Guildford is seeing an increasing number schemes coming forward based on using Permitted Development Rights (PDR’s). As from 1st August the scope of PDR’s has been widened to include vacant shops, restaurants and gyms; as well as offices. (The picture shows one site in Guildford changing from Offices to 54 Flats).
The impact could be dramatic in Guildford, with Retail or Office Sites being converted to Housing. An issue that PDRs don’t address is that many commercial buildings don’t make good living spaces, being in the wrong location, dependent on air conditioning, or have been built to building standards that are at variance with those required for housing.
The government appears to have a very incoherent and inconsistent policy related to planning. It is promoting good design in documents such as Living with Beauty, the final report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. This report has informed the Planning for the Future White Paper that is due to come forward in the autumn, with modifications, as Planning Bill for parliamentary approval. As part of this process the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government (MHCLG) are also promoting the use of Style Guides.
Whilst this legislation is being developed, it has loosened the PDR regime that will allow major changes to the existing use of buildings. Post-Covid it is likely that the Retail environment will shrink – some studies have proposed a 30% reduction in floor area – and that the Town Centre and Villages will need to respond. PDR’s are likely to be used extensively to convert property to dwelling space and possibly offices.
PDR applications have to give very little detail on what is proposed, and rely on Building Regulations to manage aspects such as Thermal Insulation, Ventilation and overall Building Standards. The local Planning Authority has very little control over aspects such as spatial planning and the provision of facilities such as medical and education establishments.
We are in danger of having badly planned and controlled development, which is at variance with government aspirations to Build Better and Build Beautiful. The production of a Local Plan that can be subverted by PDR's appears increasingly illogical
Low quality PDR conversions which fail to provide vital cooling features would make some uninhabitable as the climate crisis worsens. It is estimated that circa 64,000 flats have been built in former offices in the past five years and the rise of home-working during the pandemic is expected to lead to a surge in conversions.
The Climate Change Committee, the government’s official advisers, estimates that one in five UK homes already overheat. CCC advice in 2015 to bring in new heat-proofing regulations was rejected by ministers. The CCC in July stated it was “absolutely illogical” not to tackle the risks of heatwaves.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Chartered Institute of Building share the concerns. Eddie Tuttle at the CIOB said: “There is clear evidence that homes built using PDR has led to spaces detrimental to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupants. Ministers must address these concerns as a matter of urgency.” He added that PDR conversions had few checks on some aspects of quality, including ventilation and energy efficiency.
As part of the preparations for COP26 the government is due to produce plans on how buildings can adapt to new requirements for energy efficiency etc. It will be interesting to see if a robust strategy is produced or just a series of aspirations.
The MHCLG needs to clarify the linkages between Local Plans, Site Planning Applications, Style Guides, and PDR's the Planning White Paper could be the opportunity to create a functional planning system.
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