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Housing

Almost 20,000 affordable homes have been lost by converting office blocks into housing

Local politicians are calling on the government to remove permitted development rights rules in the Queen’s Speech to boost affordable housing.

Almost 20,000 affordable homes have been lost because of rules allowing office blocks to be converted into housing, local politicians have warned ahead of parliament’s return.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has called on ministers to remove “permitted development” rights, which allow offices and other commercial properties to be converted into homes without planning permission, in the Queen’s Speech.

In total, 73,575 new homes – often luxury flats – have been created by converting office blocks since the rules were introduced in England and Wales in 2015. The LGA said by allowing developers to bypass the planning system, which is responsible for imposing affordable housing policies, an estimated 18,000 affordable homes have been lost amid ongoing efforts to end the housing crisis.

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Cllr David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesperson, said: “There is a need for more affordable housing across the country but regrettably premises such as offices, agricultural buildings, shops, restaurants and light industry can now be converted into houses without the need to provide any affordable homes.

“This is why we would like to see the permitted development rights removed. Giving planning powers back to councils will also support local ambitions to revive and reimagine high streets and town centres. The upcoming Queen’s Speech should also give councils further powers to bring vacant properties back into use.”

Councillors argued that developments that go through the planning system are subject to more stringent quality assurance, subsequently improving the overall quality of housing on offer. 

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Ministers promised “a new drive on housing quality to make sure homes are fit for the 21st century” in the Levelling Up white paper revealed by housing secretary Michael Gove earlier in the year.

Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech is expected to outline a shake-up to the planning system and how affordable housing is funded through local authorities, with the abolition of section 106 agreements in England in favour of a construction levy.

Renard added: “A local, plan-led system is crucial in delivering on levelling up ambitions to ensure councils can deliver the right types of homes in the right places with appropriate infrastructure, ensuring a mix of high-quality affordable housing that meets the needs of local communities, while also giving those communities the opportunity to shape and define the area they live in.”

The shortage of affordable housing has been one of the key reasons why house prices have continued to soar to record levels in 2022 at a time when the cost of living crisis has hit household incomes.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “This analysis assumes without evidence that every PDR office conversion would otherwise have been delivered through traditional planning routes.

“The expansion of permitted development rights has helped increase the supply of housing – contributing to over 12,000 additional new homes in 2019-20 – and the £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme is supporting hard-working people across the country get onto the housing ladder.”

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