The changes in planning rules which allow the conversion of office blocks to flats without the developer having to apply for planning permission has seriously undermined the provision of affordable homes. Ordinarily the granting of planning permission for new homes, flats or houses will stipulate that a percentage of those homes should be affordable.
In the absence of the requirement for planning approval, office conversions are undertaken without the development needing to comply with this basic social requirement. However the arrival of these additional flats depresses the market and the developers of traditional homes are less likely to push ahead with their own schemes, particularly if the percentage of affordable units required makes their scheme marginal.
Converting offices also deprives the local authority of the income they would otherwise obtain under 106 agreements (for example; roads, schools and other infrastructure). With a shortage of affordable stock families are left with no choice but to live in these converted offices, often on industrial estates and in high rise towers that don't necessarily meet modern safety requirements.
It is interesting to note that Ipswich Borough Council through their own company, Ipswich Borough Assets Ltd, have purchased the former BT office complex in Bibb Way for
£4.1 million with the intention of converting it into flats. Again, planning permission will not be required – providing the external appearance doesn’t change – and there will be no requirement for ‘affordable homes’.
Notes about Ipswich Borough Assets
Ipswich Borough Assets Ltd created: April 2016
Birketts, Princes Street, £12.5 million
Portman House (Archant) Buy and Lease back £2.15 million
Europa House (formerly Billingtons) £3.5 million
17 – 19 Cornhill (formerly Burton’s) £3 million
Anglia Retail Park £42 million
Bibb Way (formerly BT) £4.1 million