Budget PD right changes may 'condemn desperate people to live in badly designed boxes'

New proposals to extend permitted development (PD) rights that were announced in this week's Budget could deprive councils of 'essential funding' and 'condemn desperate people to live in badly designed boxes', the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) has warned.

High streets: government says PD changes will aid revival
High streets: government says PD changes will aid revival

As part of Monday’s Budget, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) 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 PD rights.

Among them is a proposal to create a new PD right allowing commercial buildings to be demolished and redeveloped as housing and another that would allow property owners to extend their buildings upwards. 

The consultation also seeks views on allowing hot food takeaways (A5) to change to residential use without the need for planning permission and proposes extending and making permanent two time-limited PD rights - the change of use from storage or distribution to residential, introduced in 2015, and allowing larger household extensions, introduced in 2013.

The government believes the plans would help revive high streets and increase housing delivery.

But the TCPA has issued a statement warning that plans will mean that developers will be able to bypass requirements "for affordable housing, local infrastructure or minimum housing space standards".

It said that this "will deprive local authorities of essential funding and risks creating poor living conditions for vulnerable people".

The body pointed to research published by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in April which concluded that office-to-residential permitted development rules have allowed the development of "extremely poor-quality housing". The report also found that research on five local authorities found they may have lost out on £10.8 million in funding from planning gain and 1,667 affordable housing units from approved office-to-residential PD schemes.

Dr Hugh Ellis, interim chief executive of the TCPA, said: "Converting commercial and disused high-street properties into homes is fine, so long as it doesn’t condemn desperate people — often young people or poor families — to live in badly designed boxes without consideration for their health and wellbeing.

"Under the existing system of permitted development, 1,000 new flats can be built in an old 1970s office building or industrial estate, and the local council can’t require a single square foot of play space for the children who live there — and the communities have effectively no say. This cannot become the norm.

"The rebirth of town centres requires vision and masterplanning, with real investment in culture and the built environment. How can we pay for this investment when permitted development removes the power of local authorities to get one penny in section 106 contributions from developers?"

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government was asked to comment but it had yet to respond at the time of publication. 

In September, Ellis said that he introduction of permitted development rights for office-to-residential conversions was "the most shameful built environment policy in the post-war period". 

But, also in September, a report by a think-tank argued that the introduction of permitted development rights for office-to-residential conversions had been a "strong success" but the policy is at risk from "centralising elements" in the planning profession "who resent their loss of control over any aspect of the system".

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