Empty offices ‘could lead to poor housing conversions’

The LGA has warned that office blocks left empty following the pandemic are at risk of being turned into potentially substandard housing under permitted development rights, which allow developers to convert buildings into homes without planning permission.

It comes as new analysis by the LGA has found that more than 16,000 affordable homes could have been lost in England in the past five years under permitted development.

In some cases, office conversions can provide suitable accommodation, but the LGA has long had concerns about some of the substandard housing created from permitted development conversions, and the lack of any requirement for developers to provide affordable homes or supporting infrastructure.

In some areas of the country, office-to-residential conversions account for a significant proportion of new homes. In 2019/20, 56.6 per cent of all new homes in Trafford were office conversions, with 40.9 per cent in Crawley, 37.5 per cent in Harlow, 36.7 per cent in Walsall and 36.3 per cent in Luton.

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

It fears that many offices and other types of business premises potentially left redundant because of greater home working and the economic downturn will be acquired by developers, to bypass the planning system and be turned into housing.

Cllr David Renard, LGA Housing Spokesperson, said: “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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