After all the delays to the widely trailed extension of permitted development rights (PDR), the industry breathed a sigh of relief this week as the government confirmed plans in its Housing and Planning Bill to make them permanent - and threw an unexpected bone to developers and housebuilders.
As well as removing uncertainty and extending PDR to include other commercial stock (including launderettes), the new regulations allow office buildings to be demolished.
Strong message here, as Jeremy Corbyn would say - this could have a massive impact. For one, it will open the door to housebuilders. It will also potentially add millions to the value of buildings, allowing more purpose-built development as opposed to the costly, compromised refurbishments currently undertaken. The downside is that it is likely to exacerbate the shortage of office stock, says Exemplar’s Daniel Van Gelder: “These plans are welcome, but only outside key city centres where we need to maintain a balance of residential and office use. The policies positively encourage the loss of the latter; hence the hard-fought-after local authority area exemptions secured by the central London boroughs - but which expire in 2019. It has to be homes and jobs, not just homes!”
Others worry about a planning free-for-all and stymying affordable housing - although what constitutes affordable these days is debatable, particularly in the capital. David Cameron was forced to defend his housing policy in PMQs this week after Shelter released research suggesting only those with salaries over £76,957 would be able to afford a starter home in London. Thames Valley Housing’s Geeta Nanda is certainly not convinced by the initiative. “I understand the need for starter homes, but this is at the expense of affordable housing,” she warns. “The inference is that under the regulations and section 106 changes, starter homes will become the default affordable housing.”
A variety of tenures should be encouraged, she adds, a point echoed by CBRE, which says it does not want to see starter homes detract from the development of a build-to-rent industry. Encouragingly, it seems they are both preaching to the converted in some instances. As we report this week on page 5, the City of London Corporation is embarking on its biggest housebuilding programme ever - involving 3,700 multi-tenure homes.
But as ever, the devil will be in the detail.
This week marks the launch of the Property Awards 2016, which will take place on 19 April at Grosvenor House. To celebrate their 21st birthday, we are introducing a brand-new feature: the Property Week Hall of Fame, sponsored by James Andrew International. To start things off with a bang, we will be inducting not one, not two, but three industry legends. To find out more about this and how to enter the awards, go to www.awards.PropertyWeek.co.uk. Remember you’ve got to be in it to win it. Happy hunting.