Debate on motions related to planning, House of Commons, 30 September 2020

Nationally prescribed permitted development rights disempower communities and local councils. The approach inhibits local government’s ability to make decisions on behalf of their communities based on their local knowledge and evidence.


Key messages

  • Nationally prescribed permitted development rights disempower communities and local councils. The approach inhibits local government’s ability to make decisions on behalf of their communities based on their local knowledge and evidence.
  • A key part of the recovery from COVID-19 will be the delivery of quality, affordable homes and the supporting infrastructure to create sustainable, resilient places. The continued expansion of permitted development rights is making it substantially more difficult to secure affordable housing through the planning system.
  • LGA research shows that potentially 13,500 affordable homes have been lost in the last four years through permitted development rights allowing offices to be converted to houses without the need for a full planning application. Furthermore the Government’s own research has highlighted how conversions through change of use permitted development rights can fail to meet adequate design standards, avoid contributing to local areas and create worse living environments.
  • Alongside extensions to permitted development rights, the Government has recently published two consultations which include proposals for long-term structural changes to the planning system in England.
  • Councils have a number of concerns about the proposals, including the implications of a new ‘zoning’ system, the implications of a new system of developer contributions on the provision of affordable homes and infrastructure, and the impact of transitioning to a new planning system on investment and housing delivery in the short to medium term, among other things.
  • Councils are committed to ensuring new homes are built and communities have quality places to live. It is vital that these are delivered through a locally-led planning system with public participation at its heart which gives communities the power to ensure new developments are of a high standard, built in the right places, and include affordable homes.
  • Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern. It would deprive communities of the ability to define the area they live in and risks giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas. With 9 in 10 planning applications approved by councils, and more than a million homes given planning permission but not yet built, it is clear that it is the housing delivery system that is broken, not the planning system.
  • A radical overhaul of the planning system will not support the Government’s ambitions to build 300,000 homes a year, or the much needed 100,000 social homes a year. We are calling on the Government to fully engage with and take advantage of the expertise in local government to ensure that their aspirations of an improved system work in practice.

Further information

Permitted Development Rights

  • Permitted development rights (PDR) have removed the ability of local planning authorities to secure planning requirements on affordable homes or wider place-making standards, as highlighted in the Raynsford Review of Planning. This means communities have no way to ensure developers meet high quality standards, provide any affordable homes as part of the development or ensure supporting infrastructure such as roads, schools and health services are in place.
  • LGA research shows that over 13,500 affordable homes have been potentially lost through office to residential conversions under permitted development in the past four years. In some parts of the country, office conversions carried out under permitted development rights amount to almost half of new housing.
  • The outcome has been uncontrolled, poor-quality residential units lacking in basic infrastructure requirements, including energy efficiency measures, with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors finding that extending PDR to office-to-residential change of use has allowed extremely poor-quality housing to be developed in comparison with schemes that required planning permission.Across the five study authorities, the inability to apply Section 106 agreements to permitted developments led to a potential loss of income of £10.8 million and 1,667 affordable housing units.
  • Research published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government into the quality standard of homes delivered through change of use PDR found that only 22.1 per cent of dwelling units created through permitted development would meet the nationally described space standards (NDSS), compared to 73.4 per cent of units created through full planning permission. In many cases, the planning permission units were only slightly below the suggested standard, whereas the permitted development units were significantly below.
  • We are calling on the Government to remove nationally set permitted development rights, giving councils and local communities the ability to shape the area they live in and ensure homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place. This will also ensure that councils do not lose funding for much needed affordable homes.   

Proposed changes to the planning system

  • The Government has recently published new proposals to overhaul the planning system, in the Planning for the Future White Paper, and the Changes to the current planning system consultation. 
  • The White Paper consultation proposes a fundamental review of the existing planning system, requiring changes to primary and secondary legislation. The focus of the proposals appears to be on housebuilding and land-use planning, to the exclusion of the many roles planning undertakes to create places.
  • The Changes to the current planning system consultation sets out changes to policy and regulations that can be implemented immediately. It proposes the securing of First Homes through developer contributions. This includes requiring 25 per cent of all affordable housing secured through developer contributions to be First Homes sold at a minimum 30 per cent discount. The proposals also include interim changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need and temporarily raising the small sites threshold below which developers will not be required to contribute to affordable housing (up to 40 or 50 units) to support SME builders.
  • Councils have raised concerns that a wholesale overhaul of the existing system and change to a new system, including the necessary legislation, will create uncertainty and take many years to deliver and implement across Whitehall and the wider planning sector. A number of other concerns about the proposals have been raised by councils, these include:
    • The implications of a new ‘zoning’ system
    • The role of councillors in the new proposed system and concern about a reduction in democracy
    • The implications of a new system of developer contributions on the provision of affordable homes and infrastructure
    • The loss of affordable homes through the raising of the small sites threshold and the displacement of affordable homes to rent, including those for social rent, and other discounted home ownership products, through the introduction of the First Homes scheme
    • The resourcing of the planning system and its capacity to absorb the proposed changes
    • The impact of transitioning to a new planning system on investment and housing delivery in the short to medium term=
    • Changes to environmental assessments
    • Changes to the standard method for assessing housing numbers in strategic plans, with concerns being raised both by those who could see their numbers increase and those who could see their numbers reduce
    • The lack of additional incentives in the proposals for developers to build-out existing permissions.
  • The Government has acknowledged that resourcing of planning departments is an area that needs additional support. NAO data shows that between 2010-11 and 2017-18 there was a 37.9 per cent fall in net current expenditure on planning functions and planning departments. This significantly reduces their capacity to ensure the delivery of new housing through the planning process and enable the new supply of housing and appropriate infrastructure. However, whilst the White Paper identifies a skills strategy for local authorities, there is no detail regarding how this will be resourced. There is considerable concern from councils about their already stretched capacity. Planning affects other areas of council business, and any changes to the system will have impacts well beyond planning departments, across all council operations as a whole.
  • Planning departments should be allowed to set their own fees. Taxpayers currently subsidise nearly £180 million per annum to cover funding shortfalls, where nationally set fees do not cover the cost of processing planning applications.
  • The LGA continues to campaign for a locally led planning system and this is particularly important as we rebuild and recover from COVID-19.  Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern. It would deprive communities of the ability to define the area they live in and risks giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas. With 9 in 10 planning applications approved by councils, and more than a million homes given planning permission but not yet built, it is clear that it is the housing delivery system that is broken, not the planning system.
  • A radical overhaul of the planning system will not support the Government’s ambitions to build 300,000 homes a year, or the much needed 100,000 social homes a year. We are calling on the Government to fully engage with and take advantage of the expertise in local government to ensure that their aspirations of an improved system work in practice.
  • More information can be found in the LGA’s recent reports, Local Planning Authorities: Developing a recovery and resilience planning package post-pandemic and Delivery of council housing: a stimulus package post-pandemic.