Ministers have moved to extend permitted development rights – on the same day as publishing research showing the poor quality of homes created by the controversial planning bypass
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick laid secondary legislation in Parliament on Tuesday (21 July) to speed up the planning process for domestic roof extensions and conversions of empty buildings into new homes.
It represented the most significant step yet towards bringing into effect rules the government promised in March. Additions of two storeys on top of existing houses, and replacement of vacant commercial, industrial and residential buildings with ‘well-designed’ homes, will be fast-tracked through the planning process.
However, on the same day as laying the new laws, the government published damning research into the quality of homes created using existing permitted development rights (see below).
The RIBA immediately wrote to Jenrick opposing the ‘disgraceful’ new laws, which could come into force within weeks.
President Alan Jones said allowing landowners to bypass full planning processes for certain schemes had allowed ’sub-standard’ homes to be built with ’little to no natural light’ and rooms ’smaller than in budget hotels’.
’The extension of this policy is truly disgraceful,’ he said. ’There is no evidence that the planning system is to blame for the shortage of housing, and plenty to suggest that leaving local communities powerless in the face of developers seeking short-term returns will lead to poor results.’
He added: ’Only this morning a government-commissioned report revealed that PDR creates “worse-quality residential environments than planning permission conversions”.’
Jones joined chiefs at the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Chartered Institute of Building in signing an open letter to Jenrick opposing the latest laws.
’We are concerned about the potential impact on the quality of life of future residents and local communities,’ warned the letter.
Fast-tracked change-of-use schemes lead to ‘worse quality’ homes
Conversions of buildings into homes through permitted development rights ‘create worse quality environments’ than those approved via the full planning process, government-commissioned research has shown.
Six professors and lecturers from University College London and the University of Liverpool analysed 138 change-of-use projects granted via permitted development as well as 102 schemes that received full planning permission through the usual process.
The study concluded: ‘Permitted development conversions do seem to create worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers.
‘These aspects are primarily related to the internal configuration and immediate neighbouring uses of schemes, as opposed to the exterior appearance, access to services or broader neighbourhood location. In office-to-residential conversions, the larger scale of many conversions can amplify residential quality issues.’
The academics’ research found that only 22 per cent of dwelling units created through permitted development would meet the nationally described space standards, compared with 73 per cent of units created through full planning permission.
More than two-thirds of planning permission units featured dual or triple aspect windows, while less than one-third of permitted development units had the same.
Just 4 per cent of the permitted development units analysed benefited from access to private amenity space, against 23 per cent of the planning permission units.
‘It is the combination of very small internal space standards, a poor mix of unit types, lack of access to private amenity and outdoor space, and inadequate natural light which can provide such a poor residential experience in some permitted development units,’ said the authors.
Riette Oosthuizen, partner at HTA Design, said the new laws were ‘at odds’ with the government’s focus on design quality.
’It is quite often the small infill projects that cause most neighbourhood objections and concerns,’ she said. ’Introducing permitted development rights to build on top of homes and existing blocks of flats takes the right away from existing residents to form part of the planning process and design quality conversation.’
Oosthuizen also questioned how councils would adequately assess schemes, given the lower fees for quicker processes.
’How will local authorities resource the consideration of some of the technical details required to be submitted as part of these prior approvals, for example, transport and highway impacts, the impact on amenity of neighbours, the provision of adequate natural light to all habitable rooms, and appearance?’ she asked.
Russell Curtis, director at RCKa Architects and a design advocate to mayor of London Sadiq Khan, said the announcement was ‘worrying’.
‘The government says it wants to deliver high-quality, well designed homes, but how do they square that with not requiring full planning applications to demolish and rebuild empty properties?’ he said.
He pointed out that a permitted development right for small upward extensions of certain blocks of flats was already coming into force in a couple of weeks’ time. The latest laws would take that a step forward to cover all homes just a few weeks later.
‘I look out now and see rows of Victorian houses, and the idea of everyone doubling the height of those … well it could be awful,’ he said.
Curtis added that planning reforms seemed to be happening piecemeal, rather than in a cohesive manner. ‘There seems to be a drip feed of knee-jerk legislation,’ he said.
How permitted development works in practice
Permitted development was created after the Second World War and has been extended significantly over the past decade.
There are variations for different projects but those seeking to change the use of certain buildings into homes through permitted development rights must apply to the relevant local planning authority for ‘prior approval’.
The authorities cannot consider the principle of the conversion, nor can they consider any issues relating to the design of the proposals, such as external appearance, layout of units or space standards.
Local planning authorities do consult with neighbours and consider factors including the impact on the amenity of neighbours – such as loss of light or privacy – and the local area.
Permitted rights do not apply to listed buildings and they can be removed through an Article 4 direction.
A crucial difference with the standard planning process is that under permitted development, consent is granted subject to meeting prior approval requirements, rather than withheld until officers are satisfied.
Jenrick declared that the government was ‘reforming the planning system’.
‘These changes will help transform boarded up, unused buildings safely into high-quality homes at the heart of their communities,’ he added.
‘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.’
This is extraordinary: on the same day the government announces an expansion of permitted development regulations...it also publishes a report concluding homes delivered under PDR are not very good.https://t.co/Az4yN4MDQW— 𝗥𝘂𝘀𝘀𝗲𝗹𝗹 𝗖𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗶𝘀 (@russellcurtis) July 22, 2020