Planning regulations which give developers virtual free rein to turn office blocks into flats have been blasted as “madness”.
The regulations state developers need only show there would be no traffic, contamination or flooding issues before starting work on a scheme.
Councillors, though, want more control over such projects, one of which will see the Babcock building at 11 The Boulevard converted into 185 flats – something which has raised concerns at the town hall.
While supporting the idea of converting unused offices into homes, Cllr Peter Smith (Lab, Ifield)said: “Crawley Borough Council (CBC), as the local planning authority, has little or no effective control over this kind of change of use, but, quite naturally, it is expected by residents that CBC should be able to apply reasonable controls over this kind of change.”
Cllr Smith pointed out that, if developers had to submit a full planning application rather than just a Prior Approval notice, planning officers would be able to examine issues such as the space allowed for parking, the size of the dwellings, the design and appearance of the building and the provision of affordable housing.
He also warned the unchecked conversions would put pressure on the town’s already stretched resources, such as the availability of school places.
With 2,000 people on the housing waiting list, Cllr Smith said the council was keen to increase the amount of buildings used for housing in the town centre but added: “To be obliged to do it in such an un-regulated and un-controlled way is madness which will only result in poor outcomes for our town, for our residents and for our council.”
Cllr Bob Lanzer (Con, Pound Hill South & Worth) agreed with Cllr Smith’s concerns.
He said: “There needs to be more local control around permitting the conversion of empty offices into flats so that councils can properly plan for the needs of their communities.”
When it came to the regeneration of the Babcock building, Cllr Lanzer said he was concerned too many flats had been planned and the room sizes in the flats would be too small.
He was also critical of the council’s decision not to include previous plans to regenerate The Boulevard in its Local Plan – the document which will guide development of the town for the next 15 years.
Cllr Lanzer said: “Not doing so has made it more difficult to resist piecemeal development and provide improvements to the leisure and retail offer of the town centre.”