Reaction has been coming in on the publication of government proposals to make further changes to the use class system including plans to make it easier for shops to be converted into new homes.
Property industry lobby group the British Property Federation (BPF) said it welcomed the publication of the consultation, but warned the government “must learn lessons from similar office to residential proposals”. The BPF said it believes there is “little point harking back to the high streets of old and alternative uses for empty shops – particularly those outside a retail core – should be found”. BPF chief executive Liz Peace said: “Retail to residential conversions could be an important step in breathing life into our high streets, and we would very much encourage a flexible approach, particularly in areas with increasingly obsolescent retail stock outside the retail core that is unlikely to be brought back into retail use.
“We’re particularly pleased that government has listened to industry concerns and confirmed it will be up to local authorities to define their core retail areas, rather than a nationally set red line approach, and that there will be exemptions for conservation areas and national parks.
“However, the government must look back at the largely defunct office to residential proposals and ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. It must not be so easy for local authorities to effectively ignore these proposals at a time of such acute housing need.”
Umbrella body the Local Government Association (LGA) gave a cautious welcome to the proposals. Cllr Mike Jones, chairman of the LGA’s Environment and Housing Board, said: “We expressed concerns that this policy could undermine efforts to improve our high streets and lead to some shopping hubs being shut down forever with residents and businesses left powerless to object.
“Government’s proposal for a system of Prior Approvals shows that it has at least listened to councils’ anxieties about the long-term damage that a complete developers’ free-for-all may have done to our high streets. Local authorities now want to work with government to ensure that this new process protects people’s right to have a say on development and does not add a whole new complex layer of confusing bureaucracy into the planning system.”
Ian Anderson, head of retail planning at consultancy CBRE said: “Greater flexibility in use for shops in town centres should be very much supported, but we should also protect the core areas of our most important high streets: this appears recognised in the rhetoric of the draft, but not necessarily the outline policy tests for prior notification. As these stand, it will be difficult to see a case on technical ground which wouldn’t allow conversion, so in essence it’s an open door, regardless of location.”
Tim Taylor, partner and head of planning at real estate law firm, Forsters said: “Empty and underused buildings are blighting the UK’s high streets and damaging communities. We therefore support the sentiment behind Nick Boles’ announcement today to extend permitted development rights. However, the rush to get development happening must be balanced against the long-term impact of a property’s change in use.
“There is a logic behind the current planning system and bypassing it can lead to unintended consequences. For example, by converting a retail unit to a nursery it could lead to increased traffic flow in a town centre. Likewise, an agricultural building is unlikely to have the necessary surrounding infrastructure to support its conversion to a school. While these aspects are considered by an assessment of land use through the planning system, they could be missed by permitted development rights. It also remains to be seen whether any permitted development changes would be accepted by Local Planning Authorities (LPAs), as with the recent office to resi changes, we may find many LPAs opt out of the new rights. We will be interested to see how the consultation into the proposed changes addresses these issues.”
Anthony Aitken, head of planning at consultancy Colliers International said: “Colliers International welcome the governments continued efforts to relax the current planning legislation restrictions. In an age when redundant secondary retail stock adds to high vacancy rates in our towns and cities, with substantial proportions having a slim to remote prospect of being occupied for retail purposes at any point in the near future, coupled with record low levels of housing completions, it makes ‘planning’ sense to fast track the regeneration potential of conversion from retail to residential use. This will allow all interested groups from Council’s, investors, community bodies, tenants etc. to focus their collective efforts on a town or cities retail core for future investment.
“The government announcement also acts as a useful counter balance, the redevelopment of brownfield land/sites, to the arguments currently being extolled that the NPPF favours greenfield development. Colliers International are of the view that both forms of development are required to allow our town and cities to grow and prosper in a sustainable manner.”
Planning magazine is asking local authority heads of planning to take part in a survey on the impact of recent changes to permitted development rights, including new rules allowing offices to be converted into homes without planning permission. Take part here.