SCHEMES which saw shops in York turned into flats and houses more than doubled last year - and more small business sites could be in line for changes.

Figures from City of York Council have shown 11 planning applications to convert retail premises into homes were approved by the authority during 2011/12, more than the combined total for the previous two years.

Some of the schemes involved part of the building remaining as a shop or available to be used for that purpose, while other sections of the site - often the first floor - became living accommodation, but others have seen the entire business become a house or flat.

In recent weeks, three new “change of use” applications have been submitted to the council, with business organisations saying the need for their owners to pay empty-building rates if a retail establishment closes could be contributing to the increased number of schemes.

Recent applications have been made for a vacant shop in Boroughbridge Road and a butcher’s business in York Street, Dunnington, to become houses, and a change of use from “retail” to “residential” at a newsagents shop on Bishopthorpe Road.

Permission for similar conversions is also being sought for shops in Burton Stone Lane, Haxby Road and Blossom Street.

The council approved four such applications in both 2008/09 and 2009/10 and five in 2010/11, but the total reached double figures last year.

Planning policy states applications which lead to the loss of a “local or village shop” can only be given the go-ahead if “a local need for the shopping facility no longer exists” or there are alternative businesses in the area.

Katie Stewart, the authority’s head of economic development, said: “Our figures for registered business-rated properties reflects our position as the third fastest-growing city in the UK and we have seen a fall in empty business premises since this time last year.

“We are committed to supporting the future of our city’s economy, and remaining competitive by adapting to market challenges and opportunities is key to any business’ survival.”

Simon Williams, regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said converting retail premises to houses was sometimes the “only option” for property owners who would otherwise have to make empty-building rate payments.

“We believe this system needs looking at as it is hitting individual traders and proving to be a big problem for some of them,” he said.