Leading councillors have warned about the increasing impact of permitted development rights on town centres and communities.

Permitted development rights allow certain building works or changes to be completed without the need to make a planning application.

They can be used to turn buildings such as offices and other commercial premises into residential properties.

At a meeting of the Hertfordshire Growth Board on September 7, a number of council leaders from across the county highlighted their concerns.

Pointing to the prospect of greater permitted development rights in towns and high streets, Stevenage Borough Council leader Cllr Sharon Taylor said: "That should be of great concern to us in Hertfordshire.

"We have already lost at least 750,000sq feet of commercial space to permitted development in our county.

“And the thought of the havoc that could be reeked in our high streets and town centres by this further extension of permitted development is certainly of concern to me – and I think should be to all of us."

Labour member Cllr Taylor pointed to the high premium available to developers who convert  property to residential in areas such as Hertfordshire.

And she suggested the board lobby the government in advance of the government’s expected planning nill.

“. . . there may be something that can be done in the Planning Bill to mitigate what looks like, at the moment, could be a  real headache for all of us,” she said.

Meanwhile St Albans District Council leader Chris White stressed the impact of permitted development rights was felt outside of town centres too.

He highlighted moves to convert light industrial units on the edge of St Albans into residential properties – leaving existing small businesses without a base.

He said: "There are two in St Albans that I am aware of […] where a dozen or so firms are going to become homeless because of housing development taking over their slots."

He said one of the businesses had already looked for an alternative site but found that the rent would be £100,000 – compared to their current rate of £25,000 – and that that "was just out of the question".

The Liberal Democrat added: "So, I think we need to push this right to the top. It is undermining everything we are trying to do, if we lose control of employment land."

At the meeting, director of the Hertfordshire Growth Board Patsy Dell acknowledged there was "very good evidence" about the impact permitted development rights had had on Hertfordshire.

She highlighted the particular risks to high streets, the quality and sorts of accommodation, the lack of infrastructure and the lack of affordable housing.

And she said: ". . . it is one area we really need to push in dialogue with government to see whether or not a case an be made for exemptions or a particular way of working with this in Hertfordshire."

Referencing the pressures on the high street, Conservative leader of Hertfordshire County Council – and chairman of the Hertfordshire Growth Board – Cllr Richard Roberts said it was "so important".