Planning reform ‘not meeting needs’, says government survey

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.

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Coun Peter Box, the LGA’s housing spokesman and leader of Wakefield Council, 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 per cent of councils agreed the changes had reduced the provision of affordable housing. Of the respondents that did know, nearly half (46 per cent) 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.

Coun 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.”