Neighbours feel powerless to stop a developer “cramming” people into an office block it wants to convert to flats.

Refuge House, in River Front, Enfield Town, will be converted into 52 studio flats – some of them with a floor space of less than 30sq m.

The smallest flat will be just 23.4sq m – well below the national space standard for studio flats in new dwellings of 37sq m.

But permitted development rights brought in by the Government in 2015 mean developers can avoid following these guidelines and do not need planning permission when turning offices into flats.

Matt Burn, who lives in Fyfield Road, claimed small flats can lead to mental health problems for the occupants and be a “disaster” for young children.

He said: “I am not particularly against the offices being turned into flats; I am just not keen on really awful ones.

“They are just cramming people in and overcrowding them. It is quite disturbingly bad.”

But while Mr Burn said “quite a lot of residents” were against the scheme, they were powerless to stop it because they could only object on technicalities – such as a lack of cycle parking – that the developer could easily accommodate.

He said Enfield Council should have followed other local authorities by bringing in powers that could stop these conversions from going ahead.

Known as article 4 directions, these powers allow councils to reject permitted developments rights and prior approval applications, meaning developers have to apply for planning permission

Mr Burn, who said he was not motivated by ‘nimby-ism’, said it was “really frustrating” that Enfield Council hadn’t adopted the powers.

The development is being carried out by a company known as Timeboard Industrial Properties, with RPS Consulting acting as agent.

In a planning assessment carried out by RPS, principal planner Rachel Mottram said the development would “provide much-needed housing for first-time buyers in a highly accessible location”.

The council could not have stopped the Refuge House conversion from going ahead because the application was made under permitted development rights, and it does not currently have an article 4 direction in place to restrict these types of development

An Enfield Council spokesperson said: “We are currently looking at whether to include an article 4 direction in the new local plan which is currently being developed for the borough.”

Attempts were made to contact Timeboard and RPS Consulting was approached for comment.