HUNDREDS of homes could soon be built without any say from the council under the Prime Minister’s plan to overhaul planning law.

Boris Johnson announced the most “radical reforms to our planning system” since the Second World War, with developers having the freedom to convert cafes, restaurants and other retail buildings into houses without needing planning permission.

Builders will also no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.

Mr Johnson said the changes will come into effect in September and they will bring an end to “decade after decade in which we have failed to build enough homes”.

But councillors in Southend fear the changes will remove major planning decisions from the hands of local authorities, which could lead to poor quality homes which are not focussed on what it best for the borough.

Southend’s main decision makers on planning permission are the members of the Development Control Committee, who each month scrutinise a raft of planning applications to determine whether they should get the green light.

Labour councillor Daniel Cowan, who is a member of the committee, said: “It is always concerning when you hear about the local planning authority being removed from the decision making process.

“I always believe the best people to make decisions locally about what is good, needed and appropriate for the area is local people.

“As local councillors we are ingrained in the community, we understand the issues, which is not the case for someone who is miles away sitting in an office deciding what they think would be good for this town.

“Southend is already limited on space, removing power from the local authority to determine what is appropriate for our town is quite concerning.”

Changes like those proposed have already been in place for office blocks under legislation known as permitted development. This allows developers to transform former office blocks into housing without needing planning permission.

The dangers of handing this kind of freedom to developers was highlighted last year when it was found that a former office building in Harlow called Terminus House, now used as temporary accommodation for homeless households, had flats as small as 18 square metres.

Mr Cowan said it show just how important scrutiny can be.

He continued: “Having loads of houses built under permitted development might be good for council tax base, that is not what is most important to councillors.

“Councillors want to ensure people live in a town they enjoy living in. With flats potentially going up without planning applications it opens the door to unscrupulous developers taking advantage of planning law and that could cause problems with inadequate properties and create situations where we have slums, which council tax payers will have to pick up the bill for.”

Conservative councillor David Garston, who is a member of the committee, said he hopes any changes will still give councils the “power to say no”.

He said: “I hope that any change which was designed to assist the housing shortage will still give local authorities the power to say no if the proposal is clearly wrong in commercial areas.

“Town centres are different to the residential areas with shops and I hope in the bill that will be taken into account.”

Concerns have also been raised in Thurrock where deputy leader of the Planning Committee, Labour councillor Michael Fletcher, said: “I would be uncomfortable about measures that take control away from local councils.

“Builders in Thurrock at least aren’t interested in reducing our homes waiting list of 10,000 people – quite understandably they’re looking to make a profit.

“So for my money the people who need things made easier are the council themselves, so they can build more social housing and make more sensible use of the money coming back from council house sales.”

The Government has said developers will still need to follow “high standards and regulations” but “without the unnecessary red tape”.