READING has lost more than £6 million and hundreds of affordable homes to planning legislation which allows developers to turn offices into flats.

The government created the new legislation in May 2013, which allows developers to convert office buildings to housing without planning permission.

Councils cannot claim affordable housing contributions nor charge regular planning fees to developments which proceed through this system, known as ‘prior approval’.

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Councillor Tony Page, lead member for planning at Reading Borough Council (RBC), hit out at the government, saying ministers are “blinded by their subservience to the interests of their property developer interests who continue to bankroll the Conservative Party”.

He said: “It is lamentable that the government steadfastly refuses to recognise the enormous damage that these permitted development rights have done to Reading and scores of other cities and towns by this policy.”

What has the council lost out on so much?

From May 2013 to December last year, the council had given prior approval to developers for more than a thousand flats through the new office-to-flats legislation at a cost of more than £6 million.

RBC said it would have received an extra £1.1 million in planning fees if the proposals had been submitted as regular planning applications.

Developers who use the prior approval process pay less than £100 to the council.

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More than £2 million would have been generated in Section 106 money for schools, parks, play areas and zebras crossings, according to the council’s estimations.

Additionally, the council estimates it would have received £3 million for off-site affordable housing and around 570 extra affordable housing flats would have been built had the national policy not been brought in.

“Disgraceful proposal”: Things could get worse for the council

The government is now looking to introduce additional legislation which would allow property owners to add extra storeys on top of existing blocks of flats without seeking planning permission.

Cllr Page said: “Reading and other urban areas are set to lose yet further millions if this disgraceful proposal is allowed to go ahead.

“As with office conversions to residential this will be without proper minimum space safeguards and will be exempted from any contributions to essential local services and infrastructure.”

The deputy leader revealed the latest situation in answer to a question which was due to be discussed at the cancelled Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport committee earlier this month.

All meetings have been cancelled at RBC until government legislation allows for virtual meetings.