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Research: Office-to-residential permitted development is producing poor-quality housing

Words: Laura Edgar
Office conversion / Shutterstock_501902

Research has suggested that office-to-residential conversions under permitted development rules produce a higher number of poor-quality homes than applications that go through the full planning process.

According to the study, in Glasgow, where conversions require full planning permission, such conversion schemes were of a higher quality and had better space standards.

But in England, where permitted development rights were extended in 2005, 2010, 2013 and 2015, the research reveals an inconsistency in the quality of developments.

Local authorities that have seen a high level of permitted development schemes – Camden, Croydon, Leeds, Leicester and Reading – were considered as part of the research, which was commissioned by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and undertaken by University College London and the University of Sheffield.

Although examples of extremely high-quality housing conversions were found, the research notes that there were developments that didn’t have any amenity space, design was of a low quality and they were located in poor locations for residential amenity.

The research also considers the impact on local publicly funded infrastructure, given that permitted schemes don’t make section 106 contributions. It found that local authorities lost £4.1 million because of reduced planning fees and a further potential loss of £10.8 million. They also lost out on 1,667 affordable housing units.

Stakeholders cited a number of benefits from the policy, such as delivering more housing units, regeneration of town and city centres, and quicker implementation.

But they also expressed concerns, including local authorities not being able to weigh up costs/benefits of a specific development and refuse permission if necessary, and rural residential developments not being sustainable owing to added road traffic.

Assessing the Impacts of Extending Permitted Development Rights to Office-to-Residential Change of Use in England makes a number of recommendations including amending Community Infrastructure Levy regulations so that all development creating new residential units are liable.  

The government should introduce safeguards to prior approvals process, or regulate to ensure that minimum space standards are adhered to.

The report also advises local communities and civic groups to monitor office-to-residential conversions and notify their local planning authority if they are aware of any inadequate housing provision or where evidence may qualify an area for an Article 4 Direction.

Abdul Choudhury, policy manager at RICS, said that although permitted development rights do have the potential to reduce regulatory burdens and speed up delivery, regulatory safeguards “are necessary to mitigate negative aspects of development and to uphold minimum standards”.

“By bypassing regulations, the policy may create more problems than it solves,” Choudhury explained.

“Particularly with office or agricultural to residential, government needs to balance the competing priorities of housing, infrastructure and need for commercial spaces. In some areas, over-conversion has produced a shortage of office units which has pushed up their costs. Central government policies can dilute local planning authority powers, which seems contradictory to the localism agenda government have championed in the past.”

Choudhury concluded that the government needs to re-examine the policy and ask itself, “how useful are different iterations of permitted development to local communities as a whole, rather than blindly focusing on numbers”.

Assessing the Impacts of Extending Permitted Development Rights to Office-to-Residential Change of Use in England can be found on the RICS website (pdf).

Image credit | Shutterstock