By Ian Dipple Friday 01 March 2013 Updated: 04/03 11:07
EMPTY office buildings in Redditch Town Centre could be turned into houses or apartments if an alternative use cannot be found for them.
Relaxing the rules around acceptable uses for office space has been included by planners in Redditch Borough Council's emerging Local Plan 4.
Other uses which would also be considered include turning spare offices into shops, leisure uses such as a gym or bowling alley, community or cultural uses and for tourism.
An assessment of the town centre's current office space was carried out at the end of last year by property consultants GVA.
It found demand for office space within the town centre had remained fairly static over the last decade and coupled with current economic conditions meant there was an over supply of offices available, some of which was unattractive and not fit for purpose.
National planning rules state change of use applications from offices to houses should be approved where there is a need for housing and where there are not strong economic reasons as to why development would be inappropriate.
The Government also intends to allow offices to be converted into housing without the need for planning permission. The borough council supports the move within the town centre but has asked for an exemption so housing cannot be created within vacant office space in other employment or rural areas without going through the planning process.
"We haven’t yet heard whether our bid for exemption has been successful at this stage and we don’t have a firm date for notification," a spokeswoman added.
Some housing already exists within the town centre and has previously been earmarked for the Church Road site and down Prospect Hill.
Coun Greg Chance, responsible for planning on the borough council, said they were not against the idea in principle as long as it was done properly.
"We need housing in Redditch and if we have empty office buildings which are unlikely to be let again then it makes sense to join the dots and do something else with them," he said.
"We want to see a more vibrant town centre with a café culture and everything else and if we have people living in it then it can help with that. In town centres where people don't live they can become ghost towns at night.
"But it would need to be high quality, sustainable development and not just filling in the gaps for the sake of filling in the gaps."
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