A FIRM planning to transform a tired 1970s office block into flats says schemes like this should help to preserve the district's precious countryside.

Former Bradford Council office Olicana House in Little Germany is to be turned into 138 self-contained apartments, after London-based property firm Absolute Living Developments Limited got planning permission for the £7 million project.

Around a third of the buildings in the area are thought to lie empty and the project's head architect, Andrew Norton, said it was important to bring life back into them.

He said: "In Little Germany, if you walk around the streets there, they're empty. There's nobody walking around. With these 138 residences, we are animating these streets.

"When we have got areas of the city centre that are completely unoccupied, why are our cities expanding into the green belt when we have such high levels of vacancy here?

"We have empty buildings within walking distance of all the facilities of the city centre."

The brutalist concrete structure is not known as one of the most attractive buildings in the Little Germany conservation area, more famous for its 19th-century warehouses.

Mr Norton said while the company would be replacing the windows and doing some work to the ground floor, the external appearance of the building would not drastically change.

He said: "We haven't got a lot of room to play with the external works, so we are effectively trying to work within the constraints of what we've got."

Once the flats are complete, they will be sold to Malaysian investors and rented out, with Absolute Living Developments managing the building.

Mr Norton said the properties would be aimed at the city's 'key workers' such as cleaners or nurses - those who "keep the city ticking over".

Last week, the Council's executive member for planning, Councillor Val Slater, said she hoped the scheme would be a high-quality project.

She said: "We don't want to be in a position, without mentioning any names, where we get complaints where work has been skimped."

Mr Norton sought to reassure her, saying: "At the end of the day, we will be maintaining the building, so it is in our interests to have happy residents.

"We won't be doing up the building, selling it then wiping our hands of it."