Caution over Government housing plan

A Government proposal to allow empty office blocks to be converted into flats without planning permission has been labelled ‘unworkable’ by a property expert.

Planning minister Nick Boles has proposed that developers should be able to bypass complicated planning laws in a bid to increase the housing supply.

The housing market has been in slowdown for some time thanks to the recession, with many developers putting projects on hold, and first time buyers unable to secure a mortgage.

Allan Sumner, partner in the Commercial Property team at Napthens solicitors, said in theory the idea had potential, but in reality developers were unlikely to use the scheme.

He explained: “Currently flats are a difficult prospect for developers. The market has taken a hit thanks to the downturn, and a lot of lenders don’t consider developments of this type a safe bet so there is a lack of finance for such projects.

“Transforming an office block, often located in a small footprint in a busy city centre, into apartments is also fraught with its own difficulties. Many of these sites would need to be completely rebuilt to be appropriate for residential living.

“There may be no planning permission involved under the proposals, but many such sites are in conservation areas or surrounded by listed buildings which bring their own problems. Obtaining a good return on investment would also be difficult. “I will be interested to see how this proposal works in reality, but I don’t consider it a practical prospect in the current economic climate.”