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“Don’t scrap office conversions, improve them,” says industry

Industry figures have hit out at Labour’s announcement today that it would scrap Permitted Development Rules that allow office blocks to be converted into residential flats with minimal controls.

Labour says the policy has created “slums” and seen the loss of more than 10,000 affordable homes and allows properties that are just a few feet wide to be counted in the official statistics as new homes.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey says: “This Conservative housing free-for-all gives developers a free hand to build what they want but ignore what local communities need.”But industry figures have come out against the policy.

Property expert and buying agent Henry Pryor agrees that there have been disastrous examples of these housing developments under PDR, but that does not believe the whole policy should be scrapped.

Instead he says that minimum standards and proper planning is required. He says: “It is true that there has been a free-for-all and the laudable policy has resulted in ghetto-style housing in some places where rooms are the size of shoe boxes.

“But we shouldn’t scrap the policy, we should improve it.”

One of the companies behind office-to-residential conversions claims that axing the policy would only make life harder for those struggling to find affordable homes.

Caridon Property managing director says: “Without permitted development rights, we wouldn’t have been able to create the hundreds of low-cost homes we manage today.

“Many of these flats house people who would otherwise be sleeping rough on the streets, or stuck in a B&B or hostel, where they would have less space, privacy and security, and costing the taxpayer more in nightly accommodation fees.

“Abolishing PDR would hit the poorest and most vulnerable most by reducing their housing options and also removing the one single policy that has done most to boost new housing supply in recent years by allowing new homes to be built faster and more sustainably.”

However, housing charity Shelter has voiced support for Labour’s proposals.

Chief executive Polly Neate says: “We welcome Labour joining the growing consensus across the housing sector – that this deregulated planning is resulting in sub-standard housing, not to mention the potential loss of thousands of desperately-needed affordable and social homes.

“And yet there are plans to roll this deeply controversial measure out even further. We hear from families stuck in tiny flats in converted office blocks with no space for children to play and totally cut off from residential communities, it can’t go on like this.

She adds: “We face a truly dire shortage of affordable homes, but housing built through Permitted Development Rights, without planning permission, is not the answer.”

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