Changes to the planning system mean that many people could find new homes in converted office space over the next few years. Rules introduced a couple of years ago now mean that local authorities can no longer frustrate the aims of developers wanting to transform office buildings into new flats.
Previously, local authorities were reluctant to relax planning permission as they wanted to ensure that office space was available for new businesses to move in when the economy picked up. However, in May 2013 the government scrapped planning permission for converting them into flats over the next three years.
Planning minister Nick Bowles said the move would create 130,000 homes, using up to 5% of vacant office space. Many people will not be aware of the changes, which remain in force until May 2016 and allow the transformation of empty offices across the UK into one and two bedroom flats, typically suited to first-time buyers and for affordable housing.
When Permitted Development Rights were introduced, critics claimed they forced businesses out of viable office space. But the short period that PDR has been in force means that office buildings had to be more or less vacant at the time of purchase and much of it has been.
These have been successful converted into one and two bedroom flats, good for those looking to make the first or second step on the housing ladder. The move has also reduced over-supply, meaning that more modern office stock can be developed to suit contemporary working practices.
It’s key that the next government brings in permanent legislation to stop onerous regulation creating a stranglehold on new properties being freed up for buyers. However, the government has insisted that it has “no plans” to continue to allow offices to be converted into flats without planning permission after 2016 when the rule change expires.
Some planning consultants believe this will become more permanent and while the UK suffers from a serious housing shortage altering the planning system in this way would be one way of addressing the issue.
A burgeoning population putting pressure on the system along with a shortage of supply, demonstrates how governments have simply not done enough to address the housing crisis. The only way to tackle the problem is to increase the amount of property being built.
However, while planning regulation remains bureaucratic, expensive and ever-changing, the root cause cannot be properly addressed.