kis-logoA prominent property boss believes Britain’s ailing High Streets could be saved by government plans to make it easier to turn empty offices into homes.

Housing Minister Brandon Lewis this week announced that temporary powers allowing abandoned offices to be converted into homes without planning permission are to be made permanent.

The measures were first introduced in 2013 and were due to end in May 2016.

The announcement came alongside the unveiling of the government’s new Housing and Planning Act, which will also require councils to keep registers of brownfield land and the extension of the right-to-buy discounts to housing association tenants.

The bill also includes the creation of a database of rogue landlords and letting agents to help councils to better focus their enforcement efforts and to keep track of repeat offenders.

Local authorities will also be able to use information held by tenancy deposit schemes to enforce regulations affecting private rented housing.

Ajay Jagota of North East sales and lettings firm KIS welcomed the changes.

The property firm is famous for being the first letting agents in the UK to abolish deposits, replacing them with a one-of-a-kind landlord insurance policy offering guaranteed rent, deposit replacement, legal assistance and round the clock third party emergency home repairs

He said: “It might sound counterintuitive to say that turning businesses into homes is good for business – but new houses mean new customers and boosting the availability of homes in a town centre is likely to boost that town’s retail, cultural and leisure offer too.

“A boarded-up branch of Woolworths is no good to anyone and off the top of my head there are plenty of offices close to our branches in places like North Shields and South Shields which have been abandoned for some time. They could be perfect locations for new housing, bringing both new business and new businesses to the area.

“It could well be that boosting town centre housing is key to saving the British High Street.

“It also provides a great opportunity for smaller housing developers to enter the market and carry out the conversions, reducing the burden on the major players and giving smaller and perhaps more local businesses the chance to play their part.

“Although it’s not as much of an issue in the North East as it is in other parts of the country, Britain is suffering from a chronic and growing lack of housing, currently building half as many new homes as we need to to keep pace with our growing population.  As next to no-one wants to see greenbelt land developed, the answer has creative and proactive use of previously developed land.

“In recent weeks I’ve voiced a lot of concern about the capacity of local authorities to tackle rogue landlords and letting agents, as showcased by the fact that only one North East authority appears to have gone after letting agents not signing up to the mandatory redress scheme.

“With 22% of households now renting from private landlords, compared to 9% 30 years ago, any measures which help them better target their efforts are to be welcomed.”