What next for the high street and housing delivery?

Government has just finished consulting on measures to expand permitted development rights and tweak use classes with the aim of “support[ing] the creation of new businesses and homes”[1]

Recognising the planning system as having “a critical role to play in the future of our high streets and in underpinning the delivery of much needed new homes”, the proposed changes sought more fluidity in use and increased density, without the need for planning permission.  This article focuses only on the more significant proposals in relation to these two objectives.

Supporting housing delivery

The consultation proposed several methods of boosting housing delivery, in accordance with the brownfield first principle.  The measures will by no means address the housing shortage alone, but could have a role to play in increasing supply.  Permitted development rights are proposed to allow takeaways to convert to residential use; to allow upward extensions to create new homes; to allow redevelopment of a commercial site to create new housing and existing temporary permitted rights to convert storage or distribution facilities to residential uses are proposed to be made permanent.  Prior to exercising any of these permitted development rights prior approval would be required from the local planning authority.

Some of these proposals have the potential to deliver significant numbers of housing units without planning permission.  Critics of the planning system, often cited as a cause for slow housing delivery, may well argue that such streamlining is necessary.  Certainly, something needs to change to achieve the 300,000 homes a year government is targeting.

The proposals in relation to takeaways bring that use in line with other similar high street uses which have permitted development rights to change to residential use.  The proposals allowing the creation of self-contained homes in the air space above buildings through permitted development rights builds on support contained in the revised National Planning Policy Framework, issued last year, for intensification of use.  If introduced the changes will be good news for developers and landowners with the opportunity to take advantage.  The airspace changes are also seen as a means to support high streets and town centres with increased residents and footfall. 

However, the proposals do not address the widespread concerns about housing delivery through permitted development.  Units created in this way can be inappropriately located, lack access to facilities such as open space, be too small, poor quality, and affordable housing and appropriate infrastructure contributions are not captured.

The most radical proposal in relation to housing delivery is a permitted development right to allow demolition and replacement of commercial premises with residential units.  Given the concerns with residential development through permitted rights, some of which are mentioned above, and the wide scope of the potential right, it is likely that a raft of information will need to be provided through prior approval to ensure homes replacing commercial premises are fit for purpose.  At this stage it is unclear if that will be more streamlined than a planning application.  Or whether the proposal would work better than a local development order, which allows local planning authorities to grant automatic planning permission for defined development in specified areas.

The consultation is simply testing feasibility at this point. A more detailed consultation on the redevelopment of commercial premises to residential units will follow.  

The High Street

The proposed changes would mean that shops, financial and professional services, laundrettes, pay day loan shops, betting shops and hot food takeaways could be used for offices without the need for planning permission, subject to a prior approval process.  The idea is that the change could be made more quickly, responding to changing habits swiftly and helping to avoid vacant units.

Vacant units are in no-one’s interest.  However, simplifying changes of use in a blanket manner could do more harm than good.  The proposals may cut across strategies local planning authorities (and others) are putting in place to revive town centres, and may impact on the critical mass a successful area currently benefits from.  

Local planning authorities will be able to effectively opt out of permitted development rights by issuing article 4 directions to exclude areas from their remit.  Otherwise, if they are brought forward, the changes will apply across the country, in a planning system meant to be locally-led. 

Wait and see

Responses to the consultation are currently being analysed.  We will update you on the decisions made when details are published.

[1] The Government consultation, “Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes” closed on 14 January.  In addition to the changes to the use classes and permitted development discussed in this article the consultation also covered changes to local authority land disposals, a draft listed building consent order for the Canal and River Trust and compulsory purchase guidance for Development Corporations.

Posted on 5 February, 2019 by Ortolan

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