Changes to new Permitted Development (PD) rights mean that from today (6 April) all new homes in England delivered through PD will have to meet national space standards.
The move was first announced in October by housing secretary Robert Jenrick in October, under pressure from campaigners, to stop the minority of developers abusing the system.
The announcement followed the controversial summer planning reforms, which made it easier under new PD rights for developers to demolish certain vacant buildings and replace them with new homes.
This initial extension of PD rights featured stipulations such as ensuring adequate natural light, but it did not introduce space standards, leading to fears that developers could look to exploit this exclusion.
Now, all new homes in England delivered through Permitted Development will now have to meet the Nationally Described Space Standard. This begins at 37m² of floorspace for a new one bed flat with a shower room (39m² with a bathroom).
Relaxation of New Permitted Development Rights Continues
The government has introduced several relaxations of PD rights this past year, which it hopes will accelerate housing delivery in England, allowing more types of property to be turned into housing.
New rights last summer enabled developers to transform boarded up, unused buildings into homes without full planning permission, permitted upwards extensions of housing blocks from August, and included a fast-track for two-storey extensions on homes from September.
The most recent proposals came last week, when Mr Jenrick unveiled planning rules to allow the conversion of commercial premises, such as offices, restaurants, shops and gyms into new homes without planning permission.
The proposal was first made before Christmas, and while the government has not yet responded to a public consultation which ended on 29 January, regulations effecting the changes will come into force on 21 April.
Applications will be managed through prior approval, with the first prior approval applications allowed to be submitted from 1 August.
Commercial buildings will need to have been vacant for three months before they can be converted, and a size limit of 1,500 square metres will apply.
Mr Jenrick said the measures will help high streets to adapt and thrive. But they have been opposed by groups including the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTIP) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Chartered Institute of Building, and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which sent a joint letter to the government outlining their concerns.
“This announcement fails to consider the public good and demonstrates a lack of any forethought for those who will be affected. This is not only a failure to level up but a threat to our local communities,” the letter said.
There are Concerns Over Quality
Concerns over quality have plagued the government’s attempts to streamline Permitted Development rights in the past 12 months.
A BBC Panorama investigation in February condemned the quality of some homes which had been converted from office blocks. And in the summer, a government commissioned review of the system concluded that the quality of housing built under PD was worse ‘in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life’.
Moreover, fears that the new proposals would lead to low-quality housing led to a failed legal challenge to prevent the motion from becoming law. And concerns remain from charities such as Shelter over the lack of developer contributions to affordable housing, and from the British Property Federation (BPF) which says the new rights have resulted in local planning authorities losing planning control.
Pressure from campaigners was a key factor in Mr Jenrick announcing that all new homes built under PD must meet minimum space standards, but for some this isn't enough.
Paul Testa from Paul Testa Architecture and contributor to Homebuilding & Renovating magazine, said: “Whilst I recognise the need for new homes, those that have been produced under PD conversion rights so far have varied hugely in quality. Many of which, it could be argued, aren’t fit for human habitation.
“The government has gone some way to strengthen rules regarding what will be allowed under PD, but I don’t see this proposed new right [for commercial premises] as a positive step.”
In March, an inquiry was launched by MPs into the PD rights rolled out last summer by the government, and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLG) is now calling for evidence for its investigation.
Launching the inquiry, Clive Betts MP, HCLG chair, said: "The government has indicated its intention to use Permitted Development rights to allow greater flexibility in how buildings are used, removing the need for planning approval for switching use between offices, shops and housing under certain circumstances.
"We have launched this inquiry to understand the implications of this approach. Does it provide sufficient scope for local authorities to set out a coherent plan that addresses local needs? Fundamentally, do they enable the economic and societal recovery we need.’
The inquiry will also consider further changes to Permitted Development outlined in the 'Planning for the Future' white paper.
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