Planners and architects have hit out after the man appointed to set up the government’s new housing design advisor expressed his support for the controversial policy of expanding permitted development rights, which many have claimed could destroy town centres across the country.
Speaking to Housing Today, Nicholas Boys Smith, former chair of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, and now chair of the advisory board overseeing the establishment of the Office for Place, put his support behind the controversial planning reform agenda contained in last year’s government white paper.
Boys Smith claimed in the interview that opposition to the government’s expansion of PD rights to convert commercial buildings to homes without planning permission was “indefensible” given the current housing crisis.
His defence of permitted development comes despite the fact Boys Smith’s own “Beauty” commission criticised the use of PD just last year, saying that the use of permitted development should be dependent on having “meaningful local standards of design and placemaking” attached to them.
Boys Smith has previously stood for election as a Conservative candidate, and at last year’s party conference called for a return to “Victorian” planning values, saying the country had become confused since WWII.
Ben Clifford, associate professor in spatial planning at UCL, and author of the government-commissioned assessment of permitted development, said: “Saying we will promote high quality design through design codes and better local plan processes, whilst exempting a large and growing amount of development from such requirements is perverse.”
Hugh Ellis, policy director at the Town and Country Planning Association, criticised Boys Smith’s apparent support for the “shameful” expansion of permitted development which he said was “damaging people’s lives”. He said: “There is no defence for the rapid expansion of PD. It will fragment high streets and make positive local regeneration impossible to implement.”
The controversy comes amid reports the government is planning to drop elements of its white paper proposals, which include proposals to set up “growth” zones with automatic outline planning permission, in the face of significant backbench opposition to the reforms.
Last month housing secretary Robert Jenrick backtracked on the white paper’s call for “root and branch” reform of the planning, telling council leaders there was “no need to rip up the system”, after the Conservative’s shock defeat in the Chesham and Amersham byelection, widely blamed on unhappiness over the proposals.
In addition, Jenrick has confirmed the government is to assuage concerns by looking at bringing in “use it or lose it” powers to force developers to build out housing sites more quickly. The Times reported last week that ministers are considering imposing a “sunset clause” on the build out of large sites.
Former prime minister Theresa May has said the government’s reforms will lead to the “wrong homes in the wrong places”, while former Tory leader Lord Hague compared the reforms to the poll tax, with up to 80 backbenchers reported to be mobilising against them.
Image: Barnet High Street, courtesy Creative Commons.