EMPTY offices which were turned into flats accounted for nearly a fifth of new housing in Brighton and Hove over the last five years, figures reveal.

The Local Government Association has warned communities may have lost out on "desperately needed" affordable housing through the use of permitted development rights, which allow certain conversions to be carried out without full planning permission.

Data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government reveals there were 424 office-to-residential conversions in Brighton and Hove in the past five years.

It means former offices accounted for 18 per cent of the 2,422 net additional homes created in the area over the same period – the total of all new builds, conversions and changes of use, minus any demolitions.

Across England as a whole, the average was six per cent.

A permitted development right is general planning permission granted by Parliament for certain developments and changes of use.

It allows developers to turn office buildings into homes without submitting a full planning application, as long as they meet recently introduced requirements such as having enough space and natural light.

It also means the typical requirement to provide a proportion of affordable housing cannot be enforced.

Office-to-residential permitted development rights were first introduced in 2013 as a temporary measure to tackle the UK's housing shortage, with the legislation becoming permanent in 2015.

Across England, 65,000 such conversions have been carried out under the scheme in the last five years.

But David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said "serious concerns" remain over the high number of homes which continue to be created from former office buildings.

He said: “Permitted development rules are resulting in the alarming potential loss of thousands of desperately-needed affordable homes.

"Planning is not a barrier to house-building, with councils approving nine in 10 planning applications. It is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process."

Last year, developer Stonegate Homes was able to gain permission to turn the former Palmer and Harvey head office in Davigdor Road in Hove into 92 one-bedroom flats through ‘permitted development’, despite concerns from neighbours in the area.

Goldsmid ward councillor Jackie O’Quinn said at the time: "Stonegate put in the application for 92 flats and we can do nothing at all because it is ‘permitted development’.

“They say they tried to rent them as offices but cannot, so they convert them to residential.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said allowing conversions of commercial buildings into residential through permitted development rights has been "an absolute disaster".

She added: "It has resulted in tiny windowless homes no bigger than a parking space, often on remote industrial estates miles from schools, shops, or buses.

"Extending PDR further to allow even more conversions will only keep producing unfit and unsuitable housing.

"If the Government truly wants to fix our housing emergency it needs to invest in a new generation of decent social homes, not hastily constructed rabbit hutches."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the fast-track system contributed to the delivery of more than 243,000 extra homes of all types last year.

He said: “We are investing over £12 billion in affordable housing – the largest investment in a decade – and the infrastructure levy in our planning reforms will ensure developers deliver at least as much affordable housing as under the current system."