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Councils call for office block conversion rights to be scrapped

Town hall bosses have called for regulations which allow office blocks to be converted into flats without planning permission to be axed.

New figures released by the Local Government Association (LGA) show more than half (56.6%) of all new homes last year (2019/20) in Trafford were office conversions, with 40.9% in Crawley, 37.5% in Harlow, 36.7% in Walsall and 36.3% in Luton.

The conversions were possible through permitted development rights, which allow developers to bypass the planning system.

The use of such rights has proved controversial in the past.

In February 2020, MP Robert Halfon described converted office blocks in his Harlow constituency as ‘ghetto building, human warehousing and social cleansing’.

In March this year, a cross-party group of MPs launched a new inquiry to examine the government’s approach to permitted development rights.

And an independent report commissioned by the government last year found that permitted development conversions can ‘create worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers’.

The LGA has called for permitted development rights to be scrapped as part of a strengthening of the locally-led planning system.

It fears that with office blocks and other types of business premises potentially being left redundant following Covid-19 as a result of a switch to greater home-working and the economic downturn, that many will be acquired by developers to bypass the planning system and turn into housing.

‘We have long had concerns over the substandard housing created from permitted development conversions, and the lack of any requirement for developers to provide affordable homes or supporting infrastructure,’ said the LGA’s housing spokesman, Cllr David Renard.

‘The planning system exists to enable the delivery of a mix of high-quality, affordable housing that meets the needs of local communities, and gives those communities the opportunity to shape and define the area they live in.

‘Councils are committed to building the housing this country desperately needs as part of the national recovery from coronavirus, but we urge the government to protect the future quality of new homes by permanently revoking the permitted development rights for change of use into homes.’

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