BUSINESSES in the Chiltern district could be negatively affected by government plans to make it easier to convert buildings into housing, council bosses fear.

Local authorities around the country are currently being consulted over proposed changes to planning regulations.

They would make it easier to convert retail and financial business premises into new homes in a bid to help councils meet housing targets.

And while members of Chiltern District Council are searching for ways of meeting housing needs in the district, they also fear the proposed changes will have a negative impact on businesses in the region's towns.

Cabinet members said at a meeting yesterday communities in the Chiltern district could end up 'poorer' if businesses were forced to look elsewhere for premises to operate from.

Council leader Isobel Darby said: "Whilst it's good to relax certain rules, our fear is it can perhaps go too far, especially in an area such as ours where there's such a demand for housing.

"We could end up losing retail units and it could be very difficult to change them back at a later date.

"We could end up with poorer communities because they will lack some of the things they will need."

Cllr Graham Harris, cabinet member for sustainable development, added: "We could end up with a substantial amount of retail property being used for residential. We could see a shortage of facilities to promote local businesses."

Cllr Harris said he would respond to the consultation and reflect members' concerns on the proposals.