“Slums of the future” – overcrowded homes without windows, in the middle of industrial estates, with no private amenity space.”Taken from Raynsford Review
These are the words of the Raynsford Review, the government’s own research into the quality standard of homes delivered through change of use permitted development rights (PDR).
This obviously paints a grim picture of PDR and it seems that the majority of those within Planning share this view, the Town and Country Planning Association has published its own research, illustrating that PDR undermines place-making, the delivery of infrastructure, local jobs and Planning itself.
Now, though, there is a minimum space requirement for homes delivered through Permitted Development Rights. These standards set out the minimum floor space allowed for various configurations of dwellings – starting at 37m² for a new one-bed flat with a shower room rather than a bathroom.
There is also the requirement that all homes delivered will have to have access to natural light, which I believe will do a huge job in making those homes more nurturing to the occupant’s mental health.
Clive Reynolds, the Development Management Manager at Forest of Dean Council comments, “I think it is really good to impose standards as the quality of the environments that have been sought for prior approvals, in a rural area under class q have in some instances been very poor.”
Clive continues by saying that “People have tried to convert tiny buildings not suitable for accommodation. Modern planning came into being to address the squalid conditions of back-to-back housing in the industrial revolution. The prior approval process that was introduced had the potential to recreate these kinds of poor conditions again.”
It certainly seems that these requirements have come not a moment too soon, but do they come too late? Of the new homes already built through PDR, just 22.1% of them meet the nationally described space standards. The 2013 expansion of PDR was intended to boost housebuilding numbers, and it has been successful in this respect, with 15,000 additional net dwellings being delivered each year.
However, The Local Government Association (LGA) estimates that more than 13,500 affordable homes have been “lost” over the past four years as a result of PDR developers dodging the process. The question must be asked, are there too many homes out there already where occupants will be living in conditions they really shouldn’t be?
While this question is tough to answer, it seems that the minimum requirements being brought in are a welcome change to most Local Authority clients, Andy Gittins, Area Team Planning Manager at Telford and Wrekin Council praises the changes by saying, “Minimum spaces standards for development converted through prior approval are a great decision bringing the spaces provided in these new homes in line with a lot of dwellings/flats that go through the full planning permission route. Certainly something we welcome as planning officers to provide a greater level of amenity for occupants of these properties.”
These changes will undoubtedly improve the quality of the homes delivered, however, for me personally, it is not just the quality of the homes that is a factor to consider, it is also the location, with around 8% of all homes delivered through PDR being delivered in industrial areas. I would have liked to have seen a change made that would limit these types of development to mostly residential areas, from former shops or office blocks set within a town centre, instead of industrial parks and behind bus stations for example.
This view is supported by Chris Gomm, Development Management Manager at Bath and North East Somerset, who says, “There is much more to quality than size but clearly these changes will mean that it will no longer be possible; via PDR, to develop tiny units of accommodation. In my view, these new changes are a positive step. A home is more than just a roof over your head.”
The view that PDR minimum requirements may not go far enough, or produce the desired effects, is shared by Alan Coleman at Worcester City who states “My initial view on the PDR changes is that they are likely to have unforeseen consequences and may not ultimately deliver the outcomes that are intended.”
With all the best intentions, will these requirements suddenly bring about a smorgasbord of high-quality homes? Probably not, the implementation of this falls on developers and with developers needing to operate at a profit, I personally can’t see developers going well beyond the requirements needed.
Only time will tell whether or not these requirements will have the desired effect, however, they are undoubtedly a step in the right direction.