A ‘SCANDALOUS’ rule change will give the council less power to stop more flats being built in Reading, it has been warned.

For years, landowners have been able to convert offices into flats and upward extensions of buildings to provide homes without needing planning approval from councils – using rules which are called permitted development rights.

The law was designed by the Conservative government to accelerate housing provision, but it has been unpopular with Reading Borough Council’s Labour administration for years.

Financial contributions from developers for local infrastructure does not apply to permitted development rights, with the Labour administration arguing that it has lost £3.5 million in off-site contributions to affordable housing and £4 million in developer contributions since 2013.

In an effort to limit the amount of conversions by forcing developers to go through the planning process, the council devised an Article 4 Direction which covered a wide area of Reading.

But the move has been adjusted to include now just 21 per cent of the area covered by the council’s policy implemented in November 2022.

Reading Chronicle: A map of how the Reading Article 4 Direction has evolved, from the area made in November 2022 in yellow and the area it is limited to now in black. Credit: Reading Borough CouncilA map of how the Reading Article 4 Direction has evolved, from the area made in November 2022 in yellow and the area it is limited to now in black. Credit: Reading Borough Council

The adjustment was made by the department for levelling up, housing and communities headed by secretary of state Michael Gove.

As a result, that change has been discussed and acknowledged by top councillors who have called it ‘a disappointment’ and ‘a scandal’.

READ MORE: Change in push to end poor quality flats plans slammed as 'unjust'

Micky Leng (Labour, Whitley) argued that further planning changes by Mr Gove to scrap housing targets on greenbelt land would put more pressure on urban areas such as Reading in an effort to placate the ‘Tory shires’.

Cllr Leng said: “This will put more pressure onto the urban areas to provide the badly needed homes and lift the pressure from the Tory shires coming up to the election.

“They are playing politics with construction and planning.”

Jason Brock (Labour, Southcote), the leader of Reading Borough Council said: “I do think the permitted development rights are a real travesty actually.

“They fly in the face of the local democracy in the planning system, they result in substandard dwellings, they are the slums in the future, I think it’s a scandal really.

“But the real travesty is how unaware the public are unaware of this, they are completely unaware that office blocks can be easily turned into substandard accommodation thanks to the permitted development rights that the Conservative government have brought in.”

READ MORE: Reading move to crack down on landlords turning family houses into flats

The limitation of the council’s Article 4 Direction was discussed at a meeting of the council’s policy committee on Wednesday, December 13.

It was noted that neither of the Conservative councillors on the policy committee, Clarence Mitchell and Simon Robinson, representatives for Emmer Green were present at the meeting, with both sending their apologies.

Cllr Rob White (Green, Park), the leader of the opposition said: “I’m disappointed by the loss of affordable housing, disappointed that this has been reduced and then reduced again, and it’s a shame the Conservatives are not here to explain to us why this has happened and they are doing to stand up to the government.”