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Councils 'blocking one-in-five office-to-resi requests'

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Local authorities are refusing 20 per cent of applications to convert offices into homes under the government’s temporarily ‘relaxed’ planning regime, according to new research

A three-year rule relaxation introduced in May 2013 means full planning permission is not required for office-to-residential conversions in most parts of England, but developers must still seek prior approval from local planning authorities in a more streamlined process.

Officials can veto schemes they believe will create traffic problems or if there are flooding or land-contamination issues.

New research, based on official government data, shows that 916 of 4,887 requests for office-to-residential conversions were refused by council planners between April 2014 and June this year.

The national figure in the analysis by property consultancy Daniel Watney masks a stark variation between London and the regions. Office-to-resi requests in the capital made up 40 per cent of the national total, but one in four were refused by planning officers. Elsewhere, just one in 10 were refused.

Daniel Watney partner Charles Mills said there was a danger that local authorities opposed to the planning rule-relaxation were using their powers in a disingenuous way.

‘Office conversions have proven a reliable source of much needed new homes,’ he said. ‘The prior approval process is important to ensure the safety of developments and the local area - and doubtless many of these rejections will be justified - but councils must not misuse it as a workaround to veto residential conversions that the new permitted development rights were intended to encourage.’

According to the data, the London Borough of Richmond dealt with 208 prior approval requests, the most of any authority in the capital. It refused 36 per cent of them. According to the Daniel Watney rankings, Haringey Council received 50 requests, of which 48 per cent were refused.

Outside of London, Brighton and Hove City Council rejected the highest proportion of prior approval requests for office-to resi conversions, vetoing 19 per cent of the 63 applications. Bristol City Council approved more than 90 per cent of its 59 applications.

Ministers have yet to announce whether they plan to extend the current office-to-resi regime beyond spring next year, however a consultation last year mooted the potential to make the temporary relaxation a permanent fixture of the planning system.

Top 10 councils in London by schemes rejected

1 Richmond upon Thames (74 of 208 refused; 35.6%)

2 Hammersmith and Fulham (61 of 182 refused; 33.5%)

3 Merton (28 of 66 refused; 42.4%)

4 Haringey (24 of 50 refused; 48%)

5 Lewisham (21 of 59 refused; 35.6%)

6 Islington (21 of 71 refused; 29.6%)

7 Greenwich (20 of 62 refused; 32.3%)

8 Brent (19 of 54 refused; 35.2%)

9 Kingston upon Thames (19 of 70 refused; 27.1%)

10 Lambeth (19 of 94 refused; 20.2%)

Top 10 councils outside London by schemes rejected

1 Brighton and Hove (12 of 63; 19%)

2 Reading (10 of 55 refused; 18.2%)

3 Newcastle upon Tyne (9 of 24 refused; 37.5%)

4 Southend-on-Sea (9 of 36 refused; 25%)

5 Cheshire East (8 of 24 refused; 33.3%)

6 Southampton (7 of 49 refused; 14.3%)

7 West Berkshire (6 of 23 refused; 26.1%)

8 Luton (6 of 29 refused; 20.7%)

9 Sheffield (5 of 34 refused; 14.7%)

10 Bristol (5 of 59 refused; 8.5%)

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