‘Offices could be turned into homes under government plans’

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A property consultancy has welcomes proposed changes in the planning system that include allowing office buildings to be used as residential dwellings without the need for council permission.

There are also other possible changes to permitted development rights around agricultural uses, along with a temporary change to town centre property such as retail stores, restaurants and cafes.

Chloe Renner, principal planner at Bidwells, in Silbury Boulevard, Milton Keynes said: “Although we welcome these proposed opportunities, and believe they demonstrate continued commitment from the government to support the struggling town centres as well as promoting the development industry, we have concerns about some of the finer details.”

Bidwells says potential benefits to developers include not having to pay the Community Infrastructure Levy payments (CIL) and no there being no requirement for affordable housing. Conditions for affordable housing to make up a certain percentage of developments is a bugbear for some developers.

The government is proposing a system of prior approval for certain developments that will only allow councils to consider significant transport and highway impacts as well as high flood risk areas, land contamination and safety hazard zones. It will therefore only seek to guard against adverse impacts on aspects such as flooding, transport and noise.

The changes to permitted development rights will last for three years, although this could be extended if it is successful.

Bidwells says the aim is to increase the number of homes and promote the re-use of empty buildings, easing the national housing shortage. It is also hoped that this will increase the footfall on the high streets and create jobs within the construction industry.

In town centres shops, financial and professional services, restaurants, cafes and offices will be allowed temporary permission to convert to other uses for a period of two years.

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