Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey MP, has today (23rd April) announced that the next Labour Government will scrap ‘permitted development’ rules for new homes, ending a get-out clause.
The current clause is said to allow developers to dodge social housing and build “slum housing”.
Permitted development rights introduced since 2013 allow developers to bypass the normal planning process by converting commercial spaces into housing without the consent of the council and local community.
This gives developers a ‘get-out’ from requirements to provide affordable housing and meet basic quality rules such as space standards creating flats that are only a few feet wide.
These Conservative changes were originally introduced in bids to boost house-building numbers, but the measures mean housing units just a few feet wide in former office blocks are now counted in official statistics as ‘new homes’.
There are 42,000 new housing units that have been converted from offices since 2015.
Research by the Local Government Association (LGA) has estimated that over 10,000 affordable homes have been lost because of permitted development in the last three years alone.
Further research for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors found that permitted development has “allowed extremely poor-quality housing to be developed”, with only 30% of homes built through permitted development meeting national space standards.
John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, said: “Conservative permitted development rules have created a get-out clause for developers to dodge affordable homes requirements and build slum housing.
“To fix the housing crisis, we need more genuinely affordable, high-quality homes. This Conservative housing free-for-all gives developers a free hand to build what they want but ignore what local communities need.
“Labour will give local people control over the housing that gets built in their area and ensure developers build the low-cost, high-quality homes that the country needs.”
If a future Labour Government was to scrap commercial to residential permitted development it must also come forward with proposals to properly resource our chronically underfunded planning system, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
Responding to the announcement, Brian Berry, CEO of the FMB said: “If Labour is going to put more strain on the planning system by scrapping commercial to residential permitted development, it must also think carefully about how planning will be resourced.
“Small and medium-sized house builders cite the planning process as the third greatest barrier to them increasing their delivery of new homes. Planning departments are chronically underfunded and we can’t ask them to do more without providing them with additional funding.”
Berry continued: “We mustn’t make permitted development synonymous with poor quality as it can have create really positive outcomes. In recent years, permitted development rules governing domestic properties have been relaxed, which has made it easier for home owners to extend their homes without having to go through the rigmarole of a full planning application.
“In short, let’s not damn all permitted development. It would also be good to see proposals from Labour regarding how we can more easily convert empty spaces above shops.
“There are 300,000 to 400,000 new homes which could be created by making use of empty spaces above shops on our high streets. Surely we make use of permitted development regulations in a way that utilises these spaces without bringing to market tiny uninhabitable homes.
“This would have the added benefit of revitalising our struggling high streets across the country.”
He added: “We do completely accept the point that we must prevent ‘rabbit hutch’ homes without windows being developed under permitted development.
“Tiny uninhabitable homes are not something the FMB would ever support. Small and medium-sized construction firms compete on quality and that’s at the heart of everything they do.
“We support Labour’s drive to reform permitted development to prevent low quality conversions and will work with them to achieve this.”
Fiona Howie, CEO of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) added that the griup have long campaigned against extending permitted development rights to allow the conversion of commercial buildings to housing.
She said that it raised a “number of concerns”, including that of the quality of many of the resulting homes, the “inappropriate” locations of some of the homes and the way in which by bypassing proper planning processes, developers can avoid funding new affordable homes.
Howie added: “We recognise there is an urgent need for more homes but they must be decent, safe homes that will enhance people’s health and wellbeing.
“The government has suggested solving the problem by tweaking permitted development rights to recognise the importance of design. But this is not enough because we need new homes to be developed within high quality places that enhance people’s lives.
“Using permitted development rights to create new homes simply is not creating good places.”