The Most Significant Overhaul of the Planning System Since WWII
In a speech on 30 June 2020, PM Boris Johnson set out the Government’s commitment to fuel economic recovery by removing constraints on the planning system and encouraging a national building programme. The two central vehicles for this agenda are permitted development rights (PDR) and the Use Class Orders. All reforms will take effect from 1 September 2020.
Permitted Development Rights
The changes to Permitted Development Rights (PDR), along with the potential consequences, have been the more widely reported of the two. The Government are seeking to tackle both the undersupply of residential property and the nation’s ailing high streets by allowing residential extensions and conversions without planning consent.
In terms of extensions, it will be possible to construct two additional storeys to any qualifying residential building. This will initially apply to purpose-built blocks of flats with the potential to extend this right to all detached homes.
There will be a ‘fast-track approval process’ and the rights are not without exceptions. The key stipulations are as follows:
- The building must be purpose-built residential and not one converted under existing PDR
- The building must have been constructed between 1 July 1948 and 5 March 2018
- The building must not be located within a conservation area or be a listed building
- The existing building must be at least three storeys but no more than 30 metres in height
Prior approval must be sought from the Local Planning Authority and, to the relief of all, all building work must adhere to current standards and regulations.
It will also be possible under these coming reforms to repurpose obsolete shops as residential, which the Government hopes will breathe new life into the nation’s high streets and relieve the pressure to build on greenfield land. In addition, the reforms will allow the demolition and redevelopment of a wider range of commercial property as residential without planning consent.
These reforms have the potential to solve some of the central challenges the property industry currently faces but they are not without their critics.
The president of RIBA has dubbed such flats ‘slums.’ In a recent Government report on the development which has taken place under the existing permitted development rules, it has been revealed that, of 600 schemes visited, only 22% met the voluntary minimum space standards, with 10 units having no windows at all.
All in all, the standard of PDR dwellings has been found to be consistently below that of flats with planning consent. It will require a concerted effort from all Local Authority planning departments and developers to ensure that these reforms fulfil their potential and not their forecasts of their critics.
Reform of the Use Class Orders
Boris Johnson’s ‘New Deal’ speech also promised an overhaul to the Use Class Orders, the extent of which did not become clear until the legislation was published on 21 July. From 1 September, the Use Classes will undergo radical changes.
The reformed Use Classes will include Classes E and F, along with an altered Sui Generis class.
Class E - Commercial, Business and Service
This Class will replace A1, A2, A3, B1 and parts of D.
It will include most shops, restaurants, financial and professional services, gyms and other indoor sport and fitness, provision of medical and health services, creches and nurseries and any office or industrial use which can be carried out in a residential area without detriment to amenity.
Class F1 - Learning and Non-Residential Institutions
This Class will replace those parts of D1 not included within Class E
It will include educational facilities, galleries and museums, public libraries, exhibition halls, places of worship and law courts.
Class F2 - Local Community
This Class will replace parts of D2
It will include community centres, places of outdoor sport and recreation, swimming pools and skating rinks, along with shops selling essential goods of less than 280m2 and where there is no other such facility within a 1km radius.
This Class will replace A4, A5 and those part of D2 not covered above.
It will include pubs and bars, whether or not they serve food, hot food takeaways, music venues and concert halls, cinemas, dance halls and bingo halls.
Classes B2, B8 and C remain unchanged. Other Sui Generis uses such as tattoo parlours and nail salons are not mentioned and are assumed to remain unchanged.
Most changes of use between uses within the same class are permitted without consent, allowing greater flexibility to repurpose obsolete buildings. For example, a long vacant high street shop may be converted to a café or office, as well a home under PDR. However, change of use for businesses which are considered ‘essential to the lifeblood of communities’ such as pubs, libraries and village shops will not be without consent.
A transition period will be in place from 1 September 2020 to 31 July 2021, in which any existing planning application for change of will proceed under the existing Use Class Orders.