The government has announced it is widening controversial permitted development rights so developers can demolish empty buildings and replace them with new-build housing – without planning permission
The new permitted development right (PDR) was one of a number of ‘planning freedoms’ aimed at speeding up housing delivery announced in the Commons today by housing secretary Robert Jenrick.
Jenrick said the government planned to launch a consultation on the detail of the new right, which will allow vacant commercial, industrial and residential buildings to be replaced with ‘well-designed new residential units’ that ‘meet natural light standards’.
A previously trailed version of the new PDR only covered office blocks, but even that was widely condemned by critics of the planning rule who argue office-to-residential conversions have already led to swathes of ‘21st-century slums’.
The government has committed to a review of the quality of homes delivered through office-to-residential conversions, but this has yet to be published.
The expansion comes as the government unveiled its proposals for a ‘first principles’ rethink of the planning system as set out in a document, Planning for the Future, which detailed proposals for a new zonal approach, and reform of planning fees.
Jenrick also announced the government would launch a register of brownfield sites, which will map out unused land and will require all local authorities to have up-to-date Local Plans in place by December 2023.
2. Expansion of permitted development rights is an unmitigated disaster for many communities - yet instead of stopping this harmful policy, govt is proposing to extend PDR under banner of ‘planning freedoms’ to allow upwards extension & demolition without full planning permission— Helen Hayes (@helenhayes_) March 12, 2020
The demolish and rebuild PDR was announced alongside another PDR: to build upwards on existing buildings by up to two storeys, which is set to come into force this summer.
Consultations on both planning reforms were initially announced in last year’s budget and proceeded to reveal a lack of support for the demolish and rebuild policy.
A consultation response published in May 2019 showed that less than a third of respondents thought a permitted development right for the demolition and replacement of commercial buildings was possible.
’Generally, it was considered that such a right would go beyond what is capable of [being delivered] or appropriate to be delivered through a national permitted development right,’ the document said.
However, this consultation was only for commercial blocks, while the latest plans encompass residential and industrial buildings too.
The government’s permitted development plans would make it easier to build the slums of the future
Reacting to the planning announcement, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said given its net-zero commitment, it was ‘bizarre’ that the government was proposing making it easier to demolish existing buildings instead of retrofitting.
‘It isn’t green or sustainable for our planet … something ministers have been repeatedly told,’
This was echoed by the RIBA’s executive director of professional services, Adrian Dobson, who said there was a ‘fundamental contradiction’ between the government’s professed commitment to quality and its plans to further expand permitted development.
‘Current rules allow developers to create housing which fails to meet even the most basic spatial, quality and environmental standards,’ he said. ‘Rather than driving a “green housing revolution”, the government’s plans to allow the demolition and replacement of industrial and commercial property with housing under permitted development would make it easier to build the slums of the future.’
Jenrick said his long-awaited planning white paper would be published this spring along with the government’s response to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.
The planning reforms will include good design and place-making ‘at the heart of the new system’ and will champion tree-lined streets, a ‘fast track for beauty’ planning route and a commitment to lower carbon emissions in all new homes.
Riette Oosthuizen of HTA
There is nothing particularly new about the need to build upwards and over stations. It is an entirely sensible idea; intensifying densities around areas with good transport accessibility is a must; it is a sustainable way of increasing housing supply. As part of HTA Design’s work on #Supurbia, we demonstrated there were 173 stations in outer London boroughs with good transport accessibility where densities can increase from around 25 dwellings per hectare to 95 dwellings per hectare immediately around stations using building typologies such as mansion blocks, town houses and mews houses. This alone could add between 45,000 to 85,000 additional homes in the outer London Boroughs.
The details of around the map of brownfield sites would be interesting. Focussing on brownfield sites is very important, and again not new. Most known undeveloped brownfield sites remain so for a reason, however. It might be that they are hugely contaminated. It is the unknown brownfield sites where there is huge potential. Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessments never identify brownfield sites under 0.25 hectares.
More innovative ways need to be found to list these brownfield sites and encourage their development. It would require local authorities being pro-active in identifying this potential. More focus is also needed on brownfield sites that could be unlocked if small bits of greenbelt are released directly adjacent to these sites to enable their development.
The government seems to be pushing ahead with an increased emphasis on ‘zonal tools’ as expected with Jack Airy the author of the Public Exchange Report ‘Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century’ joining Number 10. However, if we want our cities and towns to be places where attractive, good quality design and character are at the forefront it would be of utmost importance to understand these tools in the context of detailed design guidance and suitable plot area ratios.