Government study finds permitted development housing is 'worse' for occupiers' health and quality of life

A government-commissioned review of housing delivered through permitted development (PD) rights has concluded that in areas such as space standards and residents' amenity such developments are of a "worse quality" than schemes allowed via the traditional planning permission route.

Terminus House, Harlow: office converted under PD rights (Pic: Getty)

The review into the quality of homes delivered as a consequence of extended PD rights for residential conversions was announced by the government in March 2019.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has today published the review report, which has been produced by a team of planning academics, including Dr Ben Clifford of Unversity College London's (UCL's) Bartlett School of Planning.

It said that research for the study "involved site visits to 639 buildings, and a detailed desk based analysis of 240 of those schemes, comprising 138 prior approval schemes (92 office-to-residential, 33 retail/sui generis-to-residential and 13 storage/light industrial-to-residential)".

It also said the study looked at 102 schemes consented through the traditional planning permission route - "44 office-to-residential, 47 retail/sui generis-to-residential and 11 storage/light industrial-to-residential".

The report said that, from this analysis, "we found a slightly more nuanced picture – in terms of the comparison between the quality of residential units created through permitted development with those created through full planning permission – than has been suggested by some previous research and media coverage".

In April 2018, a report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors concluded that office-to-residential permitted development rules have allowed the development of "extremely poor-quality housing".

The report published today said that, "looking across all categories of change of use and all 11 local authority areas considered, rates of making exterior alterations, such as new windows, doors, balconies and cladding, are broadly similar between planning permission and PD schemes".

It added that, "in terms of noticeable additional amenities, such as provision of parking and open space and facilities for refuse and post, there are no obvious differences between planning permission and PD consented schemes overall".

There was also "little difference" between PD and planning permission units "in terms of energy performance or council tax banding (and hence potential property value)", the report said.

However, the report said that there was "a notable tendency that PD schemes were more likely to be located in primarily commercial areas (like business parks) and primarily industrial areas than planning permission schemes".

It added that "site visits found that some of these locations offered extremely poor residential amenity".

In terms of space standards, the report said that there was "much more significant difference between schemes created through planning permission and those created through permitted development".

Overall, it said, "only 22.1 per cent of dwelling units created through PD would meet the nationally described space standards (NDSS), compared to 73.4 per cent of units created through full planning permission".

The report also said that, in terms of the arrangement of windows, "72.0 per cent of the dwelling units created under PD only had single aspect windows, compared to 29.5 per cent created through planning permission, whereas 67.1 per cent of the planning permission units benefitted from dual or triple aspect windows compared to only 27.3 per cent of PD units".

Looking at amenity space, the report found that "just 3.5 per cent of the PD units we analysed benefitted from access to private amenity space, compared to 23.1 per cent of the planning permission units".

"It is the combination of very small internal space standards, a poor mix of unit types, lack of access to private amenity space / outdoor space,and inadequate natural light which can provide such a poor residential experience in some permitted development units", the report concluded.

The document concluded that permitted development conversions "do seem to create worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers".

It said that these aspects "are primarily related to the internal configuration and immediate neighbouring uses of schemes, as opposed to the exterior appearance, access to services or broader neighbourhood location".

The report was written by Dr Clifford with Dr Patricia Canelas, Dr Jessica Ferm and Dr Nicola Livingstone of the UCL Bartlett School of Planning and Professor Alex Lord and Dr Richard Dunning at the University of Liverpool's department of geography and planning.