Richmond could be destroyed by Government plans that allow property owners to change commercial buildings into homes without permission.

The new permitted development rights proposals are part of the Government’s package of measures to support economic growth but councillors warn they could have the opposite effect in Richmond.

People looking to change offices into residential properties will no longer have to apply to Richmond Council for permission to do so when the new rules come into force from spring this year.

This means that new residential developments will no longer have to provide a percentage of affordable housing or make any community contribution, as they currently do under section 106 of the town and country planning act.

Councillor Stephen Knight said: “These proposals could be devastating for the economy of boroughs such as ours – wiping out most of the small office sector and, over time, putting larger offices under threat as leases come up for renewal.

“This is bad for our local economy and does little to tackle overcrowding and homelessness, with no requirement for any of the new flats to be affordable, nor for any contribution to be made to the cost of extra school places.”

Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, said the plans would create conditions to support economic growth and remove barriers that stop local businesses creating jobs.

Councils have been given the opportunity to seek exemptions for specific areas but the Government said these will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

A Richmond Council spokesman said officers were considering areas where exemptions will be sought but said it was difficult as offices tend to be dispersed rather than concentrated in specific parts of the borough.

The spokesman said: “We are very concerned about the Government’s proposal because of the relatively high value of residential use in comparison to offices and the limited availability of employment land and premises in the borough.”