By Vince Wall
On Thursday 28 January, the Government’s consultation on various revisions to the permitted development rights ended. The proposed revisions placed a particular emphasis on delivering new housing to meet housing need and supporting public service infrastructure through changes to the planning system. One particularly controversial part of the consultation was the New Permitted Development Right which would enable the “Change of Use from Class E (Commercial, Business and Service) to Class C3 (Residential)”. Which would effectively make it much easier for properties such as shops, gyms, restaurants and many others to be converted into new dwellings.
The ‘Royal Town Planning Institute’ (RTPI) has to some extent led the charge against the proposed PD rights in its consultation response. In their response the RTPI make the following comments regarding the unintended consequences of the changes:
“Should residential conversions take place on a large scale affecting a high street, we are concerned at the potential loss of active frontages and the benefits they provide through informal surveillance and enhancements to the vitality and safety of an area. We further question the possible negative impacts on physical activity with gyms, swimming pools and sports and leisure facilities included within Class E and therefore at risk of being lost to residential conversion under the right”.
The RTPI also notes that fee of £96 per dwelling for a prior approval application does not meet the resource demands that are placed on Local Planning Authorities and believe a fee of £231 per dwelling would be more appropriate. Writing in Planning Resource, Michael Bach (London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies) said that the PD right would lead to “opportunistic conversions, pepper-potting housing in town and local centres, is the worst of all worlds”.
It is also worth keeping in mind that local planning authorities are not currently able to charge Community Infrastructure Levys (CIL) or make developers enter into Section 106 agreements on prior approval decisions. This means that a lot of the contributions that would be normally provided with a new development may be lost, including contributions towards transport, in the form of electric vehicle, pavement improvements, new bus stops, cycle highways and other elements which are often cited as greener alternatives to just cars. This may also mean that Local Planning Authorities may be unable to secure affordable housing on the conversions made through the prior approval process.
However, with all that said, some industry leaders and figureheads may support the new freedom that the PD rights will provide. It may be helpful for commercial estate agents who are looking to be more flexible in accommodating potential tenants. Guardians of the greenbelt, such as the ‘Campaign to Protect Rural England’ (CPRE) may welcome the changes as they can be seen as redirecting the need for new homes to be built in fields towards new homes in the city and town centres. Although CPRE hasn’t published their consultation response on their website, their past consultation responses on the recent Planning White Paper demonstrate their support for brownfield-first and densification, rather than “the wasteful dispersal of new development into car-dependent, infrastructure-hungry greenfield locations”.
Office to Residential PD rights, introduced in May 2013, shook up the planning system, with critics found across the board. Many conversions were seen as sub-standard. Research co-led by UCL and The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found that office to residential developments were leading to a provision of ‘poor quality housing’, and suggested more regulation was needed. We will just have to wait and see what the newly proposed PD right will mean for Britain’s highstreets and town centres. Perhaps the PD right will save them, but at what cost?