A proposal to allow empty office blocks to be converted into flats without planning permission has been labelled ‘unworkable’ by a property expert.

Planning minister Nick Boles has proposed that developers should be able to bypass complicated planning laws in a bid to increase the housing supply.

Allan Sumner, partner in the commercial property team at Blackburn-based Napthens solicitors, said in theory the idea had potential, but in reality developers were unlikely to use the scheme.

He said: “Flats are a difficult prospect for developers. The market has taken a hit thanks to the downturn, and a lot of lenders don’t consider developments of this type a safe bet so there is a lack of finance for such projects.

“Transforming an office block, often located in a small footprint in a busy city centre, into apartments is also fraught with its own difficulties. Many of these sites would need to be completely rebuilt.

“There may be no planning permission involved under the proposals, but many sites are in conservation areas."