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Permitted to lower the quality of housing


Permitted development rights are undermining the quality of housing - the very thing the planning system was created to safeguard against, argues Nick Jackson of Birmingham City Council

Nick Jackson Birmingham City CouncilAn Englishman's home is his castle, or should that be warehouse or shop? Recent changes to permitted development rights have broadened the scope of buildings within which to dwell far beyond Jonathan creek and his windmill. There is no doubt that the provision of sufficient housing is a hot topic, and has been for some time.

In addition to the pressure for more dwellings overall, the pattern of household occupation is also changing with significant areas of growth being single person households and those headed by the over 65’s. Furthermore, the pattern of growth across England is uneven, with an inevitable focus on the South East. 

However, what I consider has been missing in a narrative that appears to be largely aimed at delivering as many homes as possible, is the issue of quality.

The level of amenity afforded to future occupants of these warehouse-cum-homes is almost entirely missing from the debate. But what about the emerging optional spatial standards, you may ask.

Firstly, given the optional nature combined with extended permitted development rights, the opportunity for implementing such standards appears to be fast diminishing.

"A significant proportion, particularly in areas of multiple deprivation, will form low quality accommodation that the planning system was originally designed to safeguard against"

Secondly, I struggle with the notion of why a space standard that is acceptable in Basingstoke isn't in Ibstock – the NPPG (National Planning Practice Guidance) states that local authorities now have to justify why internal space standards are necessary.

Finally, this isn’t new, as most authorities have their own standards, which in themselves are a distant Parker Morris sounding echo – it is the supposed harmonisation rather than raising the bar that is the aim. 

No doubt there will be the occasional, high value conversion secured by prior approval providing quality accommodation. However a significant proportion, particularly in areas of multiple deprivation, will form low quality accommodation that the planning system was originally designed to safeguard against.

This is inherently unsustainable, there is no chance for any cat swinging activities - forget about accommodating families. Anybody with a choice will vote with their feet, but unfortunately the most vulnerable lack the means to do so.

And this will be a lasting legacy. It is notoriously difficult to remove housing; even if Ringo Starr didn't happen to live there (will EIA legislation be enacted for members of One Direction?).

The planning system has been under pressure to rebrand itself as an engine for delivering growth, which isn't rebranding at all – it has always achieved this. However, sometimes there are justifiable reasons for saying no. It is difficult to follow the narrative for the combined impact of recent changes to the planning system. It is unclear how the permitted development changes, in particular, enable the delivery of the wide range of high quality homes as envisaged by the NPPF.

Nick Jackson is a principal planning officer at Birmingham City Council


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