On 3 December, MHCLG published its open consultation on ‘supporting housing delivery and public service infrastructure’. It sets out proposed changes to change of use legislation and is one of the most radical proposed changes to the permitted development regime to date.
Permitted development is a form of consent granted by development order, meaning there is no need for planning permission per se or to have regard to either the relevant Local Plan or the NPPF. However, the development order gives councils limited scope to prevent development that they consider inappropriate.
Under the proposed permitted development right (PDR) – if it reaches the statute book – any town centre unit in the new use class E (commercial, business and service) can be redeveloped for residential use subject to a prior approval application. This allows the local authority to ensure the details of the proposal are acceptable and any technical requirements can be met.
The prior approval process requires applicants to address matters such as contaminated land, flooding, fire safety, transport and access, the impact of noise and the provision of adequate natural light. The crucial difference between PDR and a planning application is that local authorities cannot oppose a development providing these issues are addressed. PDRs apply in conservation areas and there is no size limit to the building or use being converted.
Historically, many councils have operated planning policies to protect, enliven and stimulate town centre investment, and one of the strengths of town centres has been diversity of use. The proposed changes run the risk of diluting this diversity and could be seen as a retrograde step.
Ultimately, despite their laudable intentions, the proposed changes take a considerable element of development management planning out of the hands of local planners, reduce the opportunity for local authorities to gain through Section 106 or CIL contributions and potentially create a ‘free for all’, which will diminish the economic importance of town centres.
Colin Brown is head of the planning and development division at Carter Jonas