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“Build, Build, Build” announced 10 Downing Street recently, with a government press release on June 30 proclaiming:

PM Boris Johnson has announced the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War, making it easier to build better homes where people want to live.

He did not. He trailed a proposed white paper later in the year together with some further modifications to the existing regulations around change of use of buildings in town centres, demolition and building of residential property, and building above property. These modifications are due to come into effect in September.

  • Greater flexibility around the change of use of commercial property form for example from a shop to a café or an office without planning permission. Currently you can change a shop to an office or a café in principle but you need prior approval. Automatic changes from a shop to a café/restaurant could create problems for upper floor residents and for environmental health.
  • Change of use of a wider range of commercial property to residential without planning permission. Currently you can change the use of shop (A1) Bank or professional Office (A2), a takeaway (A5) office (B1a) and Light Industrial Unit (B1c), agricultural buildings, amusement arcades, betting offices, casinos, launderettes and pay day loan shops to dwellings subject to prior approval. There are limitations but these are generally justified. It should be remembered that the Office to Residential (Class O) permitted development right has led to the creation of very poor housing with no payments towards community facilities. Over 80% of Class ‘O’ dwellings are below minimum space standards and have included habitable rooms with no natural light. The government have just amended the General Permitted Development Order to require all habitable rooms in buildings converted into dwellings under permitted development to have adequate natural light. What is adequate is not specified.
  • Builders will no longer need a ‘normal’ planning permission to demolish and re-build vacant and redundant commercial and residential buildings to dwellings. Some form of prior notification is proposed.
  • Property owners will have a right to build additional space above their properties subject to neighbour notification.

These proposed changes are not radical but care is needed. Class ’O’ office to residential conversions have been a step too far and have led to mainly poor people living in very substandard accommodation. Covid 19 and the lock down have exposed this poverty of aspiration and a lack of care towards the poor and the vulnerable. Minimum space standards should be applied in all permitted development residential conversions without exception and on developments of 10 dwellings or more, S106 payments towards community facilities should be mandatory. It is unfair that a conversion of an office block into 50 homes attracts no section 106 monies while a development of 50 new build flats does. It means that better quality development pays for poor quality development and this is unacceptable.

Jonathan Jenkin, Managing Director, Planning & Design Practice Ltd

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