Ministers are to push ahead with plans to widen the scope of permitted development rights, despite claims that doing so will “stir up a huge amount of resentment and distress”.
The new rights will allow new homes to be built on top of existing commercial and residential premises and greater freedom to convert commercial premises such as takeaways and launderettes to office use.
However, permitted development rights for phone boxes will be removed.
The Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government published its response to the consultation on reforming permitted development rights on Friday. The consultation, Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes, had input from 127 local authorities and received 522 responses in all.
Most respondents did not support the creation of a new permitted development right to build on top of existing dwellings, with concerns raised that councils would not have a say in how and where such a right would be applied, the quality of such homes, how safety and access would be addressed and the impact on existing occupiers and neighbours.
Richard Blyth, head of policy for the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), said: “It’s a strange response that most people disagree with it, but the government says it will go ahead anyway.”
He added that such a right ”could lead to poor quality, unsafe homes – an approach entirely at odds with the government’s stated priority of increasing building safety.”
“It is not a good idea, particularly when the government is also concerned about improving visual experience and beauty of homes.”
Permitted development rights, which enable conversions to take place with minimal involvement by local planners, were expanded in 2013, as part of a drive to provide more homes.
Mr Blyth describes permitted development rights as “clumsy tools” and accuses the government of trying to turn them into a “way to get its own way”.
“I am nervous they will be so concerned to help fix the housing crisis they create a system that cuts corners – or that’s cumbersome and not well researched,” he added. “We have had one system for planning for the last 70 years and when we start to fiddle with that, small builders will have to relearn all the rules which creates a lot of uncertainty – panicked phone calls from neighbours who are not sure whether a particular development is legal or not. The government will be stirring up a huge amount of resentment and distress.”
There were more balanced views in response to the proposal to allow shops, financial and professional services, takeaways, betting shops, pay day loan shops and launderettes to convert to office use. The government says such a right would be subject to prior council approval of “certain planning impacts including on the sustainability of the shopping area”.
The consultation showed “overwhelming support” for removing the permitted development right for phone boxes, with 90% in favour.
Mr Blyth said the feedback reflects public concern over the use of existing phone booths to make digital “living ads” that use AI to keep changing, depending on the profile of the passer-by. “New technology has made that possible, which is worrying from a privacy point of view,” he said. “Generally, there are also concerns about cluttering pavements at a time when not everybody has maximum mobility.”
The expanded permitted development rights have been controversial with more than 32,000 of homes created over the past two years under the right to convert office space into housing.
The Labour Party has said it would strip back the current permitted development regime. But MHCLG claims that by providing “opportunities to make effective use of existing buildings”, it can reduce the need to build in “valued countryside and green spaces”, improve streetscapes, and make town centres more attractive.