Change of use reform plans prompt concern on quality

Government proposals to enable light industrial and warehouse buildings to be converted into residential use without planning consent may lead to low-quality housing in unsuitable areas, industry organisations have warned.

Warehouse: location and accessibility of conversions is particular worry for critics
Warehouse: location and accessibility of conversions is particular worry for critics

Plans to introduce new permitted development (PD) rights to let developers change the use of certain buildings without the need for a planning application are included in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)’s technical consultation on planning.

The Planning Officers Society’s response to the consultation, seen by Planning, said plans to allow "blanket permissions for units of this size" to change from warehouses and light industrial to residential uses are "entirely inappropriate".

It said: "If this were to go ahead the prior approvals would result in low-quality residential being provided in an industrial area. This would be a bad neighbour to the industrial uses and result in complaints between residents and functioning businesses."

The National Housing Federation’s response said the proposal would provide "no means of control over the mix and size of accommodation, running the risk that inadequate accommodation will be provided".

In its consultation response, the Royal Town Planning Institute added that many storage buildings are in "highly unsuitable locations for residential use", saying while such sites have good access to national road networks they often have "poor access to anything else, even by car".

Objections have also been raised over plans to make the temporary PD rights for converting offices into homes permanent from 2016, as well as the proposals to lift a rule currently allowing certain areas to be exempt from the policy.

The British Property Federation said: "Removing the current exemption areas and introducing a general test of ‘considering the potential impact of the significant loss of the most strategically important office accommodation within the local area’ will create unacceptable levels of uncertainty for local authorities and developers."

The consultation also outlined proposals for a "deemed discharge" under which applications to discharge conditions would be automatically approved where a local planning authority fails to make a timely decision.

Umbrella body London Councils said the proposals "may undermine the planning system and thus the delivery of new development".

It added: "Developers may feel able to bring in premature applications in the knowledge that poorly resourced planning departments may not be able to discharge the conditions in the statutory timeframe.

"This risks the introduction of poor-quality development with no community support or engagement."

Planning minister Brandon Lewis said: "Our change of use reforms are providing badly needed homes, especially in London where there is an acute need for more housing, while helping to promote brownfield regeneration and protect the green belt at no cost to the taxpayer."

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