AN office block at the top of Poole Hill can be converted into 20 studio flats, town planners have ruled.

The Edwardian villa at 1 Poole Road, Bournemouth, currently laid out as offices and home to Turners Solicitors LLP, has been subject to several planning applications over recent years.

That firm was granted 'prior approval' to convert the building, which sits within the West Cliff and Poole Hill Conservation Area, into nine flats, and later made a bid to demolish it and build a new block which was withdrawn earlier this year.

The new application was made by Elliott Heron Ltd - the director of which is developer Philip Oram.

"The premises subject to this application relate to existing offices," said town planning officers in their report.

"No works are proposed other than internal alterations to enable the change of use from offices to residential flats."

They ruled that approval should be granted under permitted development rights.

The developer had said the scheme would benefit the area in "the creation of residential development that will preserve the special character of the West Cliff and Poole Hill Conservation Area, whilst making more efficient use of previously developed urban land".

While the council's guidance favours the retention of Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the conservation area, despite the fact that many have been subject to out-of-character extensions over the years, Bournemouth Civic Society has previously expressed no concerns about its demolition.

The developer's statement says: "The internal studio arrangement layouts have been carefully designed within the existing building perimeters to ensure satisfactory living conditions for new residents, whilst also maintaining the amenity enjoyed by surrounding buildings."

According to the plans, the site would have 21 parking spaces.

Bournemouth council is currently obliged by Government regulations to oversee the construction of 730 new homes in the borough per year.

Last week, the Echo revealed that if a new system for calculating housing targets is approved, this figure will double to 1,458 homes per year, which the borough has said could put "pressure" on its planning department to approve "inappropriate" applications.