Change of use proposals could 'remove the responsibility of developers to ensure the needs of local residents are met'

The Government's change of use proposals, made in April 2011, to allow developers to change offices into homes without applying for planning permission have sounded warning bells in many areas in need of housing.

The latest body to raise its concerns is London Councils (LC), which represents the capital’s 33 local authorities. LC has expressed fears that the removal of these planning rules will lead to a plethora of low quality homes in the capital – with no regulation to determine whether they are big enough, environmentally friendly or suitable for people with disabilities.

Although London Councils firmly supports the need for more homes in London, it believes that the lack of homes is not because of the planning system itself - around 170,000 homes in the region already have planning permission but have not been built.

London Councils believes that the government should instead look into the reasons for this lack of house-building, before attempts to alter existing planning guidance are made.

Because commercial land is cheaper than residential land, suspending these planning rules would create an incentive to turn businesses into homes – but it would also remove the responsibility of developers to ensure the needs of local residents are met. When new developments happen, developers are usually asked to pay a contribution towards the funding of associated infrastructure – either through Section 106 agreements negotiated between local authorities and developers or, in future, through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).

Currently, getting planning permission often requires developers to pay for vital infrastructure to support the extra number of people moving into an area as a result of their developments.

Taking away this obligation would mean that communities miss out on this supporting infrastructure which includes roads, schools and health facilities.

Boroughs would also struggle to plan longer term infrastructure locally - like planning for the number of school places an area might need. Turning offices into homes would create a demand in places never thought to have enough residents to support the need of a school.

Local economies would also feel the strain as turning offices into homes would significantly reduce the number of jobs available in local areas, especially in important but low value industries.

London Councils Executive Member for Planning, Councillor Chris Roberts said: 'Of course there is a huge demand for more homes in the capital but it must be recognised that people have very different needs from businesses. Changing an office into a home is not just about changing the layout of a building or adding some new furniture.

'Planning regulations are in place for a reason – to ensure that any new homes are fit for purpose, and also to make sure that residents moving into an area have access to the facilities - like schools, health centres and roads - that they need to go about their daily lives.'

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