Permitted development rights rules are “detrimental” to local communities and should be scrapped, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.
The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has conducted research suggesting that close to one in 10 new homes over the last two years was converted from an existing office, with no investment in affordable housing or infrastructure supporting these conversions.
Permitted development rights have led “to the potential loss of more than 7,500 desperately-needed affordable homes”, the LGA suggests, pointing to figures showing that since 2015 there have been 30,575 housing units converted from offices to flats in England without having to go through the planning system. While this figure equates to eight per cent of new homes nationally, in some parts of the country it is responsible for around two thirds of all new housing.
“Office to residential conversions under permitted development rules accounted for 73 per cent of new homes in Stevenage, 64 per cent in Three Rivers, and 61 per cent in Sutton during 2016/17,” the LGA said in a statement.
“In Nottingham, Basildon, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Hounslow and Harlow the number was more than half.”
The LGA estimates that permitted development has led to the “potential loss” of 7,644 affordable homes over the last two years.
Martin Tett, housing spokesman at the LGA, sees the problem as two-fold. As well as allowing developers to convert offices to flats without providing affordable housing and local services, the resulting loss of office space “can risk hampering local plans to grow economies and attract new businesses and jobs to high streets and town centres”.
Daniel Frisby, senior planner at law firm DMH Stallard, agreed with the broad thrust of the LGA’s argument.
“As well as this policy having no provision for councils to require the delivery of affordable housing, it also fails to enforce appropriate minimum space standards,” said Frisby.
“In our experience this leads to extremely poor living accommodation with some units being as small as 15 metres squared (less than half the standard advised floor space for one-bedroom flats).
“While the policy has been helpful to regenerate disused offices, the lack of control with respect of affordable housing and minimum space standards is a concern and could be easily rectified. These homes also put pressure on local infrastructure without the means to require development contributions to be made.”
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