Government relaxes planning rules to help ‘renew’ town centres

The government has laid out new laws in Parliament to relax planning rules across England and allow homes to be built more quickly.

The new rules, outlined in the government’s recent ‘mini-budget’, will come into effect by September and will mean that full planning applications won’t be needed to demolish and rebuild unused buildings as homes, allowing commercial and retail properties to be repurposed more quickly.

Homeowners will also be able to add up to two additional stories to their home through a fast-track approval process in a move designed to help accommodate growing families.

The housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “We are reforming the planning system and cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy to give small business owners the freedom they need to adapt and evolve, and to renew our town centres with new enterprises and more housing.

“These changes will help transform boarded up, unused buildings safely into high quality homes at the heart of their communities. It will mean that families can add up to two storeys to their home, providing much needed additional space for children or elderly relatives as their household grows.”

The government says the new rules will help revive high England’s high streets and town centres and reduce pressure to build on greenfield sites, allowing more homes that fit the character of a local area.

Developers will still need to adhere to building regulations, while councils will have to consider the appearance of any proposed redevelopment, its impact on neighbours, and the temporary impact of coronavirus when considering granting planning permission.

The new, more flexible planning rules will not be extended to buildings deemed to be essential to communities such as pubs, libraries, and village shops.

The announcement builds on other recent government measures to support home building across England such as its new £12 million Affordable Homes Programme, while it is set to outline further plans to reform England’s planning system later this month.

The news comes as a new report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) said that high street shopping units left empty should be converted into new homes built by local councils.

The think tank’s report, A New Life for the High Street, urges the government to give up on promises to ‘save the high street’ and instead support new, more beneficial uses for town-centre sites.

A major programme of converting retail units for residential use could allow the creation of 800,000 new homes, the SMF’s report says.

Scott Corfe, SMF research director, said: “Nothing can stop the demise of traditional high street shopping so it would be better for politicians to support the next chapter in the story of the high street, with hundreds of thousands of new homes that bring new life to our urban centres.”

Critics of the government’s proposals have warned that relaxing planning laws could lead to poorer-quality and fewer affordable homes.

Image: An artist’s impression of a transformed Gateshead High Street. Credit: Gateshead Council

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