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Consultation published on further expansion to PDR

Words: Laura Edgar
Gym / iStock-1132006407

The government has published proposals that would see permitted development rights (PDR) extended further as part of plans to make ‘more immediate changes to the planning system’ in England.

The aim is to create more planning certainty and flexibility so the planning system can “effectively contribute” to the immediate challenges England faces, such as supporting the economic future of high streets and town centres and the “faster” delivery of hospitals.

The consultation document notes that from 1 September, a commercial, business and service (class E) use class was introduced to provide “greater flexibility” to move between a wider variety of uses, from banks and restaurants to gyms and crèches, without planning permission.

Now the government is consulting on allowing class E uses to be converted to residential use without planning permission.

The consultation states: “It is proposed that the right would allow for the change of use from any use, or mix of uses, within the Commercial, Business and Service use class to residential use (C3). The right would replace the current rights for the change of use from office to residential (Part 3, Class O of Schedule 2 to the General Permitted Development Order), and from retail etc to residential (Part 3, Class M of the General Permitted Development Order) which remain in force until 31 July 2021.”

Pubs, theatres and live music venues would not fall under this use class.

The government has proposed that there should be no size limit on the buildings that can benefit from the right.

The prior approvals that would apply to such conversions include flooding, transport and contamination. To ensure appropriate living conditions the prior approvals include the impacts of noise, the provision of adequate natural light, and fire safety.

The ability of councils to manage such development under the prior approval system would be restricted to factors including flooding, noise, contaminated land, and adequate levels of natural light.

More information and the consultation can be found on the UK Government website.


RTPI head of policy Richard Blyth said: "Regarding the extension of schools and hospitals, we consider the efficient and professional determination of all planning applications to be a high priority. We have called for sufficient funding to ensure the planning system can operate following years of declining resourcing. We will be consulting our members on the detail of these proposals.

"The use of permitted development is not a simple solution to resource shortages. We welcome the increased fees announced for this process but we remain concerned that it can be a blunt tool when used in connection with town centres.

"The planning system is not a ‘design system’. Limiting its application to the appearance of buildings rather than their use limits its ability to deliver real outcomes for people. This year above all we need to plan the world we need to achieve real change across the board."

Fiona Howie, chief executive at the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), said: “Back in July the government published independent research it had commissioned into the quality of homes delivered through certain permitted development rights. The report concluded that homes converted via permitted development rights create worse quality residential environments than those converted with planning permission. This was in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life. Despite this, they seem to have ignored their own commissioned research and are now consulting on expanding these rights.”

She insisted that these proposals would “undermine the ability of communities to inform decisions about new schools, prisons and hospitals”.  

“The government’s planning white paper argued that they wanted to give communities a more meaningful voice in the future of their area. These proposals seem to suggest the government wants to give communities as little voice as possible.

“This latest consultation is emblematic of the government’s desire to deregulate the planning system, and reinforces more than ever the need for a Healthy Homes Act that would establish a framework to require all new homes to be of decent quality.”

Stuart Andrews, national head of planning at Eversheds Sutherland, said: “Predictably, it remains the case that the issue with this relaxation in permitted rights isn’t necessarily restricted to town centres. As such, it will be a major concern within other areas like established business and science parks, or leisure centres. Unrestrained development might sound enlightened, but it has been controlled for the past 100 years for a reason.”

Nicola Gooch, planning partner at Irwin Mitchell, commented: “The new class E to residential PDR is the biggest and potentially most radical of the changes proposed yesterday. Not least because, despite the entire justification for it being related to high streets, the rights are not limited to high street properties. They will, in fact, apply to every GP’s surgery, retail park, business park, gym, crèche, nursery or light industrial unit in England** that existed and was in use on 1 September 2020.

“There is a nod to preserving high streets in conservation areas, but it does seem to be just that – a nod. The intention is to include specific prior approval criteria allowing councils to consider the ‘impact of the loss of the ground floor use to residential’ in conservation areas.

“Given the impact that Covid 19 and the associated restrictions have had on the economy, there will be a real temptation for commercial landlords to flip vacant units to residential before looking at other, more traditional, commercial uses for them.

“If this is enacted, unless councils are very quick off the mark with their article 4 directions, the future of many high streets may very quickly become predominantly residential.”

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