Planning chiefs say office-to-resi policy is leading to eviction of firms

Controversial rules allowing offices to be converted to homes without planning permission has led to some existing businesses being kicked out of their premises, according to a survey of town hall planning chiefs.

Utopia Village: was subject of application to convert offices to flats under new permitted development rights
Utopia Village: was subject of application to convert offices to flats under new permitted development rights

The survey, carried out by the Local Government Association (LGA), found that, of the respondents that did know, 46 per cent said that 50-100 per cent of office-to-residential prior approval applications involved part or fully occupied office space.

Ninety-three heads of planning services in English councils responded to the LGA’s survey.

It found that four in ten respondents said that the office-to-residential permitted development right had reduced office space within the local area and only two in ten thought it had brought vacant office space back into use.

More than half of respondents said that the measures have resulted in housing which does not meet identified needs, while 60 per cent said that the changes have reduced the provision of affordable housing.

Eighty per cent of respondents said that the £80 prior approval fee for such applications meant that they are operating at a loss.

Peter Box, chair of the LGA’s economy, environment, housing and transport board, said: "What was meant to provide a new lease of life for empty offices has, in reality, seen organisations kicked out of their premises so landlords can cash in on the higher rents they can charge for flats and houses.

"High streets and communities have been changed with no consultation of those living and working in them.

"Councils have told us permitted development rights have meant that not only is there less office space available, there is also less of the vital infrastructure we need too."

But housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis said that the LGA "simply oppose these changes as town halls can't hammer these regeneration schemes with punishing development taxes".

He said: "Our change of use reforms are providing badly needed homes such as studios and one-bedroom flats for young people, especially in London where there is a particularly acute need for more housing.

"This is helping promote brownfield regeneration, protect the green belt and increase housing supply at no cost to the taxpayer. More housing in town centres also increases resident footfall and supports local shops."

Figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government last week revealed that councils refused one fifth of office-to-residential prior approval applications in the second quarter of 2014.

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