King Street 5
Only units that have been vacant for three months will be eligible for conversion under the new rules

Permitted development relaxation angers industry

Dan Whelan

Allowing developers and landlords to convert commercial buildings to residential without having to go through the planning process will create “poor-quality housing”, according to a group of professional bodies.  

Whitehall has changed the rules around permitted development to allow empty shops and offices to be redeveloped into homes more easily in a bid to boost housing numbers.

The new legislation, which comes into force from 1 August, has been opposed by The Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Chartered Institute of Building, and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which sent a joint letter to the Government outlining their concerns.

The groups claim that “without the usual checks and balances” provided by the planning system, there is a risk that the new rules could harm communities. 

“This announcement fails to consider the public good and demonstrates a lack of any forethought for those who will be affected. This is not only a failure to level up but a threat to our local communities,” the letter said. 

In addition, RICS, RIBA, RTPI, and COIB said the law change would “incentivise” property owners to “push out” small businesses, endangering their futures. 

“These measures will pull the rug out from under high street businesses that you have supported throughout unprecedented circumstances…just as they prepare to reopen,” the letter said. 

However, the changes to the rules around permitted development will only allow the conversion of units that have been continuously vacant for three months, “to protect viable businesses”, according to the Ministry of Homes, Communities and Local Government. 

The change in legislation aims to “support housing delivery and enable more homes to be created in town centres,” MHCLG said. 

However, the letter sent by RICS, RIBA, RTPI, and COIB criticised the Government for failing to take on board advice about the potential negative impact the change in permitted development rights could have. 

“Businesses, developers, residents and the built environment sector have all had serious concerns about these proposals from the start.

“Attempting to engage productively, the RTPI, RIBA, CIOB and RICS set out safeguards that could at least minimise the harm. None of this evidence appears to have been given consideration,” the letter said.

Your Comments

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There are thousands of examples of these low quality Retail to Residential conversions in our towns and cities. They were awful in the past and will be awful in the future.

By Graham Brandwood

Whilst there are too many shops on our high streets and the future of the office at a point of change PDR doesn’t seem the right route to solve other issues such as housing, open space, and properly planned regeneration of town centres. It’s just a quick win to continually kick the can on proper planning.

By B Wilder

I agree that this is a poor policy but I can’t help thinking that planners inability to make quicker decisions and move with changing demands has contributed to Government thinking on this.

By Anonymous

This change is harmful and unnecessary. As a planner, no council I worked for stopped decent conversions of (genuine) zero demand, long term vacant shop / office units. This approach runs the risk of viable units being lost, poor quality housing and poor design blighting our high streets.

I fear small independent businesses in smaller local parades of shops will be hurt the most. Landlords will be tempted to price out small businesses and leave a unit vacant for 3 months to enable a more profitable residential conversion (for sale or let).

Ironically, with more people working from home now & in future, we should be encouraging and planning for more local (i.e. walkable/cyclable) services such as corner shops, coffee & sandwich shops, etc., not less. This is so short-sighted and we’ll be living with the harmful effects for decades.

By Gerard Woods

This free-market led approach will prove to be a disaster, resulting in the hollowing out of centres, with low-quality housing devoid of the community, environmental and social infrastructure which is pre-requisite of proper place-making. And despite what others may think, this isn’t a consequence of planner’s slow decision making or inability to adapt to changing demands – planners, public and private sector, operate within a framework set out by central government and it is the lack of a coherent, consistent and comprehensive framework with anything other than political and financial gains at its heart which is the cause of both the problem and the impossible task planners face in trying to address it.

By Martin Cranmer

Can’t help feeling the “professional” bodies whining about this ate really upset about a potential loss of fee income. After all if the change threatens to unleash a wave of poor quality developments on us – what were those professionals doing when the current crop of poor quality residential schemes were delivered ?

By Cynic