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Steve Davies of Hobbs Parker expects changes to permitted development rights

By Chris Britcher

A property expert in the county is expecting the government to change the controversial planning rule which allows town centre office space to be converted into homes.

Under what is known as 'permitted development rights (PDR)' property owners have been able to respond to the need for housing by converting business premises into housing without the need to go through complex planning requirements.

But the result has been a drain of space for commercial use and poor quality homes created by the conversions.

Maidstone has seen a decline in office space over the years due to the permitted development right rules
Maidstone has seen a decline in office space over the years due to the permitted development right rules

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn recently confirmed his party would scrap PDR if elected.

Steve Davies, senior planning consultant at Hobbs Parker Property Consultants, based in Ashford, believes a change is in the works.

He believes it will see PDR allow premises used as shops, for financial and professional services, or as hot food takeaways, betting shops, pay day loan shop and launderettes to change use to offices.

Steve Davies at Hobbs Parker (9315263)
Steve Davies at Hobbs Parker (9315263)

He explains: "The government has sought to widen the use of PDR in an attempt to support the high streets of many of our towns.

“With the vacation of retail space it is important that the vitality and viability of affected areas is maintained by providing the legislation that will allow the introduction of other suitable uses that will retain footfall and avoid dead frontages quickly.

“The benefits of obtaining residential use mean that many property owners continue to seek to change their commercial space to residential. However, the pace of change has slowed as many of the obvious buildings for redevelopment have already been converted.

Connect 38 in Ashford was the first office building built in a Kent town centre for 20 years - an effort to reverse the decline as office space elsewhere is converted into homes
Connect 38 in Ashford was the first office building built in a Kent town centre for 20 years - an effort to reverse the decline as office space elsewhere is converted into homes

“One of the unintended consequences of PDR has seen some local businesses lose their offices to residential conversion, forcing them to go in search of new ones. What we have yet to see is developers with the confidence to bring forward plans to create new space and satisfy this pent-up demand, but that may be as a result of the lack of confidence over the likely impact of Brexit.”

Across the country an estimated 32,000 new homes have been created by converting office accommodation to residential but 90% of those are without any amenity space for residents.

Mr Davies added: “Many councils have challenged the PDR changes and sought to protect their existing offices from redevelopment for residential.

What we have yet to see is developers with the confidence to bring forward plans to create new space and satisfy this pent-up demand

“They have also strongly argued that because the owners don’t have to make any Section 106 contribution [a payment by developers to help fund the necessary community infrastructure] when converting the property, the local authorities lose the business rate revenue and at the same time bear all of the burden of the increased population, making it difficult to sustain local services.”

There have been some signs of change - last year Quinn Estates opened Connect 38 in Ashford - the first purpose-built town centre office building in a town centre in Kent for 20 years.

The changes are expected to come into force by the end of April.

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