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Offices converted to housing are denying affordable homes - claim

Communities have missed out on more than 10,000 affordable homes in the past three years as a result of government rules allowing developers to easily convert offices.

That’s the claim of the Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales and which says permitted development rules allowing offices to be converted into housing without planning permission are exacerbating the nation’s housing affordability crisis and should be scrapped.

Latest figures show that since 2015 a total of 42,130 housing units in England have been converted from offices to flats without having to go through the planning system. 

“As a result, they included no affordable housing or supporting investment in infrastructure such as roads, schools and health services” claims the LGA.

While this amounts to approximately seven per cent of new homes nationally, in some parts of the country it represents a much higher proportion of all new housing. Office to residential conversions under permitted development rules accounted for 40 per cent of new homes in Islington, Welwyn Hatfield, Mole Valley, Croydon and Derby in 2017/18.

The LGA says this has led to the potential loss of 10,500 affordable homes in the past three years. 

In addition a survey says that around nine out of 10 councils are concerned about the quality/design and the appropriateness of the location of housing as a result  of the permitted development rules, and almost six out of 10 are concerned about safety.

Around two-thirds thought that both contributions by developers to affordable housing and contributions for other infrastructure through section 106 agreements had reduced. A similar proportion (61 per cent) thought that demands on local infrastructure/services had increased.

Alongside scrapping the existing rules, the LGA is also urging the Government to drop proposed plans to extend them to allow upwards extensions to be built without planning permission and allow the demolition of existing commercial buildings for new homes without planning consent.  

“Permitted development rules are taking away the ability of local communities to shape the area they live in, ensure homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place and have resulted in the potential loss of thousands of desperately-needed affordable homes. The loss of office space is also leaving businesses and start-ups without any premises in which to base themselves.

Extending permitted development rules risks exacerbating these problems” says an LGA spokesman.

“Planning is not a barrier to house-building, with councils approving nine in 10 planning applications. It is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process. Councils, which are answerable to their residents, must be given back their ability to oversee all local developments to ensure they are good quality and help build prosperous places.”

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