What the planned high street deregulation would allow developers to do without a planning application

Proposals to ease the path for upward extensions of buildings and high street changes of use may not produce the intended results, commentators have warned.

High streets: proposal to simplify changes of use
High streets: proposal to simplify changes of use

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) last week consulted on a range of proposed new permitted development rights designed to boost housing delivery and allow high streets to adapt to change. The consultation document says the deregulatory proposals will make sure town centres can "meet the demands of the 21st-century consumer" as well as "delivering more homes", but it has already provoked strong criticism. Hugh Ellis, interim chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said it would see local authorities "effectively walking away from town centres".

Once again, the MHCLG is mooting permitted development (PD) rights for upward extensions to existing commercial and residential buildings, as a way to boost housing density in areas "such as our town centres and high streets". However, these would apply more widely, with exemptions only for protected locations such as conservation areas and national parks. The consultation paper proposes limiting this PD right either to the height of the highest building in a terrace or to the "prevailing roof height in the locality". Either way, the ministry is proposing that it would be capped at a total building height of five storeys above ground for most buildings.

As long as their design is in keeping with the "existing design of the building", the consultation paper explains, such alterations would be authorised through a prior approval procedure rather than requiring full planning permission. Mike Kiely, chair of the Planning Officers Society, said that of all the relaxations proposed, this has "the most potential to do long-term damage" to townscapes. But Steve Norris, head of regeneration at consultants Carter Jonas, said uptake might be limited outside London for viability reasons.

Elsewhere, the consultation proposes new PD rights allowing shops, financial and professional services premises, hot food takeaways, betting shops, payday loan shops and launderettes to convert to office use, again via the use of prior approval notices. New rights for a variety of town centre-type premises to change use for up to three years without planning permission are also proposed as development and would fall entirely outside the planning system’s remit. More fundamentally, the consultation suggests recasting the Use Classes Order 1987 to respond to the increasing mix of different uses within single premises. The MHCLG sees scope for a new use class covering mixed schemes incorporating class A1 retail, class A2 financial and professional services and class A3 food and drink establishments, so that switches between these uses would not be classed as development. Norris warned that, rather than making it easier to find new uses for hard-to-let shops, the changes might see such premises converted to take advantage of higher values.

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