Quarter of new homes in Luton are office conversions compared to 6% across England

Vacant offices turned into flats have accounted for a quarter of new housing in Luton over the last five years, figures reveal.
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Data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government shows there were 875 office-to-residential conversions in Luton in the five years to 2019/20.

This accounts for 25% of the 3,490 new homes created in the area over the same period - while across England as a whole, the average was just 6%.

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Permitted development rights allow office conversions to be carried out without full planning permission and the Local Government Association has warned the public may lose out on "desperately needed" affordable housing as a result.

Planning     (stock image)Planning     (stock image)
Planning (stock image)

Luton Borough Council states that it shares many of these concerns, and permitted development rights mean the local authority is powerless to intervene.

Office-to-residential permitted development rights were first introduced in 2013 as a temporary measure to tackle the UK's housing shortage, with the legislation becoming permanent in 2015.

Across England, 65,000 conversions have been carried out under the scheme in the past five years.

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David Renard, housing spokesman at the LGA, said "serious concerns" remain over the high number of homes which continue to be created from former office buildings.

He added: “Permitted development rules are resulting in the alarming potential loss of thousands of desperately-needed affordable homes.

"Planning is not a barrier to house-building, with councils approving nine in 10 planning applications. It is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process."

A Luton Borough Council said: "As a town with a high demand for housing, but little space, developers are purchasing sites used as offices and, in cases, turning them into small accommodation units which doesn’t fit with the need for larger houses in the town.

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"Under current rules office conversions don’t require planning permission, nor do they need to meet minimum space standards.

"In addition, and in marked contrast to other building schemes in the town, there are no obligations for developers to provide much needed affordable housing of the sort we are committed to.

"This inability to intervene is of concern to the council and we are worried that, as the government considers relaxing the rules for other types of conversion, the situation can only worsen. To that end we have introduced a number of directives that mean office to residential conversions in certain areas of the town, can only take place with planning permission."