Editor: I am writing in response to the Conservatives’ recent election pledge to relax shops-to-homes planning laws.
Knight Frank welcomes initiatives by government to both speed up housing delivery and reduce pressure on already under-resourced local planning authorities. However, another form of permitted development right that could further diminish A1 units on the UK’s already struggling high streets must be treated with great care and sensitivity.
A considered approach to placemaking is needed now more than ever before to ensure town centres have a proper, balanced mix of residential, office, retail, leisure and public realm that will make them relevant, vibrant and diverse.
A blanket approach that allows for any A1 unit to be converted into residential use, without strategic direction and design, could create unintended
impacts and prove to be problematic if not carefully controlled and implemented.
Introducing more residents to predominantly commercial areas can create conflicts; residential amenity impacts become a consideration against future redevelopment opportunities and the hustle and bustle of vibrant retail uses could become a nuisance to new residents.
Such new homes ought to meet certain residential standards that have not been a consideration in office-to-residential permitted development conversions, which has led to some substandard living accommodation.
While a formal planning application may no longer be required under these new plans, key considerations would still need to be made by developers and reviewed by planners and local planning authorities. Instead of elevating pressure, there is an argument to suggest these plans might create conflicts and burden local planning authorities further.
Moreover, even if this was passed into law, local planning authorities could still make an Article 4 direction to restrict the scope of permitted development. The devil is most definitely in the detail – while there may be more nuances still to be announced that make this a viable, practical option for increasing housing delivery, as it currently stands it could be in danger of creating more issues than it solves.
Nick Diment, planning partner, Knight Frank