More than a thousand businesses could be forced out of Brighton and Hove if new government planning rules are introduced, the city council leader has warned.

Brighton and Hove City Council has applied for parts of the city to be exempt from plans to relax rules on transforming offices into homes.

Developers and property agents have told town hall bosses to “sling their hook” over their resistance to the move.

They said removing red tape would allow vacant commercial space in the city to be put to good use.

According to economic experts hired by the council, almost a third of the city’s current stock would be placed at risk of conversion if the exemption plea is rejected and the changes are introduced in April.

The council said if just 10% of offices in central Brighton were converted to residential use, up to 700 jobs and £36.4 million a year would be lost from the local economy.

The change could also displace up to 1,500 businesses with the potential loss of thousands of more jobs.

Council leader Jason Kitcat argued the ruling would turn Brighton and Hove into a “dormitory city” with businesses pushed out in favour of new homes.

He said: “We think the Government’s stance on this is completely wrong headed. Clearly this city has a housing shortage but one of the key problems is the difficulty in finding office space.

“If we don’t protect our office space, we’ll see a land grab which would severely damage the local economy.”

'Open to good arguments'

The council has applied to exempt the city centre, London Road and New England Quarter from the new rules, which would remove the need for developers to secure planning permission if they want to change office space into flats.

Secretary of State Eric Pickles has said the bar for exemptions will be set “very high” but planning minister Nick Boles has indicated the Government would be “open to good arguments”.

Simon Forrest, commercial manager at Brighton-based property agents Oakleys, said the council should drop its opposition to the rule relaxation.

He said: “We were consulted on this by the council and to be honest we told them to sling their hook.

“Office rents and values haven’t risen over the last 20 years but residential values have gone up five or six times.

Office needs

“In order for people to build, commercial rents have got to go up and the only way that’s going to happen is if obsolete buildings get converted, like those near Preston Park for example.”

On average Brighton and Hove has lost 3,000 square metres of office space to residential use per annum in recent years.

The city still needs somewhere between 16,000 and 19,000 new homes over the next 20 years – but has only identified space for 11,300.

Phil Graves, of estate agent Graves Jenkins said Brighton and Hove would “no longer be a place to do business” if property owners were allowed to convert offices into homes without needing permission.

Housing shortage

He said: “I think it’s totally inappropriate to have a big free-for-all.

“Property owners know they can make up to 50% more just through a change of use so they will do that whenever they can.”

Hove MP, Mike Weatherley said: “Of course we would not want to see a shortage of commercial space in the area but it’s important to acknowledge we have a housing shortage.”

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