MPs have urged the government to stop its proposed expansion of a planning loophole they argue is undermining local communities’ visions for town centres and high streets
A new report by the housing select committee has argued that permitted development rights (PDR), which allow buildings to be converted into homes without planning permission, should not be extended.
In the autumn budget, the government unveiled a slew of planning reforms aimed at cutting red tape, including plans to extend homes upwards to create more units and to demolish and redevelop existing commercial sites as residential.
The rollout also includes proposals to allow shops such as betting shops, payday loan shops and launderettes to change use to become offices, and allowing hot food takeaways to convert into offices or homes.
However, the government has faced a backlash over the plans. It follows a damning RICS report last year which revealed that office-to-residential conversions were producing ‘extremely poor-quality’ housing, with just 30 per cent of units meeting national space standards.
The concern over what the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) has called ’slum housing’ has led RIBA president Ben Derbyshire to call on architects to boycott commissions arising from the controversial policy.
The select committee said it had received a high volume of submissions calling for the widening of PDR to be scrapped and it noted ’with concern’ the evidence it received on ’the poor quality of the housing being brought forward’.
It stated: ’PDRs can undermine the strategic vision that has been developed at a local level. The government should suspend any further extension of PDRs pending an evaluation of their impact on the high street.’
Levitt Bernstein’s Julia Park, a vocal critic of PDR, said: ’You only have to think about this for a few minutes to realise that ad hoc conversions scattered along the high street will be counterproductive. Those shops that have manage to survive will soon become less viable if they are randomly interspersed with housing, and things will only get worse.’
PDR is at best a lazy option, and often does real harm
Park, who recently wrote a mini-report on office-to-resi conversions, said the committee’s recommendations should have gone further.
She said: ‘Most types of retail outlets have been subject to PDR for some time. These existing rights need to be abolished too; significant change of use needs to be plan-led, targeted and properly executed. PDR is at best a lazy option, and often does real harm. It’s appropriate for small homeowner extensions, but not much else.’