A proposal to scrap permitted development rights if Labour wins the next election – whenever that might be – has gone down well with the head of the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA).
Yesterday, the shadow housing secretary John Healey MP, hit out at the rules, which allow developers to sidestep the normal planning process to convert commercial spaces such as offices into new homes without the consent of local authorities.
The permitted development rules were introduced by the Government in 2013 as a way, it said, of delivering more homes, but Healey slammed the measure as a “get out clause” for developers to avoid obligations on affordable housing and space standards.
“Conservative permitted development rules have created a get-out clause for developers to dodge affordable homes requirements and build slum housing,” said Healey.
“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.”
Research by the Local Government Association and the charity Shelter has estimated that over 10,000 affordable homes have been lost as a result of permitted development in the last three years.
The two organisations issued an open letter to the communities secretary James Brokenshire MP in January this year. In the letter, they said: “Permitted development rights have caused extensive problems. Therefore, we consider that the current proposals to allow for demolition of existing buildings and replacement with new residential ones, and for upwards extensions to existing buildings for new homes through a permitted development right, should not be pursued.”
Furthermore, research for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors found that permitted development has “allowed extremely poor-quality housing to be developed”, with only 30% of homes built through permitted development meeting national space standards.
Responding to Healey’s announcement, Fiona Howie, the TCPA’s chief executive, said: “The TCPA has long campaigned against extending permitted development rights to allow the conversion of commercial buildings to housing.
“This was because of a range of concerns including the poor quality of many of the resulting homes, the inappropriate locations of some of those homes, and the way that by bypassing proper planning processes developers can avoid funding new affordable homes. We have seen, for example, new houses built on industrial estates where the only space for children who live there to play outside is a car park. The TCPA strongly welcomes, therefore, this commitment from the Labour Party.
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.”
The National Federation of Builders welcomed the focus on permitted development but said that the measure does have its place. It went on to say that some local authorities have withdrawn permitted development through a policy called Article 4.
“Permitted development on office to residential must be reviewed,” said Richard Beresford, the NFB’s chief executive. “Although it has its place, permitted development isn’t delivering enough affordable family homes and it should be doing more than simply increasing the number of individual housing units.”
Rico Wojtulewicz, head of housing and planning policy for the House Builders Association, added: “The issue lies in how local authorities interpret planning rules. Local policy can stop permitted development and make planning easier for local companies delivering more affordable housing and high-quality homes. However, councils make planning harder for smaller builders and embrace a development style that attracts investors rather than builders.”