In 2009-10 housebuilding hit a record low of 129,000 new homes, the lowest level in any peacetime year since 1924.
Only 2.8% came from office conversions. This is at odds with the latest commercial vacancy rate of 7-9%, which suggests there is an oversupply of commercial land.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has published a consultation that proposes to scrap the planning approval requirement for changing use from a commercial property to a residential property, which can be costly and time consuming, so it is easier for developers to turn vacant offices into new homes.
Plans to bring empty commercial buildings back in to use to increase housing supply by deregulating the planning system were set out in the Budget’s Growth Review.
If all the long-term office space currently available was converted it could potentially deliver 250,000 new homes and save just under £140million over ten years in unnecessary red tape costs.
Pickles said: "Many towns and cities have office blocks, warehouse and business parks needlessly lying empty, while housebuilding has fallen to the lowest in peace time history because the planning system has tied developers up in knots of red tape.
"By unshackling developers from a legacy of bureaucratic planning we can help them turn thousands of vacant commercial properties into enough new homes to jump start housing supply and help get the economy back on track. Councils already have powers to give greater local planning discretion and they should use them more to promote growth."
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