Developers turn Sheffield offices into flats on more than 1,000 occasions in five years

Developers in Sheffield have turned vacant offices into flats on more than 1,000 occasions in the last five years using powers to bypass normal planning rules.

Tuesday, 5th January 2021, 10:24 am

The Local Government Association warned communities may have lost out on "desperately needed" affordable housing through the use of permitted development rights, allowing certain conversions to be carried out without full planning permission.

Data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government reveals there were 1,355 office-to-residential conversions in Sheffield in the five years to 2019-20.

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In Sheffield, former offices accounted for 12 per cent of the 11,200 net additional homes created

Of those, 219 took place last year, while 2015-16 saw the highest number carried out over the period – 518.

A permitted development right is general planning permission granted by Parliament for certain developments and changes of use.

It allows developers to turn office buildings into homes without submitting a full planning application, as long as they meet recently introduced requirements such as having enough space and natural light.

It also means the typical requirement to provide a proportion of affordable housing cannot be enforced.

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 such conversions have been carried out under the scheme in the last five years.

But David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesman, 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."

In Sheffield, former offices accounted for 12 per cent of the 11,200 net additional homes created in the area in the last five years.

This is the total of all new builds, conversions and changes of use minus any demolitions.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.