with helping find new premises.