Bold measures see the largest intervention of permitted development rights
Legislation laid in parliament yesterday sets out additional permitted development rights intended to boost housing supply and revitalise town centres in England. The Use Class Order in England has also been amended to group town centre uses, learning institutions and community uses.
From 31 August 2020, full planning applications will not be required to demolish and rebuild unused commercial buildings as homes if the building has been vacant for at least six months.
This permitted development right allows for works for the construction of a new purpose-built block of flats or detached dwellinghouse that can be up to two storeys higher than the original premises. There are a number of caveats to the permitted development right set out in the legislation.
Although a planning application is not required, developers must have prior approval from the local planning authority. This requires consideration of technical matters such as and external appearance, amongst others. It does not require public consultation other than the notification of neighbours and so the local planning authority is effectively asked to confirm the proposals comply with the regulations set out yesterday by the government. If the land is within a conservation area, Site of Special Scientific Interest or other restricted area, the development does not constitute permitted development.
Pubs, libraries, village shops and other buildings essential to communities will also not be covered by these changes.
In a move to allow for further innovation and flexibility in town centres, the Use Class Order has also been updated to group the separate use classes of buildings usually found on high streets and within town centres together. The intention is to allow businesses the freedom to change to a range of compatible uses reflecting changing demands on commercial business models.
The new Class E incorporates the previous shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes and office use classes. Uses such as gyms, nurseries and health centres and other uses which are suitable for a town centre area are also included in the new class. Savills provides further commentary on the flexibility offered for town centres.
Learning institutions such as schools, libraries and art galleries have also been grouped in a new Class F.1 while local community uses such as swimming pools and ice rinks into a new Class F.2. Class F.2 will also include shops servicing the essential needs of the community. Drinking establishments and hot food takeaways have been redefined as Sui Generis uses , meaning changes to and from these uses will be subject to full local consideration through the planning application process.
Further permitted development rights have also been introduced to allow for the enlargement of existing dwellinghouses or the creation of new homes through the construction of additional storeys above the existing roofline on certain properties. Construction of up to two new storeys of flats atop commercial or mixed use premises is now permitted, as is construction of up to two new storeys of flats above detached, semi-detached or terraced dwellinghouses (limited to one additional storey if the existing building is only one storey currently).
Prior approval is also required from the local planning authority which will consider technical impacts such as on transport, amenity of neighbouring premises, noise from neighbouring commercial premises and the location of residential amongst others. If the land is within a conservation area, Site of Special Scientific Interest or other restricted area, the development is not permitted. Materials used must be of similar appearance to those in the existing building, the roof pitch must be the same as the principal part of the dwellinghouse and windows in side elevations must not be included.
In announcing the changes, housing secretary Robert Jenrick MP stated that the proposals will “help high streets and town centres to provide more space for new businesses and help them adapt quickly to what consumers and businesses need.” The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant effect on an already struggling high street and by introducing these measures the government hopes to accelerate the revitalisation of town centres through new enterprise, less red tape and increased economic support from residential uses supplementing more traditional town centre activities.
The expansion of permitted development rights in recent years, allowing for the conversion of shops and offices to residential has secured many new homes and this update to further increase the provision of houses on existing sites could on its face be welcome. Businesses need to be able to adapt quickly to the changing economic climate as we come out of the pandemic and the planning process should support business initiatives whilst being mindful of the need to create sustainable, high quality spaces to live, play and work.
However, there will be obvious tensions with environmental, and design considerations, as without forms of guidance, based on regeneration plans, or some form of prior approval system, there may be a risk of drive for poorer quality developments. In a unprecedented move, leading built environment professional organisations moved to raise caution on the proposals. In a letter to the Secretary of State, the RTPI, RIBA, RICS and CIOB outlined “..we share our concerns around the use of PDRs, which should not be considered unless subject to clear space, building and design standards”, furthermore “we are concerned that further PDRs, including the ability to demolish and rebuild on existing sites — if implemented without significant safeguards—will lock in more unacceptable standard development, the consequences of which we will live with for generations or must rectify later at greater expense”.