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Council planning documents have revealed that three schemes to transform offices into flats have been thrown out by Southend’s planning officers.
The plans for the developments would have created a total of 17 homes but were refused permission despite being submitted under permitted development rules which allow developers to avoid in-depth scrutiny from the council.
Among the proposals was a plan to transform the two floors above a Hallmark store on the High Street into three studio flats with a kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom.
Planning officers said the plans should be refused because partial demolition of the building’s first and second floors was required to accommodate the changes.
Another application was for London Road and proposed creating 10 one-bedroom flats above an RBS Bank.
However, planning officers said that the developer had failed to demonstrate noise from the adjacent buildings, which include restaurants and a supermarket, would not cause harm to the residents.
The final application to be refused looked to change the floor above the M and P tool store on London Road into three one-bedroom flats. This was also refused because planning officers believed that the first floor was not classed as office space, making an application to use permitted development rules invalid.
Councillor Daniel Cowan, who is a member of the planning committee said: “The reason officers will refuse permission will always be firmly based in local plan and national policy.
“My personal view is that anything that robustly challenges developments can only be a good thing. In Southend we need high quality affordable homes so it is important that permitted developments result in that.”
Council leader Ian Gilbert, who oversees housing, said: “On principle living over shops is something we would encourage but officers have found technical reasons that these applications wouldn’t be doable.”
The refusals are a rare instance where the council has been able to push back against permitted development applications, which were introduced by the Government to encourage developers to easily convert unused office space into housing.
These kinds of developments come at the expense of allowing developers to do the work without following the same planning application processes as other housing scheme. In some instances, this has resulted in developers building flats that have poor living conditions or that place strain on local infrastructure.