As part of today’s Budget, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published a consultation, Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes, which sets out a series of fresh proposed changes to the planning system.
The document says the government is "seeking views on new permitted development rights to allow greater flexibility for change of use; use the airspace above existing buildings for additional new homes and extensions; remove the right to install new public call boxes and the associated advertising consent; and increase the height threshold for the installation of off-street electric vehicle charging points".
The document proposes a new national permitted development right "to allow shops (A1) financial and professional services (A2), hot food takeaways (A5), betting shops, pay day loan shop and launderettes to change to office use (B1)". It also proposes to allow hot food takeaways (A5) to change to residential use (C3).
It says that, "with the rise of internet shopping, and the change in how people use the high street, it is timely to consider how the operation of the Use Classes Order can support greater flexibility".
It asks for view on how the A1 use class "could be simplified to ensure that it accommodates new and future business models and modern shopping preferences".
The MHCLG also says there "could be scope for a new use class that provides for a mix of uses within the A1, A2 and A3 uses beyond that which is considered to be ancillary, which would support the diversification of high street businesses".
It says the measure "would mean that movement between these uses was no longer development and not a matter for the planning system to consider".
The floating of new permitted development rights for shops prompted a concerned response from the RTPI. "Permitted developments rights - whether it is to convert shops to residential use or adding storeys to buildings - do not have a track record of producing quality development and we need to be cautious about their use," said RTPI head of policy and research Richard Blyth.
Trevor Goode, head of planning at law firm Ashurst, was even more critical, saying that another extension of PR rights would create "a legacy of poor quality homes and inadequate infrastructure to support them".
However Carl Dyer, head of planning at law firm Irwin Mitchell, welcomed the proposals, arguing that theconversions should not even be subject to a prior approval process. "If local authorities are given the chance to consider parking or other issues, some will seek to use that to prevent the erosion of shopping frontages," he said.
The PD right consultation further seeks views on a new PD right to allow property owners to extend their buildings upwards. This was announced at the Conservative Party Conference by housing secretary James Brokenshire.
"We are proposing a new permitted development right, subject to prior approval by the local planning authority, to allow additional storeys to be built above certain buildings, in particular those in commercial or residential use", the document says.
Elsewhere, the document proposes removing the existing PD right for public call boxes. It says that councils "are seeing an increase in the number of prior approval applications for additional public call boxes in city centres, with a subsequent increase in the number of appeals coming before the Planning Inspectorate".
It also proposes to increase the height of electric vehicle charging infrastructure currently allowed under permitted development from 1.6 metres to 2.3 metres high.
In addition, the consultation seeks views on extending and making permanent two time-limited permitted development rights. These are the change of use from storage or distribution to residential, introduced in 2015, and time-limited permitted development right for larger extensions to houses, introduced in 2013.
It also seeks views on the creation of a new permitted development right "allowing for the demolition of commercial buildings and redevelopment as residential".
"As demolition and redevelopment would be more ambitious than existing permitted development rights, comments are also invited on how prior approvals could be best used to mitigate the impacts of such development on the local area", the consultation says.
In addition, today's Budget announced that the government will create a £675 million Future High Streets Fund "to help local areas make their high streets and town centres fit for the future".