Developers in Cumbria have used powers to bypass normal planning rules to turn 34 offices into flats during the last five years, data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government revealed.

Three of the conversions took place last year, with the highest number, 25, carried out between 2016-17.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that communities may have lost out on affordable housing due to the use of permitted development rights, allowing certain conversions to be carried out without full planning permission.

A permitted development right is general planning permission granted by Parliament for certain developments and changes of use.

It allows developers to turn office buildings into homes without submitting a full planning application, as long as they meet recently-introduced requirements such as having enough space and natural light.

It also means the typical requirement to provide a proportion of affordable housing cannot be enforced.

Office-to-residential permitted development rights were first introduced in 2013 as a temporary measure to tackle the UK’s housing shortage, with the legislation becoming permanent in 2015.

David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesman said: “Permitted development rules are resulting in the alarming potential loss of thousands of desperately-needed affordable homes.

“Planning is not a barrier to house-building, with councils approving nine in 10 planning applications.

“It is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process.”