Relaxing planning rules will reduce quality of life, experts warn government

Government plans to relax planning permission rules risk worsening the quality of life of some of England’s most vulnerable people, some of the UK’s leading built environment organisations have warned.

In an open letter sent to the housing secretary Robert Jenrick earlier this week, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and the Chartered Institute of Building warned that extending permitted development rights (PDRs) will ‘lock in’ unacceptable standard development with consequences that may last for generations.

The government’s ‘serious error of judgment’ will have a disproportionate effect on communities already hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, who already live in poor-quality, overcrowded and badly located homes, the RTPI has added.

The experts’ letter comes after the government announced this week proposals to allow buildings to be altered or replaced without full planning permission starting from this September.

Victoria Hills, chief executive of the RTPI, said: “This move to increase the use of PDRs is a serious error of judgement from the government which will have a negative impact on the quality of life of future residents and local communities.

“All PDRs should require minimum space, building and design standards, and should be implemented in such a way as to ensure they contribute towards affordable housing and community infrastructure. Having these safeguards does not mean delays in construction – it means that the homes built in the early 2020s will not become the social disasters of the 2030s.”

Earlier this week, the government said its new planning rules would allow empty commercial and retail properties to be repurposed more quickly into housing, renewing England’s town centres.

Homeowners will also be able to extend their homes upwards by up to two stories in a move designed to accommodate growing families.

In their letter, the experts highlighted the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s recent conclusion that PDRs had inadvertently created ‘future slums’, as automatic permissions already given for converting office spaces into housing has led to spaces detrimental to residents’ wellbeing.

The RTPI has also pointed out the findings of independent government-funded research looking at the differences between homes delivered through PDRs compared with planning applications, which hinted that health and wellbeing will be negatively impacted by the increased use of PDRs.

“Permitted development conversions do seem to create worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers,” the research said.

Hills added: “We strongly urge more proactive planning for the built environment. Longer-term stewardship would be a more sustainable solution, looking at interventions earlier in the building process, rather than bluntly repurposing buildings that are fundamentally not suitable as housing.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “Last year we delivered more than 241,000 new homes across England – more than at any point in the last 30 years and these new regulations will mean we can make the best use of available space to build many more much needed homes.

“We held a public consultation on these changes in 2018 and like any other project, these homes must meet rigorous building regulations. The changes we are making also continue to improve the quality of homes, including new requirements for natural light and checks to ensure changes are in keeping with the character of the local area.”

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