Government planning rules aimed at bringing empty offices back into use has in certain cases resulted in existing businesses being served with eviction notices, a local government survey has suggested.
The permitted development rights changes introduced in May last year allow offices to be turned into housing without planning permission and proposals have been put forward to make the amendments permanent.
While in some areas vacant offices have been brought back into use, in others more than half of applications have seen partly or fully occupied offices turning into flats, the Local Government Association poll found.
Councillor Peter Box, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said the plans “fly in the face of localism”.
The survey of planning officers found four in 10 respondents said the measures had reduced office space within the local area and only two in 10 thought it had brought vacant office premises back into use. More than half of councils agreed the measures had resulted in housing which does not meet identified need.
It also revealed 60% of councils agreed the changes had reduced the provision of affordable housing. Of the respondents that did know, nearly half (46%) said that between 50-100% of prior approvals involved office space which was either partially or fully occupied.
A number of authorities have lobbied for and received exemptions from the policy where the measures would have a detrimental economic impact on their areas, however under Government proposals these exemptions would be removed, the LGA said.
It warned office space and affordable housing would lessen and infrastructure “put under strain” if the temporary changes to permitted development were made permanent from 2016.
Cllr Box said: “What was meant to provide a new lease of life for empty offices has, in reality, seen organisations kicked out of their premises so landlords can cash in on the higher rents they can charge for flats and houses. High streets and communities have been changed with no consultation of those living and working in them.
“Councils have told us permitted development rights have meant that not only is there less office space available, there is also less of the vital infrastructure we need too. These changes have created homes which do not meet the identified needs of a community, which has put pressure on schools, roads and health services, as well as making fewer houses which are affordable at a time when rents and house prices are soaring.
“Rather than letting communities shape their local areas through the planning system, the majority of these proposals will impose additional control from Whitehall. It is vital residents can have a say through their democratically-elected councils. These plans fly in the face of localism, add further confusion to the planning system and undermine the premise of a locally plan-led system which government promised to local areas.”
The survey conducted over the summer was fully completed by 93 English councils (a 29% response rate), with 19 councils providing incomplete responses which were also included in the survey.
Planning minister Brandon Lewis said: “Our change of use reforms are providing badly needed homes such as studios and one-bedroom flats for young people, especially in London where there is a particularly acute need for more housing.
“This is helping promote brownfield regeneration, protect the green belt and increase housing supply at no cost to the taxpayer. More housing in town centres also increases resident footfall and supports local shops.
“The Local Government Association simply oppose these changes as town halls can’t hammer these regeneration schemes with punishing development taxes.”
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