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Permitted development exacerbating housing affordability issues

Words: Laura Edgar
Office conversion

Communities have missed out on 10,500 affordable homes as a result of permitted development rights, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.

Allowing developers to bypass the full planning process when converting offices to residential units is exacerbating the housing affordability crisis.

Since 2015, 42,130 housing units in England have been converted from offices to flats under permitted development rights, the LGA highlighted. The permissions did not include any affordable housing provision or supporting investment for infrastructure, such as roads, schools and health services.

This amounts to 7 per cent of new housing across England, but in some areas the figure is much higher – such conversions accounted for 40 per cent of new homes in Islington, Welywn Hatfield, Mole Valley, Croydon and Derby in 2017/18.

A survey of councils found they have a number of concerns about permitted development, including:

  • Nine of 10 councils are concerned about quality, design and appropriateness of the location of the converted units.
  • Six out of 10 are concerned about safety.
  • Two thirds thought contributions by developers to affordable housing and contributions for other infrastructure through section 106 agreements had reduced. 61 per cent thought demand on local infrastructure had increased.

Many organisations have expressed concern about permitted development rights and government proposals to extend them, including the RTPI and the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA). In January of this year, the LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, said they should be scrapped. The TCPA has launched a campaign against permitted development, while the Raynsford Review concluded they have shown the weakness of the planning system in upholding wider public interest outcomes.

The LGA is calling on the government to drop plans to extend permitted development and renewing its call for them to be dropped altogether.

Martin Tett, housing spokesman for the LGA, said permitted development takes away local communities’ ability to shape the area they live in. It cannot be ensured that homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place and this has resulted in the potential loss of thousands of desperately-needed affordable homes.

“The loss of office space is also leaving businesses and start-ups without any premises in which to base themselves.

“Extending permitted development rules risks exacerbating these problems.

“Planning is not a barrier to house-building, with councils approving nine in 10 planning applications. It is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process.

“Councils, which are answerable to their residents, must be given back their ability to oversee all local developments to ensure they are good quality and help build prosperous places.”

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