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Ban 'rabbit hutch' apartments says city planning chief

Councillor slams developments which see former office buildings turned into flats with rooms 'barely the size of a single bed'

City centre offices are being converted into "rabbit hutch-sized" flats because there are no regulations stopping developers, it has been claimed.

Now, Birmingham planners are calling on the Government to set minimum sizes for rooms and flats installed in disused former office blocks.

The call came as the council's planning committee issued its formal response to the Government's proposals to reform the housing market - designed to increase the supply of housing and pace of development.

The committee heard there were minimum standards for apartment and room size in new flats or converted homes but no such rules for converted offices.

A number of former office blocks in areas like the Jewellery Quarter and Digbeth, no longer suitable for business use, are being converted.

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Committee member Coun Barry Henley (Lab Brandwood) said: "I can't believe how stupid they have been over the conversion of office buildings into flats without any regulation of the size of the units.

"We have rooms which are barely the size of a single bed but they can call it a flat and sell it. People think they are getting a one-bedroom flat but instead get these awful rabbit hutches."

Chief planning officer Richard Goulborn agreed they would ask the Government to look at the issue in a formal response to the consultation.

He added there had been instances where planning permission was given for a set number of flats but this had been increased as they were developed - meaning a larger number of smaller apartments.

The Jewellery Quarter has become a popular area for converting old commercial buildings into flats
The Jewellery Quarter has become a popular area for converting old commercial buildings into flats

The city's planning department is also concerned the Government proposals include penalties for councils which do not deliver a set supply of houses.

There are also penalties for councils and public sector organisations who sit on unused land but not private landowners.

Coun Fiona Williams (Lab Hodge Hill) said they needed to penalise private landowners who sit on sites ripe for development.

She said: "The former DSS office in Ward End is on private land and the owner has resisted any attempt to get it redeveloped.

"Other than persuading the developer to do it, we don't have any levers to get them to demolish that eyesore."

The planning department agreed the council should not be penalised if there were no sanctions against private owners.

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In its official response to the Government, it said: "It is not considered fair for local authorities to be penalised for something which is not solely within their control.

"There is a great deal of housing delivery which is reliant on other parties such as financing, utility providers as well as the business models of developers themselves."

The Government is currently consulting over the Housing White Paper, released in March, which is designed to "fix the broken housing market".

It set out a series of proposals to speed up the planning process and development of new housing - including cutting the standard length of time a developer has to start work after gaining planning permission from three to two years.

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