CONCERNS have been raised that the former Dorset Council block could be turned into substandard housing.

It comes after a new report by Local Government Association (LGA) which said empty office blocks post-pandemic pose risk being turned into 'low quality of life' housing because of rules allowing developers to bypass the planning system.

It means empty office blocks, such as South Walks House in Dorchester, could be earmarked for this type of development, which would provide occupiers with 'worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life', according to the LGA.

Dorset Echo: South Walks House, Dorset Council's former office in DorchesterSouth Walks House, Dorset Council's former office in Dorchester

Molly Rennie Dorchester south ward councillor said substandard housing and the low quality of life that comes with it would be 'detrimental to the area'.

She said: "We're concerned what's going to happen to South Walks House.

"It's a massive building and if it was turned into substandard housing - aspects such as lower quality of life and health risks could be detrimental to the area."

The Government has extended permitted development rights to apply to all commercial units and business premises – meaning shops, banks, restaurants, gyms, creches and offices can now be turned into homes without planning permission.

LGA raised concerns substandard housing means developers do not have to provide affordable homes or supporting infrastructure.

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It means communities are unable to have their say on conversions to ensure they meet high-quality standards. There is also no requirement for developers to provide affordable housing or supporting infrastructure such as roads, schools and health services - as there would be if planning permission was required.

Cllr Rennie added: "We currently have around 6,000 families on the housing register, so they are our priority at the moment.

"We don't want to bring more people in through substandard housing.

"Dorset Council said they would not make any decision until first consulting Dorchester Town Council."

David Renard, LGA housing spokesman, said: "There's a real possibility office blocks, retail and commercial spaces will remain empty beyond Covid-19 and be converted into housing under permitted development rights, bypassing the planning system and the voice of communities, who will be hamstrung in their ability to raise any objections or issues.

"We have concerns over substandard housing and the lack of any requirement for developers to provide affordable homes or supporting infrastructure."

A spokesman from Dorset Council said: "Discussions around the future of South Walks House are ongoing and no final decision regarding the sale or subsequent use of the building has yet been made.

"However, as the Planning Authority, we will have a formal view on any application received and would ensure that any proposed development conforms with minimum space standards and other applicable regulations before development takes place."