By Ellen Nicholson
Permitted Development (PD) Rights have existed since the enactment of the statutory planning system in 1948. The extent of these rights has changed over time, and there have been a number of significant additions since 2013, most notably allowing the creation of new dwellings through the change of use of buildings formerly in office, agricultural, storage, light industrial, retail and various associated unique uses into residential ‘dwellinghouse’ use.
The conversions are assessed by Local Planning Authorities (LPA) via a prior approval application, a time-limited process whereby the LPA can consider a restricted range of planning matters before granting or refusing the proposal. They cannot consider the principle of the conversion, nor any issues relating to the proposed design, layout or unit mix. Currently, the prior approval process includes consideration of:
- Transport and highways impacts;
- Contamination and flooding risks; and
- Impacts of noise from commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development.
There has been much criticism in the media of PD rights and the undersized and poor-quality residential units they can at times deliver. There are also concerns over the potential loss of employment space and affordable housing contributions. Research conducted for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)1 found that only 22% of dwellings created through PD would meet nationally described space standards (NDSS), compared to 73% for homes delivered via planning permission. The research also found that just 3.5% of PD units benefitted from access to private amenity space, compared to 23.1% of planning permission units.
As a result, MHCLG recently announced that all new homes in England delivered through the PD rights will have to meet nationally described space standards. These space standards specify that a one-bedroom flat must cover a minimum of 37 square metres. They argue that this, combined with the introduction of the statutory requirement for all homes delivered via PD to have ‘’adequate’’ natural light, should result in a vast improvement to the quality of conversions.
The Government are yet to release any details on when these new rules will be introduced via a statutory instrument. However, they have confirmed that the space standards will not apply retrospectively. These new measures will also increase the level of resources required by LPAs to process and assess prior approval applications. Prior approval applications already attractive a relatively modest fee compared to full planning applications. No information has been provided as to any revision to the current charging schedule.
There may well now be an increase in the number of PD schemes coming forward, as developers try to beat the deadline for compliance with these new rules. It will have a commercial implication on developers who have bought commercial properties based on the assumption of maximising delivery of small units. The reduction in the number of units being squeezed into schemes will also have a knock-on impact on meeting the ever-increasing housing targets, particularly in Cities.
Whilst I’m sure these measures are welcomed by many of the critics of PD housing, the wider issues of PD rights particularly regarding open space provision and affordable housing remain.
1 The full report can be accessed at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/902220/Research_report_quality_PDR_homes.pdf