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Property rules allowing conversion of offices into flats leading to 'substandard' homes

Kalila Sangster
·3-min read
Thousands of 'substandard developments are being nodded through and not properly scrutinised,' according to experts. (Getty)

Property rules allowing offices or retail buildings to be converted into flats have resulted in thousands of “substandard” homes across the UK, experts have warned.

More than 20,000 conversion projects designed to create more housing have been waved through each year without proper inspection, according to government research.

Permitted development rules allow for the conversion or extension of a property without needing to apply for planning permission if specific limitations and conditions are met. This was a policy decision taken in May 2013 by the government to boost the supply of housing and help regeneration through reuse of vacant office space.

Architecture firm Resi said “too many substandard developments are being nodded through and not properly scrutinised.”

In the five years to September 2019, 115,448 permitted developments were allowed without need for approval, according to government data.

READ MORE: A rising number of Brits may never own a home

This included over 4,000 office to residential conversions and 475 retail to residential conversions.

Office and retail landlords have turned to residential conversions as opportunities to improve value amid a challenging time for the industry.

In a 2018 report, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) warned that office-to-residential schemes completed through the permitted development rules were leading to higher numbers of poor-quality flats than those given full planning permission.

The report found that just 30% of homes created under the rules met national space standards, some buildings had barely any changes made to convert them from office to residential use, and some residential developments ended up in the middle of industrial estates.

Other concerns included the loss of occupied employment space, the impact on local infrastructure, the impact on neighbouring users, and the loss of affordable housing contributions.

READ MORE: ‘Signs of a turnaround’ for UK construction as demand for new homes grows

Resi also warned of the potential harmful impact of the schemes on UK high streets and town centres, saying that the conversion of retail spaces for residential use has led to a “point of no return” for UK high streets.

Alex Depledge, founder and chief executive officer of Resi, said: “We are also seeing some of our town centres being hollowed out as commercial property is turned into housing.

“This means that families are too often housed in accommodation that simply isn’t suitable.

“These developments fundamentally change our communities and need to be looked at more closely.”

In its latest report, the firm has called for a UK-wide housing performance measure, in order to improve wellbeing and happiness among residents.

They are also urging the government to implement strict environmental and accessibility requirements to improve the nation’s homes.

This includes amending building regulations to require step-free access and new minimum requirements for energy usage, insulation, and carbon emissions, so that all new homes can be fully accessible and environmentally sustainable.

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