In defence of PDR

Pretty much everyone recognises the housing crisis is largely one of a lack of supply: there aren’t enough homes built quickly enough in the places where people want to live the most.

So, it is disappointing to see probably the one government policy to tackle this head-on – permitted development rights – being resisted so fiercely.

Criticisms of PDR tend to rest on three planks: the quality of some schemes, the size of the units and lack of section 106 contributions.

The threat to office space is another but no doubt most would agree having housing is more important than somewhere to work.

Accelerating trends like flexible and remote working will also lessen the need for traditional offices.

All PDR schemes have to meet standard building regulations too, while smaller – and therefore cheaper – homes have been recognised as a solution to the housing crisis, which is why the Mayor of London is backing Pocket Living.

Indeed, developers at all price points are rethinking size, as digitalisation, changing lifestyles and the experience economy reduce the demand for physical space.

That isn’t to say every office-to-resi scheme has been decent or well designed.

Yet you only have to look at the troubles facing some of the volume housebuilders to see quality isn’t just an issue with conversions.

At a time when the environment is once again high on the agenda – just think about the recent Climate Resistance protests – PDR also offers a more sustainable way of housing delivery than new-build development.

We can all sympathise with councils rightly upset about the loss of section 106 contributions from PDR, especially given they have borne the brunt of austerity more generally.

Yet far from all PDR developers convert the buildings into luxury pads without any affordable provision.

At Caridon, we’ve created a 1,000-strong portfolio of self-contained studio and two-bed apartments across London and the South of England through PDR.

Rather than sell off our homes, they’re all offered to the host borough and local charities first to so to tackle local housing need, and then to other councils.

One of our buildings in Harlow – Terminus House – has been the focus of recent media controversy and is being held up as proof as to why the government should scrap PDR.

While we do not deny there have been issues in the building, as there are in many housing estates, the simple truth is without PDR many of our tenants would be sleeping rough or somewhere far worse.

Our buildings have on-site security and management, who will help on anything from maintenance to benefits, and the wider Group has a not-for-profit foundation to support tenants more generally.

Our apartments are not intended as long-term accommodation either.

But local authorities or housing associations don’t have the capacity to deliver the affordable homes the UK urgently needs and waiting lists can be years in some places.

This means we have to embrace new solutions like converting disused offices into low-cost homes.

If the government is serious about its 300,000 new homes a year target, it should keep and expand PDR, especially given the ongoing carnage in the high street.

Already a drop off in office-to-resi in London has seen new housing supply fall in the capital.

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