Our legal challenge to planning reforms

What’s going on 

These are new permitted development rights (PDRs) for developers. I wrote about them here.

PDRs mean you don’t have to get planning permissions for named types of developments. They were originally used for small changes with little or no impact on your neighbours – like a new porch or putting solar panels on your roof. They were rapidly expanded after 2013 as an emergency measure so that offices and other commercial premises could be converted into residential use to boost the supply of housing.  But this resulted in a swathe of problems – some tiny flats, some without natural light, in unsuitable locations.

Despite this the government’s new plans are to make this the norm – developers will no longer need to ask for permission to demolish commercial buildings and build new residential ones.

Future slums

Ministers commissioned an independent research report into the impacts of permitted development so far. It is clear that the existing system is producing very poor-quality housing. The research concluded, for example, that:

“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.”

And the government’s own Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission remarked in its final report that the existing permitted development policy has “inadvertently permissioned future slums”.

The worst examples of these places are unfit for human occupation when they are completed. You could conclude that Government policy has led directly to the creation of slum housing.  Such slums will require immense public investment either to refurbish to a proper standard or to demolish. And meanwhile of course people will be stuck living in them.

Why planning exists

The planning system as we know it now has its roots in the huge public health crisis in Victorian cities caused by uncontrolled development. Some of the most important things that determine health – good homes; access to the natural environment; affordable and healthy transport; access to jobs; the availability of affordable healthier food options; and strong communities – are influenced by the way that places are planned, designed and managed. Local authorities were supposed to be at the heart of deciding what worked for their places.

But these PDRs mean that the principle of development has been approved by central Government, and so the balance of power has shifted decisively away from local authorities and the wider public interest. You don’t get a right to object to a planning application any more on these developments.

While local authorities can refuse some types of permitted development through the ‘prior approval’ process, Watford Council tried this and lost at appeal, leading to the consent for homes with no natural light. This has now been changed after strong campaigning from concerned groups – for some permitted development rights – but it should never have happened in the first place. It’s just another sign of how the Government is rushing things through without considering the consequences.

What to do instead

There are real alternatives to using permitted development rights to make sure everyone has access to a home.

  • We should build council houses in well-planned communities.
  • We can refurbish redundant commercial buildings in appropriate locations to a high standard.
  • We should fund the existing planning process properly.
  • We should raise building standards (the government scrapped the target to make all new homes zero-carbon by 2016.)
  • We should change planning policy so that it prioritises those who want to build high quality homes that you can walk and cycle to, with green space included and services nearby.

Support our Judicial Review

We’re taking this challenge to force the Government to think again – to consider the consequences of bulldozing through an unknown amount of development without assessing the impacts.

More information 

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