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RTPI: More dead frontages would kill off high streets

06 March 2019

The RTPI is urging Housing and Planning Minister Kit Malthouse to drop proposals that would add homes to high streets without developers having to apply for planning permission.

Known as permitted development rights (PDRs), there are already many such rights in law that effectively grant permission for changes of use and certain building works to be carried out without the need for a planning application. 

The Government is proposing to add new PDRs, notably to: convert high street outlets to ordinary offices, and takeaways to offices or homes; allow extra storeys on existing buildings; and demolish and redevelop commercial premises for residential use.

In a letter to the Minister and more than 40 MPs, the RTPI points out that housing converted from retail and other high street premises via PDRs have little impact on providing affordable homes. Instead, “dead frontages” created by these rights on high streets - many of which are already in decline – would diminish their community role, damage their character irretrievably and kill off pedestrian footfall.

Permitted Development Right - BEFORE And AFTER

New images published by the RTPI show how the vitality and viability of a typical high street could be ruined by the “dead frontage” created by PDR conversions to offices and flats.

PDRs add further financial pressure on local authorities as they do not generate sufficient planning fees for their processing, and no developer contributions can be collected for affordable housing and infrastructure.

Victoria Hills, RTPI Chief Executive, said:

“Many high street outlets can already be changed to housing without developers having to apply for planning permission. This is increasingly having an insidious effect on town centres that are at the heart of local communities. Rolling out permitted development could sound the death knell for many ailing high streets, while having little or no impact on creating more affordable homes.

“Local authorities, business communities and residents must be in the driving seat for shaping the future of their high streets. No one would argue that we need more affordable homes, or that high streets must adapt with more mixed uses, but change must be part of a planned, local vision.”

The RTPI is also concerned that housing converted from retail and other high street premises via PDRs tends to be of poor quality, often with little or no disabled access.

PDRs are designed for minor built developments or changes of use, not new developments of this scale and importance, which should be subject to full local planning authority, it says.

The RTPI’s response to the Government consultation is available here.