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Labour would scrap commercial to residential PD rights

Words: Laura Edgar
Micro-homes / Shutterstock_45472135

The next Labour government would put an end to the policy that sees commercial spaces converted into residential units without going through the full planning process.

Labour said permitted development rights, introduced under the coalition government in 2013, give developers “a get-out” from providing affordable housing and meeting space standards.

The current Conservative government is considering extending permitted development rights – commercial buildings on high streets could be converted into homes while other buildings could be extended upwards – as it tries to meet its target to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

A number of organisations have come out against further extending permitted development, including the RTPI, the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), the Civic Voice and the Bath Preservation Trust.

Research by the Local Government Association (LGA) suggests that 10,500 affordable homes have been lost through permitted development rights in the past three years while research by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), published last year, finds that office-to-residential conversions produce a higher number of poor-quality homes than those subject to the full planning process.

John Healey, Labour’s housing secretary, said: “Conservative permitted development rules have created a get-out clause for developers to dodge affordable homes requirements and build slum housing.

“To fix the housing crisis, we need more genuinely affordable, high-quality homes. This Conservative housing free-for-all gives developers a free hand to build what they want but ignore what local communities need.

“Labour will give local people control over the housing that gets built in their area and ensure developers build the low-cost, high-quality homes that the country needs.”

What you said:

Permitted development does not alleviate council workload


Victoria Hills, chief executive at the RTPI, said: “The institute has long argued that PDRs put housing affordability and design quality at risk and undermines the planning system, so we welcome Labour’s move.

“Contrary to what many think, PDRs do not alleviate councils from onerous work. Instead, they create a disproportionate administrative burden for local authorities while preventing them from collecting proper planning fees and developer contributions for affordable housing and infrastructure. Local authorities and local communities must be in the driving seat for shaping the housing and their local area as part of a planned, local vision.”

Lack of good-quality affordable housing should be called out


Sarah James, membership and policy officer at Civic Voice, welcomed the Labour Party's commitment.

She told The Planner: “Because this permitted development right is exempt from the full local planning process, schemes are coming forward with minimal scrutiny and are outside of local authority control. We support the need to increase the supply of housing, but as a country we have a responsibility to build good-quality, safe, affordable housing. When this is not happening, we should call this out.

We call on the government to focus on delivering the affordable, high-quality homes that people want and need through the local planning process and to help fully resource local authority planning departments. This would support the government’s own ambitions to improve the quality of homes and places, as outlined in the terms of reference for the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ Commission.”

Labour must think carefully about resourcing the planning system


Brian Berry, chief executive at the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “If Labour is going to put more strain on the planning system by scrapping commercial-to-residential permitted development, it must also think carefully about how planning will be resourced. Small and medium-sized housebuilders cite the planning process as the third greatest barrier to them increasing their delivery of new homes. Planning departments are chronically underfunded and we can’t ask them to do more without providing them with additional funding.

“We mustn't make permitted development synonymous with poor quality as it can have create really positive outcomes. In recent years, permitted development rules governing domestic properties have been relaxed, which has made it easier for homeowners to extend their homes without having to go through the rigmarole of a full planning application. These permissions have proved popular among builders and homeowners alike. The reason being is that they give even more people the opportunity to add a bit more space – eight metres for a detached house and six metres for an attached house – to their home. In short, let’s not damn all permitted development. It would also be good to see proposals from Labour regarding how we can more easily convert empty spaces above shops.”

Scrapping permitted development would hit the poorest


Akeel Alidina, managing director at Caridon Property, the firm that owns office-to-residential converted Terminus and Templefield House, said: “Without permitted development rights, we wouldn’t have been able to create the hundreds of low-cost homes we manage today. Many of these flats house people who would otherwise be sleeping rough on the streets, or be stuck in a B&B or hostel, where they’d have less space, privacy and security, and costing the taxpayer more in nightly accommodation fees.  

“Our buildings, like many housing estates, have their fair share of problems. Yet the problem here isn’t permitted development, but a lack of funding for the police, social services and recent welfare reforms.

“Abolishing PDR would hit the poorest and most vulnerable the most by reducing their housing options and also removing the one single policy that has done most to boost new housing supply in recent years by allowing new homes to be built faster and more sustainably."

Repurposing buildings should be allowed


Félicie Krikler, director at Assael Architecture, said: “Labour are completely right to point out the poor-quality housing that can be delivered via permitted development and call for this loophole to be closed. However, this should not be the end of all office-to-residential conversions. Buildings should be allowed to be repurposed, as it is a sustainable and effective solution to developing unused space, but only if developers follow clearly regulated standards in regards to aspects such as dwelling sizes. Office-to-residential conversion can be a useful tool to deliver high-quality homes at a time of undersupply, but creating a free-for-all will inevitably lead to the exploitation of the system.”

Homes must be safe


Fiona Howie, chief executive TCPA, highlighted that the organisation's has long campaigned against permitted development rights and welcomed Labour's announcement.

"We recognise there is an urgent need for more homes but they must be decent, safe homes that will enhance people’s health and wellbeing. The government has suggested solving the problem by tweaking permitted development rights to recognise the importance of design. But this is not enough because we need new homes to be developed within high quality places that enhance people’s lives. Using permitted development rights to create new homes simply is not creating good places.”

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