How permitted development rights are changing: the Planning briefing

How the government's promised changes to permitted development rights, announced in the Spring Statement earlier this month, change policy and the practical implications for practitioners.

High streets: government proposals intended to boost flagging town centres
High streets: government proposals intended to boost flagging town centres

In October last year, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) consulted on a wide-ranging suite of proposed changes to the permitted development (PD) regime, in a document titled Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes.

Most of the proposed changes were confirmed by housing secretary James Brokenshire earlier this month as part of the Spring Statement. Planning has rounded up the key changes - with comments on the implications from key organisations in the planning and development sectors.


How the rules are changing

Brokenshire this month announced a PD right "to extend upwards certain existing buildings in commercial and residential use to deliver additional homes", confirming the introduction of a policy first floated by the housing secretary at the Conservative party conference last autumn. The new right would have to deliver homes that "respect the design of the existing streetscape", Brokenshire said, "while ensuring that the amenity of neighbours is considered". Applicants will be expected to engage with interested parties on "design and technical details", he added. Brokenshire said implementation of the upward extensions PD right would be covered in a "package of regulations in the autumn".

The October consultation document set out three options for upwards extensions using PD rights. The first proposal suggested that development could be permitted above terraced buildings where there is at least one higher adjoining building, with the maximum height determined by the main roofline of the highest building. Secondly, it mooted an alternative approach to "permit upwards extensions more widely to a height no higher than the prevailing roof height in the locality".

In both cases, it proposed that the building height once extended should be capped at a maximum of five storeys from ground level. A third option proposed that free-standing blocks of residential flats of more than five storeys under the PD regime, and asked for opinions on whether there should be a limit on the number of additional storeys that could be added, citing five as an example. The Government is yet to confirm which of these options it is going to pursue.

Practical implications

When the government consulted on the policy last October, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and Local Government Association (LGA) both raised a number of concerns, including around the likely design quality of new development under the right. The LGA said the proposal was "effectively removing the ability of local planning authorities to ensure good design through the appropriate application of local plan policies, which also risks undermining the government’s current focus on quality". The RTPI also questioned whether such development would adhere to fire and building regulations.

Mike Kiely, chair of the Planning Officers Society, which represents public sector planners, said despite the streamlined prior approval process, plenty of work would still be required of officers to make sure proposals are of a satisfactory standard. "Normally, for prior notification, the fee is peanuts," he said. "We’re dealing with a full-blown application for very little money."

Michael Bach, planning chair at the London Forum of Civic and Amenity Societies, said adding extra storeys would mean that councils are likely to have to consider implications, such as access, that he felt would be too complex for the prior approval process. Similarly, Ian Fletcher, director of real estate policy at lobby group the British Property Federation, raised concerns that applications under the new right "may be so complex to bring forward they simply resemble a planning application in all but name".

Nevertheless, developers are likely to have "some interest" in taking advantage of such rights, Andrew Whitaker, planning director at the Home Builders Federation has said. "These PD rights can generate a significant amount of residential development. They would allow for more mixed-use development in areas that are currently mono-tenure because they could open up lots of opportunities for building upwards in town centres, many of which are low-rise and could have another level of residential above them."

Daniel Wade, rights of light director at surveyors Trident Building Consultancy, warned developers that any prior approval process may not include consultation requirements, which form part of the planning application process and should expose any objections on the grounds of daylight or overlooking impacts at an early stage. "With this step removed, developers could potentially proceed unaware of any objections – resulting in building works then being halted through an injunction either during the process or post-completion. So while developers might look set to gain from the opportunity to create additional storeys and in doing so, increase the net lettable areas of commercial properties, in reality the situation is precarious."


How the rules are changing

The government’s plans to "support the high street" include a PD right, confirmed by Brokenshire this month, allowing a wide range of town centre uses to convert to offices. The minister said the new right would allow A1 shops, A2 financial and professional services, A5 hot food takeaways, and betting shops, pay day loan shops and launderettes to change use to a B1 office. The right would also allow takeaways to change to C3 residential use. He went on to say that the government intended to implement the PD right measures "in the spring", apart from those that would be "more complex" to introduce, which would be brought into action in the autumn.

Practical implications

Responding to the October consultation, the RTPI warned that a blanket PD right would mean "unplanned changes to ground floor primary shopping frontages which could detrimentally affect those parts of high streets that may still be vibrant. B1 office uses could create ground floor dead frontages". In addition, the institute said that shops converted to office use might not offer suitable disabled access which "would disadvantage disabled people in seeking work and going about everyday business".

Hugh Ellis, policy director at the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), warned that the policy would reduce councils’ ability to obtain developer contributions. "The rebirth of town centres requires vision and masterplanning," he said. "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 Planning Officers Society (POS) suggesting that the policy, combined with existing rights for office to residential conversions, could create a loophole allowing high street premises to be converted into offices and subsequently into homes.

