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Charities and businesses ‘evicted under government planning rules’

A government plan intended to bring empty offices back into use has led to some existing businesses being served with eviction notices, town hall leaders have warned.

But the government has accused councils of simply wanting to “hammer” developers  with “punishing development taxes”.

‘Permitted development rights’, introduced in May 2013, allow offices to be turned into houses without planning permission – changes the government wants to make permanent.

The policy was designed to bring empty and underused buildings back into use, but in some areas businesses have been served eviction notices so that landlords can cash in on higher residential rents and sales prices.

The new rules have helped bring some vacant offices back into use as housing. However, in other areas, most applications have seen offices which were either partly or fully occupied being turned into flats, a survey by the Local Government Association (LGA) has found.

Office space and affordable housing will be reduced and infrastructure will be put under strain if the temporary changes to permitted development are made permanent, it warns.

Some councils have won exemptions from the policy where the measures would harm their area econmiclly, but these exemptions could soon be removed.

Cllr Peter Box said, chair of the LGA's Economy, Environment, Housing and Transport Board, 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.

"Councils have told us permitted development rights have meant that not only is there less office space available, there is also less of the vital infrastructure we need too. These changes have created homes which do not meet the identified needs of a community, which has put pressure on schools, roads and health services, as well as making fewer houses which are affordable at a time when rents and house prices are soaring.

"Rather than letting communities shape their local areas through the planning system, the majority of these proposals will impose additional control from Whitehall. It is vital residents can have a say through their democratically-elected councils. These plans fly in the face of localism, add further confusion to the planning system and undermine the premise of a locally plan-led system which government promised to local areas."

In a survey of planning officers, the LGA found that 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.

Housing minister Brandon Lewis responded: “Our change of use reforms are providing badly-needed homes such as studios and one-bedroom flats for young people, especially in London where there is a particularly acute need for more housing.

“This is helping promote brownfield regeneration, protect the Green Belt and increase housing supply at no cost to the taxpayer. More housing in town centres also increases resident footfall and supports local shops.

“The LGA simply oppose these changes as town halls can’t hammer these regeneration schemes with punishing development taxes.”

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