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No planning permission needed to turn offices, industrial buildings and launderettes into housing

Housing minister Brandon Lewis has unveiled further details of the government’s decision to permanently allow disused offices to be converted into homes without planning permission.

The move, announced by prime minister David Cameron yesterday as part of a string of reforms, will extend its due date past 30 May 2016, when the policy was set to expire given its temporary status.

But Lewis has confirmed today (13 October) that, in addition to making it permanent, those who already have permission will have three years in which to complete the conversion – ending “potential uncertainty for developers”.

The rights will now allow the demolition and conversion of office buildings, light industrial buildings and launderettes.

The LGA is opposed to the extension. Housing spokesman Cllr Peter Box criticised making the rule permanent, saying: “This temporary policy was designed to provide a new lease of life to empty offices but some councils have reported some existing businesses being evicted so landlords can cash in on higher residential rates and sale prices. Not only has this led to less of some of the office space needed for economic growth, it has in some cases seen it replaced with homes which do not meet community needs and remain unaffordable.”

The policy was introduced in 2013 as a way to temporarily grant development rights  to convert offices into new homes without planning permission, and Whitehall claims it brought forth 4,000 homes between April 2014 and June of this year.

According to the government, cutting these rights short next year could potentially introduce a “raft of unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy” that would hamper conversions and slow down the delivery of new homes.

Lewis, who has recently been made chair of a cross-industry panel to “simplify and accelerate” local planning processes, said: “We’re determined that, both in Whitehall and in town halls, everything is done to get the homes we need built.

“Today’s measures will mean we can tap into the potential of underused buildings to offer new homes for first-time buyers and families long into the future, breathing new life into neighbourhoods and at the same time protecting our precious green belt.”

Areas that currently require a planning application for conversions – that is, are exempt from the ‘temporary’ rights – will have to make an Article 4 direction by May 2019 if they wish to continue to do so.

There are areas in 17 local authorities consisting of individual buildings, roads or zones that are currently exempt from the rights.

These include the city of London, the London Central Activities Zone (covering parts of several key boroughs), areas in the borough councils of Stevenage and Ashford, areas in the district councils of Sevenoaks and East Hampshire, and Manchester city centre.

Areas that already have prior approval or that secure permission will have three years in which to complete the change of use.

The government will unveil further details of these new rights in “due course”, but has maintained that the conversion process will be “subject to limitations” and prior approval by the local planning authority – including conversions of light industrial buildings and launderettes.

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said she was particularly pleased with this policy and called the Housing Bill “one of the most important before Parliament”.


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