Nearly 14,000 affordable homes lost to office conversions

The Local Government Association has revealed that communities have lost out on more than 13,500 desperately-needed affordable homes in the past four years as a result of rules allowing offices to be converted into housing without planning permission.

Councils want to work with the government to tackle the housing shortage and ensure new housing meets the needs of communities. However, office conversions in some parts of the country have been carried out under the permitted development right, contributing to amount to almost half of all new housing. This method allows homes to be created without going through the planning system.

The LGA argues that this means local areas have no way to ensure developers meet high quality standards, provide any affordable homes as part of the development or ensure supporting infrastructure such as roads, schools and health services are in place. Council leaders are now calling on permitted development rules to be scrapped and local communities to be allowed to have a vital say on new developments in their area.

David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said: “Serious concerns remain over the high numbers of homes which continue to be converted from offices without planning permission. Permitted development rules are resulting in the alarming potential loss of thousands of desperately-needed affordable homes.

“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 and are able to oversee all local developments. By scrapping permitted development rules, the Government can give councils and local communities the ability to shape the area they live in and ensure homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place.”

While the total conversions amount to six per cent of all new homes nationally, in some areas a significantly high proportion of new housing is office-to-residential conversions. For example, 51 per cent of all new homes in Harlow last year were office conversions, with 48 per cent in Norwich and 43 per cent in Three Rivers.