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Pressing ahead with new planning rules could diminish high streets, RTPI warns

Planners have warned that expansion of Permitted Development Rights could cause serious damage to English communities.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has today reiterated its concerns about the expansion of Permitted Development Rights as the new rules around the policy came into force over the weekend.

New changes to Permitted Development Rights allow the change of use from commercial, business and service uses (Class E) to residential use (C3) in England. Class E, which includes primary offices, restaurants, shops, professional services and light industrial premises – was introduced as a new use class in September 2020.

The institute has today restated its concerns that these changes could undermine communities by wiping out essential services for local people.

The government is intent on using Permitted Development Rights as way of reaching its target of producing 300,000 new homes each year. It says that the method has accounted for more than 60,000 homes over the last four years.

But the RTPI has warned that the increased housing supply must not come at the expense of communities.  

Victoria Hills, chief executive of RTPI, said: “The RTPI remains deeply concerned about the further roll out of Permitted Development Rights.

“Offering landlords the opportunity to convert commercial units into places to live could diminish the vibrancy of our high streets, the importance of which has become apparent during the pandemic.

“Without a place-based planned approach, we also fear that essential local services such as convenience stores, crèches, pharmacies, solicitors and post offices could be wiped out permanently as landlords race to recoup losses accrued during the pandemic in return for higher residential values, impacting those who can least afford to travel and leaving a legacy of unsustainable travel behaviour.

“The RTPI will be closely watching the impacts that come as a result of these changes. We remain clear that a planning policy and a carefully curated place-based strategy is the best way to support a green recovery of high streets and town centres.”

In September 2020 the government announced that homes developed through Permitted Development Rights must meet space standards which require a minimum of 37 square metres of floorspace for a new one bed flat with a shower room.

Victoria Hills said: “The juxtaposition of increasing the use of Permitted Development Rights with proposals to introduce rigorous design standards seems confused and is an uneasy contrast and risks creating a two-tier system.”

The institute also questions the possible impact on physical activity with gyms, swimming pools and sports and leisure facilities also included in Class E.

Previously, the RTPI has sets out a series of additional prior approval matters that must be considered if the proposals go ahead. These include the impact on the provision of essential services, access to amenities such as parks for outdoor fitness and exercise, the provision of fresh air through ventilation and the quality of design.

The RTPI has also set out two ‘red lines’ to prevent the creation of large areas of residential development in existing warehousing and supermarkets in highly unsuitable locations. These stipulate that there must be a size limit of 250 square metres on such change of use and the land must have been in retail or office use in December 2020. This is to prevent the exploitation of a loophole which could see warehouses and supermarkets ending up in residential use.

The RTPI supports extensions of hospitals and other premises which provide health services to the public during the Covid crisis.

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