By Mike Gibson, Chair of the Chamber's Property and Construction Committee
Those following my planning up-dates will know that last summer I reported that the Government was consulting on more changes to the planning system that would mean that more development will be allowed to take place without the need for planning permission. The main purpose was to do away with those time-consuming planning applications and make it easier to bring empty and underused buildings back to life.
After a period of consultation, the Government has now introduced these changes which, it says, will make better use of existing buildings, support town centres and rural communities, provide much-needed new housing, introduce more free schools and contribute to the provision of child care for working families.
Planning permission is no longer required for:
• shops and financial and professional services (including banks, building society offices and bookies) of up to 150 square metres to change use to a single dwellinghouse or to change to either of these uses combined with a dwellinghouse;
• buildings used for agricultural purposes of up to 450 square metres to change to up to three dwellinghouses;
• shops to change to banks, building society, credit union or friendly society offices;
• premises used as offices, hotels, residential and non-residential institutions and leisure and assembly to change use to a state-funded school or a registered nursery providing childcare; and
• buildings used for agricultural purposes of up to 500 square metres to be used as a new state-funded school or a registered nursery providing childcare
Permitted development also allows work that is reasonably necessary for the conversion of the building. The new rules do not apply to development in conservation areas, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites.
These changes of use are subject to a number of conditions and will require ‘prior approval’ where local authorities wish to assess traffic and highways impacts, contamination or flood risk. Such prior approval can also examine whether the change of use is undesirable due to its impact, such as the potential impact of the loss of a shop on the economic health of the town centre, the need to maintain an adequate provision of essential local services, such as post offices, and the potential impact of the change of use on the character of the local area. The government says that when considering prior-approval applications, local authorities should have regard to their local plan policies, and it reminds local authorities to have up-to-date local plans, which set out policies for retail areas.
More reductions in red tape are to be welcomed and these changes will not only provide more flexibility when marketing premises, but will also encourage owners to re-use buildings since they would no longer have the trouble and expense of a planning application. However, uncontrolled changes of use from retail uses to residential could lead to a fragmented shopping centre which could potentially have a harmful effect on the centre.
The government says that the new rules will remove the barrier of having to apply for planning permission and will bring more people closer to their town centres, providing a much needed boost to local shops and ensuring we make the most of buildings that are already there for new homes, nurseries and schools this country needs. We shall have to wait and see if the new rules do this. Also, it will be interesting to see how local authorities deal with the ‘prior approval procedure’ since this would appear to hand back control that the new rules are intended to take away and, in practice, this could become a planning application by another name. Watch this space!
Chair of the Property and Construction Committee
Director of Connectivity Associates Ltd.