A council leader has hit out at a government policy after figures revealed her district has been dominated by office conversions in the last year.

Analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed 43 per cent of new homes created in Three Rivers in 2018/19 were homes that were passed without being determined by the council.

This is the third highest percentage in the country, only behind Harlow and Norwich.

Currently – as part of changes introduced in 2013 – office buildings can be converted into accommodation under ‘permitted development rights’.

It means that so long as the developer meets certain ‘prior approval’ criteria – relating to issues like noise, air quality and highways – they don’t need to submit a planning application.

Council leader Sara Bedford says Three Rivers has potentially lost out on almost 100 affordable homes in the past four years as a result of this policy.

Since 2015, there have been 214 new homes converted from offices in Three Rivers.

As the council has a policy that 45 per cent of all new homes should be affordable, the council says this has led to the loss of 67 social rented homes and 29 shared ownership or other low-cost home ownership properties.

It also prevents the council from ensuring any necessary infrastructure comes with a development.

Cllr Bedford said: "It has now been proved that this government policy has deprived Three Rivers’ residents of hundreds of school places and 96 affordable homes.

In a high-cost area such as Three Rivers, these homes are desperately needed to help younger residents stay in the area in which they have lived all their lives. The loss of infrastructure contributions means existing residents have to bear the pressure of more residents needing public services, without the funding to pay for them.

"It is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process and are able to oversee all local developments. By scrapping permitted development rules, the Government can give councils and communities the ability to ensure homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place." Latest figures show that since 2015, there were 54,162 new homes converted from offices under permitted development in England.

The LGA estimates this has potentially led to the loss of 13,540 affordable homes.

The LGA says councils want to work with the government to tackle the housing shortage and ensure new housing meets the needs of communities.

As part of this, it is calling on permitted development rules to be scrapped.