A report by the Local Government Association has revealed that over the last two years nearly one in ten new homes was converted from what had previously been office accommodation. Where such conversions were carried out there had been no provision for affordable housing, nor any corresponding investment in infrastructure such as schools, transport or health services.
Representing 370 Councils across England and Wales, the LGA is highly critical of recent changes in permitted development rights regulations, which allow offices to be converted into housing without the need for planning permission. Describing the changes as “detrimental” to local communities, the body is calling for the rules to be scrapped.
The LGA claims that since 2015 a total of 30,575 properties have been converted from offices into flats without requiring planning permission, but that by side-stepping previous planning laws this has led to the potential loss of over 7,600 badly-needed affordable homes. Whilst the number of converted properties represents only 8% of new homes across the country, in some areas the percentage is much higher. In Hertfordshire, conversions from office to residential use represented 73% of all new homes in Stevenage, and 64% in Three Rivers district.
An obvious consequence of this rush to convert office buildings is the knock-on effect on businesses and the wider local economy, with shortages of office space and consequent rises in rents.
The Local Government Association’s Housing spokesman, Cllr Martin Tett said:
Councils want to see more affordable homes built quickly and the conversion of offices into residential flats is one way to deliver much-needed homes.
However, it is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process. At present, permitted development rules allow developers to bypass local influence and convert offices into flats, and to do so without providing affordable housing and local services and infrastructure.