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Onwards and upward: an overview of reforms for permitted development rights

Posted on 04 September 2020

In a post-COVID world, the Government has introduced numerous new permitted development rights (PDR). This article sets out a summary of the new PDRs that have been introduced this year.

Economy PDRs

In an effort to boost the economy, PDRs have been granted to permit a change of use so that restaurants and cafes can operate as takeaways. This is a temporary right and will end 23 March 2021.

The Government has also introduced time-limited measures to support businesses as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted: these allow a local authority to use land to hold a market and erect moveable structures on it for an unlimited number of days (until 23 March 2021), and provide an additional 28 days for the temporary use of land for any purpose between 1 July 2020 and 31 December 2020.

Residential PDRs

Since Boris Johnson's announcement to 'build build build', a further raft of new PDRs have been introduced to allow upward extensions of existing homes and, controversially, to allow demolition of commercial buildings and their replacement with new housing.

Full planning applications are no longer required to:

  • demolish and rebuild unused commercial buildings as homes
  • construct up to two new storeys of self-contained flats atop commercial or mixed use premises
  • construct up to two new storeys of self-contained flats above detached, semi-detached or terraced dwellinghouses
  • construct up to two storeys to detached, semi-detached or terraced dwellinghouses.

These changes have been brought forward at pace (and without any proper consultation) to stimulate regeneration of towns and cities and deliver additional homes. 

A campaign group, Rights: Community: Action, has begun legal action against the introduction of these new residential PDRs on the basis that the new measures will come into effect "without proper consultation and without parliamentary debate", and that the Government "unlawfully failed to carry out an environmental assessment" and that they were introduced "without an appropriate equality impact assessment".

One of the grounds of challenge is the fact that the Government failed to take into account its own commissioned report which criticised the quality of housing currently delivered through this light-touch PDR regime. The report found that units approved via PDRs were: (i) less likely to meet national space standards; (ii) less likely to benefit from access to amenity space; and (iii) were more likely to have only single aspect windows than schemes granted consent via the regular planning process.

One of the recommendations from the commissioned report has been incorporated i.e. that housing produced under PDRs which came into effect earlier this month must make provision for “adequate natural light in all habitable rooms”. However, there is no new requirement to adhere to national space standards or provide a minimum amount of amenity space. Given the outcome of the Government-commissioned report and the emphasis on having spare space that has come with the shift to working from home, it is surprising that this has been overlooked. In addition, there has been very little commentary on the lack of affordable housing provided with PDR development; this will no doubt be controversial with many stakeholders, including local planning authorities.

Summary

In a post-COVID world, as buyers return to the reopened property market, the new must-have feature is more space – whether inside, outside or both. Developers may have no option but to address amenity space and space standards in order to meet market demands in some market segments, but with pressure on housing affordability still high in many areas there is often someone willing to buy or rent even the smallest of spaces.

Irrespective of the legal challenge that has been made (which if successful is likely to only delay the introduction of these new PDRs), these numerous planning changes do have the potential to increase housing delivery, and with the inclusion of adequate natural light as a prior approval matter, to deliver an increase in the quality of housing. However, there is still work to be done in relation to space standards as this report makes clear that the number of PDR units complying with national space standards is significantly lower than units developed pursuant to a full planning permission.

Other planning reforms

In addition to these new PDRs, we have set out a summary of the new Use Classes Order which can be accessed here and our observations on the white paper "Planning for the Future" here.

If you have any questions or require any assistance in relation to these new changes, Mishcon's Planning and Environment team are happy to help you navigate this new system.

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