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Last edited 17 Jan 2022
Permitted development: The end of the high street or a blessing in disguise?
Ever since the advent of Internet shopping, there have been those who have been predicting the end of high street shopping in towns and city centres. This is nothing new; these tales have been around ever since the introduction of edge of town and out of town shopping centres combined with the increase in car ownership and personal mobility.
One thing that has been consistent during these times is the planning legislation that has maintained a level of oversight with the necessary checks and balances to ensure that sufficient infrastructure and resources were in place to support the creation of places and communities that benefit society as a whole. With the new increased scope of prior approval and certain permitted development (PD) rights which came into force on 1 August 2021, some of the checks and balances will be eroded if not removed completely.
On 31 March 2021, new permitted development rights were introduced in England to allow change of use from commercial, business and service uses (Class E) to residential use (Class C3) in certain circumstances, without requiring planning permission. The intention of the Government is to give new life to buildings left vacant and as a result help to deliver more homes and to revitalise England’s cherished high streets and town centres. Regulations affecting these changes came into force on 21 April 2021, with applications for prior approval being the remaining checks and balances in place, allowed to be submitted from 1 August 2021.
Most Chartered Architectural Technologists will be familiar with PD rights, although not everyone will be completely familiar with the prior approval process, where there are only limited checks carried out by the planning authority. With this is mind, any project that is being considered under PD rights will be subjected to some level of scrutiny by the planning authority under the new prior approval process and have to satisfy the planning authority as to the impact of that change of use on the character or sustainability of the area, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Transport impacts of the development.
- Contamination risks in relation to the building.
- Flooding risks in relation to the building.
- Impacts of noise from commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development.
- The impact on the local provision of the type of services lost, including:
- The provision of adequate natural light in all habitable rooms of the dwelling houses;
- The impact on intended occupiers of the development of the introduction of residential use in an area the authority considers to be important for general or heavy industry, waste management, storage and distribution, or a mix of such uses where the development involves the loss of services provided by a registered nursery or health centre maintained under section 2 or 3 of the National Health Service Act 2006.
In addition, in the case of conversion to residential, applicants will need to submit floor plans showing the total floor space in square metres of each dwellinghouse. This will be subject to space standards requirements.
As long as all of the correct information and documents are submitted to the local planning department, the prior approval process should be a great deal simpler than going through a planning application. Prior approval is designed to be much less onerous in its requirements as it is reserved for permitted developments.
There are also some notable exclusions to PD rights, which will apply in conservation areas but not in national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Broads, areas specified by the Secretary of State for the purposes of section 41(3) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and world heritage sites.
The usual exclusions to PD rights would also continue to apply for sites of special scientific interest, listed buildings and land within their curtilage; sites that are or contain scheduled monuments, safety hazard areas, military explosives storage areas and sites subject to an agricultural tenancy.
The good bits:
- For the first time, notices will need to be served on any adjoining owner or occupier and, where the proposed development relates to part of a building, on any owner or occupier of the other part or parts of the building.
- There is no exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), although the in-use buildings exemption will apply if at least part of the building has been occupied for a use which is lawful for at least six months continuously in the previous three years.
- The scale of development that can fall within a PD rights project has been capped at 1,500 sq.m.
- Any works that ‘materially changes’ the external appearance of a building will still require planning permission, although this will potentially be subjective and a point of debate during any discussions with clients and developers and to what constitutes a ‘material change’.
The bad bits:
- There is no mitigation as to matters that are not the subject of the prior approval process, so PD residential development will be free from affordable housing and other social infrastructure commitments (e.g., contributions to the cost of education facilities).
- Residential development will occur in potentially unsustainable locations.
- The new PD rights will allow commercial frontages in high streets to be converted to residential use in a way which may adversely affect the traditional function of town centres (although this will be subject to the need for separate planning permission for the external treatment of the building).
- The new PD rights will greatly limit the role of the local planning authority in determining what are appropriate uses for a particular area.
There will still be room for uncertainty, potentially leading to unintended consequences particularly around the vacancy requirement. There are also a number of questions that still remain unanswered.
- Will this create new housing neighbourhoods and places where families want to live, or will it create ghettos?
- Where does the affordable housing come from?
- Is there going to be a workable infrastructure in place? sufficient schools, doctor’s surgeries etc.?
Whilst the extension of PD rights may seem to be the answer to the housing shortage, one thing that is for sure, redevelopment and conversion of buildings in our towns and high streets will bring people back into high streets and town centres, but will it create communities? The effects and ramifications of these changes are going to be around for a long time, and it would be advisable to consider the spaces and their use holistically.
- Agricultural tenancy.
- Change of use class.
- CIAT articles.
- CLC calls for rethink of permitted development rights.
- High street.
- IHBC responds to supporting defence infrastructure and the future of time-limited permitted development rights.
- Meeting the demand for housing in the UK.
- National Health Service Act of 2006.
- Permitted development.
- Planning permission.
- Use class designation for land and buildings.
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