It could soon be harder to transform office blocks in Swindon into flats in an area of the town centre the authority wants to keep a business zone.

Councillors on the planning committee will be asked to approve a policy which will make developers ask for planning approval if they want to convert offices to homes in an area between Polaris Way north of the station to the junction of Fleming Way and Princes Street.

For six years developers have not needed permission under the government’s permitted development rules.

The policy report says: “The area is within the prime office quarter for Swindon, but with the ‘prior approval regime’ in place the council has limited powers to ensure this office area is protected in line with policy.”

It adds that several buildings, SN1 Holbrook House, Signal Point and Alexander House have all secured prior approval for conversion, but only Alexander House has been implemented while others do not readily lend themselves to residential use, but should still be protected.

Cabinet member for the town centre Dale Heenan said: “Town centres must change to reflect the reality of today’s shopping behaviour, and that will mean more homes and fewer shops. We want to create an environment where business is willing to invest in Swindon and we will support good ideas. Swindon should not be a free-for-all where any idea dreamt up can happen with residents and councillors having no say at all.

“Since 2013, a developer has been able to convert an office building to flats without considering the quality, design or the suitability of the building, or the loss of employment space that Swindon needs. No planning application is required. Our new policy will mean one is required.

“Good ideas will be supported so it won’t stop the new homes that we need from being built, but it will mean we can ensure that the new homes meet the right standards, that local issues are taken into account, that local people are properly consulted, there are contributions to roads and infrastructure and that we ensure affordable homes are secured.

Jeremy Sutton is a partner at Swindon chartered surveyor Keningtons and an expert in commercial property. He said: “This is probably a sensible idea, and it’s something that a number of local authorities have done or are doing around the country.

“Most of the blocks available in the secondary area of the town centre outside this zone have already been converted - the ones in Farnsby Street for example. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Tricentre when Zurich move out.”