Labour Shadow Housing Minister faces eviction in plan to turn office into flats

Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister faces eviction from his constituency office building amid plans to turn it into low-quality “matchbox” flats.

Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury could be turfed out of the 1970s office block in Runcorn, Cheshire, as Boris Johnson’s controversial planning rules are extended across the country.

Developers plan to turn the block into 108 flats – seven of which will be smaller than the Government’s recommended minimum space standards.

A previous application for 170 flats, which would have seen a third smaller than the minimum standard, was withdrawn in December after local outcry.

But under new ‘permitted development’ rules being rolled out as part of Mr Johnson’s ‘Project Speed’, developers are allowed to convert office blocks into flats without applying for full planning permission.

Councils are only allowed to object to the proposals on a very limited number of grounds.

The Prime Minister said the new rules would make it easier to build “better homes where people wanted to live.”

But Mr Amesbury is formally objecting to the plan.

He warned the developer’s proposal doesn’t mention any plan to replace the building’s 1970s single-glazed windows or efforts to remove any asbestos that may exist in the building.

And he said proposals for just 60 parking spaces are insufficient.

Mr Amesbury said: “It’s bad enough that the current rules allow developers to turn ancient, run-down office blocks into cheap flats but under the Government’s new Developer’s Charter, these appalling conversions will become the norm.

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“[Communities Secretary] Robert Jenrick claims the planning system doesn’t work but the truth is that most applications are approved. This is about the Tories giving a leg up to their developer friends, pure and simple – at the expense of local communities.”

He added: “I will fight these plans tooth and nail but if the Government passes these changes into law, there is nothing to stop The Tories’ rich developer mates from doing what they like here in Runcorn or anywhere else. I fear we are now facing a new era of slum housing in this country.

“People in Runcorn and across the country are begging for the Government to put their street before Downing Street: they need good quality housing, not matchbox flats in converted 70s office blocks.”

An MHCLG spokesperson said: “These claims are completely untrue. Permitted development rights make an important contribution to building the homes our country needs and are crucial to helping our economy recover from the pandemic by supporting our high streets to adapt and encouraging the regeneration of disused buildings.

“All developers should meet the highest possible design standards and the changes we are making will continue to improve the quality of these homes.”



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