Offices left empty by COVID-19 could result in surge in substandard home conversions

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Office blocks that are left empty following the coronavirus pandemic risk being turned into potential substandard housing as a result of rules that allow developers to convert buildings into homes without planning permission, local Liberal Democrat councillor [YOUR NAME] has warned.

New analysis by the Local Government Association found that more than 16,000 affordable homes could have been lost in England in the past five years as a result of offices converted into homes under permitted development rights, which allow developers to bypass the planning system.

In some areas of the country, office to residential conversions account for a significant proportion of new homes. [ASK YOUR COUNCIL FOR A LOCAL FIGURE]

This means communities get no say over these conversions to ensure they meet high quality standards, nor is there a requirement for the developer to provide any affordable housing or supporting infrastructure such as roads, schools and health services, as there would be if planning permission was required.

It comes as the Government has also set out plans to extend permitted development rights to apply to all commercial units and business premises – meaning shops closed down due to the pandemic could also be turned into homes without planning permission.

An independent report commissioned by the Government found that permitted development conversions “create worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers”.

It is good that the Government has moved to allay the negative impact on communities by permitted development rights by introduce space standards for new homes. However, concerns remain about the quality, design and safety, as well as location of this type of housing.

The LGA, which represents councils, is calling for permitted development rights to be scrapped as part of a strengthening of the locally-led planning system.

It fears that with office blocks potentially being left redundant following COVID-19 as a result of a switch to greater home-working, that many will be acquired by developers to bypass the planning system and turn into housing.

[YOUR NAME] said:

“There is a real possibility that some office blocks, retail and commercial spaces will remain empty beyond COVID-19 and end up being converted into housing under permitted development rights, bypassing the local planning system and the voice of local communities, who will not be able to raise any objections or issues.

“We have long had concerns over the substandard housing created from permitted development conversions, and the lack of any requirement for developers to provide affordable homes or supporting infrastructure.

“The planning system exists to enable the delivery of a mix of high-quality, affordable housing that meets the needs of local communities, and gives those communities the opportunity to shape and define the area they live in.

“Councils are committed to building the housing this country desperately needs as part of the national recovery from coronavirus, but we urge the Government to protect the future quality of new homes by permanently revoking the permitted development rights for change of use into homes.”

Notes to editors

Quality standard of homes delivered through change of use permitted development rights - Report on the independent MHCLG funded research into quality standard of homes delivered through certain permitted development rights for the change of use

The amount of affordable housing required as part of any development varies by local area usually starts at 25 per cent.

If this was applied to the 64,798 office to residential conversions under permitted development in England between 2015/16 and 2019/20 – nearly 6 per cent of all new housing built – it would amount to 16,200 affordable homes going unbuilt.