Offices in the town centre could become 85 flats without any need for planning permission from the council.

Mapledurham Properties LTD plan to turn Sapphire Plaza, on Watlington Street, from its current use as HMRC offices into dozens of flats.

The company do not need planning permission because of permitted development rights enshrined in national law.

Developers only need to submit an application for prior approval to turn offices into flats, although there are some exceptions such as if the site contains an ancient monument or is on hazardous land.

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Pegasus Group, acting on behalf of Mapledurham Properties LTD, said the flats “will provide a much-needed range of housing for first time buyers or downsizers in Reading in a highly accessible and sustainable location” and will be “fitted out to a high specification”.

Prior approval applications must include a full set of drawings and supporting documents relating to the transport and highway impacts, contamination risks, flood risks and noise.

Reading Borough Council has 56 days to decide if prior approval is required and, if it is, whether approval is given or refused.

The developer’s application was sent on December 24 and so a decision will be made by mid-February.

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The offices have been used by HMRC since opening in 1989.

69 car parking spaces and 43 cycle parking spaces are planned for the site, which Pegasus Group explain in its supporting letter to the council.

Jonathan Walton, Pegasus Group director, said: “Given poor take-up of flats in many of the zero parking developments in the locality, it is considered that this approach is pragmatic and consistent with policy.”