The property industry has welcomed government plans to introduce new permitted development rights to convert offices to homes without planning permission.

Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government Eric Pickles announced that proposals to ease the planning rules would go ahead following consultation last year.

The British Property Federation (BPF) said the move towards greater flexibility, long-supported by landlords, would boost housing supply and bring vacant property back in to use.

Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the BPF, said: “Given our acute shortage of homes this is an extremely welcome step.

“Office to residential conversions won’t work for all buildings, or in every area, but any trip through our suburbs soon exposes redundant office space that with the best will in the world is never going to be brought back into commercial use.

“Such conversions will be good for those seeking homes, the wider community and local authorities, who will gain from the New Homes Bonus and council tax receipts that occupation generates.

However, he added that industry would need to see further detail on how 'local exceptions' schemes will work.

“Any exemptions should be few and far between, and this aspect will need to be tightly drawn and policed if it is not to undermine the overall policy objective,” he said.

Rhian Kelly, CBI director for business environment, also welcomed the announcement.

“We have been calling for measures to allow the housing market to flow more freely for some time,” she said.

“This move towards more rapid development will get better use out of underused office space and support the construction industry.”