Concerns have been raised over new measures that will make it easier for developers to turn underused office buildings into homes.
Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis has announced that permitted development rights, which enable offices to be converted into homes without applicants having to apply for planning permission, will be made permanent. The rights were introduced in 2013 as a temporary measure and were due to expire on 30 May 2016.
The rights will, in future, allow the demolition of office buildings and new building for residential use, said Mr Lewis. He added light industrial buildings and launderettes will also qualify for being turned into new homes. However, a statement from the Department for Communities & Local Government said both measures would be subject to “limitations” and “prior approval” by councils and added: “Further details will be provided in due course.”
Peter Box (Lab), the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman, said: “We have concerns that the government has decided to permanently allow developers to convert offices into homes without the need for planning permission.
“This temporary policy was designed to provide a new lease of life to empty offices but some councils have reported some existing businesses being evicted so landlords can cash in on higher residential rates and sale prices.
“Not only has this led to less of some of the office space needed for economic growth it has, in some cases, seen it replaced with homes which do not meet community needs and remain unaffordable.”
LGC reported in May how business leaders in London called for the capital to be exempt from the policy having previously warned permitted development rights would lead to the loss of essential employment space.
London Councils had backed that stance and in a briefing paper on permitted development rights, published in August, the organisation said it had objected “strongly” to the extension when the government consulted on the proposal earlier this year.
There are areas consisting of individual buildings, roads or zones in 17 local authorities which are currently exempt from permitted development rights by virtue of an Article 4 direction. These directions can be used protect the character of an area of acknowledged importance, such as a conservation area.
Mr Lewis said councils would have until May 2019 to make an Article 4 direction. The communities secretary can cancel or modify a direction.