However, the free market think tank Policy Exchange said the proposed flexibility to convert hot food takeaways could foster "a revival of the sort of mixed-use high streets people love and want".


How the rules are changing

Temporary changes of use between various high street uses, offices and leisure facilities are currently allowed under PD rights for two years. In the October consultation, the MHCLG said the right allows A1 shops, A2 financial and professional services, A3 restaurants and cafes, A5 hot food takeaways, B1 offices, D1 non-residential institutions, D2 assembly and leisure uses, betting shops and pay day loan shops to change to shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes or offices. The right allows "new business start-ups to test the market and help ensure premises are not left empty", it said, but to "further support flexibility", the MHCLG proposed allowing these premises to change to "certain community uses: public library, exhibition hall, museum, clinic or health centre". It also proposed extending the temporary use period from two to three years to "allow sufficient time to establish a business".

At the time of the Spring Statement, Brokenshire confirmed that the right will will apply for three years and allow changes of use to a wider range of community facilities. He went on to say that the government intended to implement the PD right measures "in the spring".

Practical implications

Responding to the consultation, the POS said it supported an extension to temporary changes of use on the basis it might help "keep high streets open and vibrant". However, it added that take-up of changes to community uses under the policy so far had been low because developers were reluctant to invest for a temporary period. "This should be addressed by removing the PD right and considering these issues as part of a planning application," it said.

The RTPI again warned of issues around disability access for conversions to community facilities, calling for any such changes of use to be audited to make sure premises are accessible to disabled people.


How the rules are changing?

A temporary permitted development right allowing larger single-storey rear extensions to homes to go ahead without a planning application than was previously permitted, due to expire on 30 May 2019, will be made permanent, said Brokenshire, and will be subject to "a proportionate fee". The PD right was introduced in 2013 and lets homeowners double the size of domestic rear extensions allowed without planning permission - from the maximum four metres depth previously allowed to eight metres for detached houses and from three metres to six metres for any other type of house. Brokenshire said he intended to implement the PD right changes "in the spring".

Practical implications

The POS warned that such extensions "can cause material harm in many circumstances and should be subject to normal planning applications". The LGA said the right had prompted neighbours' concerns in relation to overshadowing, overlooking and loss of privacy. The body went on to say that the larger household extensions PD right had resulted in "an increased workload and loss of income" for planning services. Finally, it said councils had raised concerns that the current process "means that they have a limited opportunity to consider the impact of larger household extensions on the local area".


How are the rules changing?

Existing rights to install off-street electric vehicle charging points will be amended to allow for taller charging stands, Brokenshire said, "to address advances in rapid charging technology". However, the communities director did not spell out the maximum stand height the government had decided to allow under PD rights. PD rights currently allow charging stands up to 1.6 metres in height - the October consultation proposed increasing this threshold to 2.3 metres. Brokenshire said he intended to implement the PD right measures "in the spring".

Practical implications

The POS in response to the October consultation said the right would allow such infrastructure to be installed quickly, which was "sensible". The RTPI offered a more cautious assessment: "We support measures aimed at facilitating the adoption of electric vehicles. However 2.3 metres high is quite tall and the implications of this must be considered." Similarly, the LGA expressed concerns that increasing the existing height limit to 2.3 metres high "could, in some areas have a significant impact on the amenity and character of that area".


The PD regime is being tightened in two areas. Firstly, a temporary right for changes of use from storage to residential will not be extended and will lapse on 10 June. The POS had warned that the right was "forcing businesses out of premises", while the RTPI raised concerns about "poor quality housing" with structural issues, a lack of amenity space and asbestos.

Secondly, PD rights that have allowed telephone kiosks with advertising attached to be erected without planning permission will also be scrapped. This follows concerns expressed by both local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate, which said it had been struggling to deal with a sharp rise in appeals related to such developments. The POS said it "strongly supports" the move, adding: "It is clear that this system is being abused and adds unnecessary clutter to streets and public spaces." The LGA said the "proliferation of telephone kiosks in our town and city centres" has been "impacting upon councils’ local economic growth ambitions and the pedestrian experience of their residents and visitors".


A PD right to allow commercial buildings to be demolished and replaced with homes is still being considered, Brokenshire said. The POS said in October that such a right would undermine public confidence in planning and councils’ ability to plan effectively.

Brokenshire also promised to issue "clarification on the ability of (A) use classes to diversify and incorporate ancillary uses without undermining the amenity of the area". The commitment that appears to fall short of a suggested merger of A class uses that was floated by the government in the October consultation.


Brokenshire said all existing PD rights allowing residential conversions will be reviewed in "respect of the quality standard of homes delivered". The move follows concerns voices by a wide range of bodies about the quality of development being delivered under the policy. In April 2018, a report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) concluded that office-to-residential permitted development rules have allowed the development of "extremely poor-quality housing".

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Join the conversation with PlanningResource on social media

Follow Us:
Planning Jobs