New Permitted Development (PD) rights will be ruled on at the Court of Appeal next week, as campaigners aim to quash rights pushed through by the government last summer.
The new rights introduced last August gave developers the right to demolish commercial and residential buildings and rebuild them as homes.
Independent campaigning group Rights: Community: Action (RCA) said this would have a detrimental environmental impact, and risked people being housed in poor-quality accommodation.
But RCA lost a High Court ruling in November having claimed the new rights were not properly consulted in before being brought in.
Ahead of the appeal, which be held on 5 October, director of the RCA Naomi Luhde-Thompson said: “We think this is a really significant case. It’s about defending the extent of protection provided by environmental protection laws in England.”
New PD Rights Mired in Controversy
Concerns over quality have plagued the government’s attempts to streamline PD rights in the past 18 months.
Earlier in 2020, the government's Building Better Building Beautiful Commission said the existing expanded use of PD had inadvertently permitted “future slums”, while the government’s own assessment of the quality of homes produced by PD said they created worse homes “in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers”.
The move to enable developers to transform boarded up, unused buildings into homes without full planning permission was described as “disgraceful” by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) last year.
The changes were then introduced without a further consultation that the government had promised, following an earlier consultation on the proposal.
RCA subsequently challenged the government on failing to undertake environmental or equalities assessments before announcing the new rights, as well as not properly consulting parliament before making the rules.
The High Court rejected all grounds raised by the charity, but conceded it was arguable the government should have carried out a strategic environmental assessment before bringing in the new PD right as a statutory instrument, and granted RCA leave to appeal.
RCA says: "We are continuing to challenge the government on the way they have made these changes to development decisions – by taking them out of the planning application system to making them ‘permitted development’. We don’t think they have followed the right process in making these changes law."
How the Government Has Expanded PD Rights
This new PD right is one of many during the last 18 months, which the government hopes will accelerate housing delivery in England, allowing more types of property to be turned into housing.
Also in 2020, new rights enabled a fast-track system for two-storey extensions on homes from September 2020, which can help homeowners looking to utilise more space for growing families.
The rights allow homeowners of detached, semi-detached or a terraced house to extend upwards, providing all additional storeys are built on the principal part of the home, and providing prior approval is obtained.
(MORE: Building an Extension)
Most recently, a new class MA (‘Mercantile to Abode’) was introduced in August which allows the conversion of any empty Class E commercial premises, such as offices, restaurants, shops and gyms into new homes.
The new 'town centre' rights, which will be managed through prior approval, will allow most commercial premises to be converted to homes without planning permission. But while prior approval is in place to protect the character of local areas, concerns remain.
The new rights have drawn criticism from several fronts, including the National Trust and the Local Government Association (LGA), which have both warned it could lead to a spate of low-quality homes being built.
Quality Concerns Aren't New
A critical report from the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Select Committee earlier this year raised serious concerns about the government's attempts to streamline PD rights in recent years.
The report highlighted how poor-quality homes were often used to house people in temporary accommodation who do not have the option of living elsewhere.
A BBC Panorama investigation in February 2020 condemned the quality of some homes which had been converted from office blocks. And concerns also remain from charities such as Shelter and the LGA over the lack of developer contributions to affordable housing.
LGA housing spokesperson Cllr David Renard, giving evidence in May to the HCLG Select Committee inquiry on PD rights, said: "We have long had concerns over the substandard housing created from Permitted Development conversions, and the lack of any requirement for developers to provide affordable homes or supporting infrastructure."
To assuage pressure from campaigners, former housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced that from April 2021, all new homes built under PD must meet minimum space standards. This begins at 37m² of floorspace for a new one bed flat with a shower room (39m² with a bathroom).
This was welcomed by the HCLG Select Committee, but to further address quality concerns it has urged the government to force developers to meet higher standards, such as requirements for windows, and for councils to be able to prevent homes being built on "inappropriate locations" such as industrial estates and business parks.
"All new homes delivered through PDR must be truly fit for purpose and suitably located. A flat on an industrial estate is totally unsuitable for young children," the report says.
PD Rights 'Contradict' Planning Reforms
In the aforementioned HCLG Select Committee inquiry earlier this year, MPs said they would consider further changes to PD outlined in the Planning for the Future white paper, published as part of last summer's planning reforms.
And the committee states that the government's PD plans do not align with their strategy for planning development.
Committee chair Clive Betts said: "While we understand the intention behind the recent PDR changes, these extensions appear to contradict the increased focus on plan-led development and local democratic involvement, and fatally undermine the role of local authorities in shaping their communities, public spaces and buildings.
"The reality of the government’s recent changes to PDR is a regime which has become so complicated it is little different from the planning system yet without the benefit of local controls or democratic involvement."
The committee also referenced July's changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, stating that it welcomed the clarification that Article 4 directions (which remove PD rights) may be applied so councils can “prevent the loss of the essential core of a primary shopping area”.
But it also called for an amendment to the revision so that councils should not have to wait one year before being able to apply a direction without also being liable to pay compensation to developers.
Jack is News Editor for Homebuilding & Renovating, and strives to break the most relevant and beneficial stories for self builders, extenders and renovators, including the latest news on the construction materials shortage and planning reforms. Having bought his first home in 2013, he and his wife have renovated almost every room and recently finished a garden renovation.
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