Labour has said it would scrap the quick conversion route for offices into homes were it in power.
Shadow housing secretary John Healey said permitted development rights that allow these conversions without normal planning permission should go as they allowed “developers to dodge social housing obligations and build slum housing”.
These permitted development rights were introduced in 2013 as part of a drive to provide more homes.
Conversions can take place with minimal involvement by local planners, unlike the case with other types of development where full planning permissions would be needed.
Mr Healey said the rights had enabled the creation of “rabbit hutch” flats with smaller floor areas than normal.
He said 42,000 new housing units had been converted from offices since 2015 but the Local Government Association last year estimated that more than 10,000 affordable homes had been foregone as a result.
This is because the exemption from normal planning rules means that councils get no opportunity to negotiate with developers for the provision of affordable homes as part of deals over planning consents.
Mr Healey said: “To fix the housing crisis, we need more genuinely affordable, high-quality homes. This Conservative housing free-for-all gives developers a free hand to build what they want but ignore what local communities need.
“Labour will give local people control over the housing that gets built in their area and ensure developers build the low-cost, high-quality homes that the country needs.”
The government issued a consultation paper issued following last November’s Budget proposed a dramatic further extension of permitted development rights, including to rebuild commercial buildings and add extra floors to existing residential properties.
A Conservative party statement said Labour’s proposal showed it had “no interest in helping people get onto the housing ladder”.
Mr Healey also caused concern within the building industry about how local authority planners would cope if every development had to go through their over-stretched departments.
Brain Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “If Labour is going to put more strain on the planning system by scrapping commercial to residential permitted development, it must also think carefully about how planning will be resourced.
“Small and medium-sized house builders cite the planning process as the third greatest barrier to them increasing their delivery of new homes. Planning departments are chronically underfunded and we can’t ask them to do more without providing them with additional funding.”
LGC Future Places
The race is on to build 300,000 new homes a year – but how can you ensure your new communities are prosperous, healthy and vibrant? The event takes place in Birmingham from 22-23 May and seeks to support councils to form the relationships that can get new developments off the ground, and offer inspiration to shape their rapidly changing places to promote fairness and opportunity.
To enquire about reserving a space please email David.Palmer@emap.com.