Monday was my first day back in the office after two week's annual leave,* and the planning world that I have returned to looks VERY different to the one I left on the July 13th.**
At the time of writing*", MHCLG has yet to release the promised Planning Policy Paper. However, in the space of an average UK summer holiday,*^ they have managed to:
- Bring the new CIL Deferral Scheme into law - the regulations came into effect on 22 July 2020
- Completely re-write the Use Classes Order to make it significantly easier to move between the vast majority of high street uses without engaging the planning system
- Introducing another tranche of new permitted development rights allowing: 1) the demolition and rebuilding of some vacant office, commercial and residential buildings to provide new homes; and 2) individual homeowners to build up to an additional two storeys on their homes*%; and
- Release the long awaited Report into the quality of housing produced by the existing PD Rights - which raised concerns over the average size of homes created through PD Rights and their access to amenity space.
One might think that extending PD rights on the same day as you release a report criticising how those rights are operating was a bit of an own goal; but MHCLG certainly do not appear to view it that way.
This may be down to a hope that the market will account for the discrepancies in the regulations - as purchasers place more importance on space (both amenity and otherwise) following lock down. Alternatively, they may simply have calculated that the need for economic activity, and house-building in general, should take precedence. However, given how regularly the PD regulations are being amended right now, I would not necessarily rule out a future change to the regulations to ensure compliance with space standards.
The enactment of the CIL Deferral Regulations will be a huge relief for many small developers and is definitely good news.
The changes to the Use Classes Order has had a more mixed reception. On the one hand, moving the majority of high street uses into a single use class certainly provides the flexibility that many high street operators have been craving. On the other, applying it to business parks and industrial estates, as well as traditional retail centres, does have the potential to spectacularly backfire... On balance, I am optimistic about the changes, although given that the majority of commercial properties have user restrictions in their leases, it may take a while for the real impacts to be felt on the ground.
All of these changes have reinforced my theory,*! that the current government views engagement with local planning authorities as a barrier to economic growth - rather than an enabling force.
When viewed together, MHCLG's reforms centre on two main principles:
1. The planning system can be an engine of economic growth; and
2. That in order for that to happen we need to speed up the system, by curtailing the discretion available to local planning authorities within it.
Whilst this ongoing deregulation may have the effect of boosting economic activity; it does not come without its downsides.
Reducing local authority control over development increases the risk that the development that comes forward may not meet local needs; or expected design or quality standards. It is now possible, under the Use Classes Order, to have a local High Street with no retail presence on it at all. Similarly, there is nothing to our local cinema (which is out on an industrial estate) turning into a Superstore - or the world's largest soft play centre.
If anything, the pandemic has shown us that the spaces that we live in have a direct impact on our quality of life. There has been a real difference between living through lock-down in a detached house, with a garden, and access to parks and amenity space; and being locked into a flat without any parks or play areas nearby. We are living in a time when social mobility is decreasing and the gap between the haves and have nots is getting wider.
Against that background; perhaps the continued deregulation of a system designed to ensure a well-planned, healthy, built environment for all is not the way to go.....
* obligatory holiday snap below. Not all of the mess was made by my child, I promise......
** Well, I say 'left'... It has been pointed out that I sometimes have issues switching off from work
*" 8.42 am on 31 July 2020
*^ entirely invented stat alert
*% possibly the most sure-fire way to annoy my neighbours that I have ever heard....
*! No. Not the one about the bunnies
The MHCLG study’s lead author Dr Ben Clifford, associate professor in spatial planning and government at the University College London’s Bartlett School, told Planning that some of the “fundamental issues” with PD rights remain “unaddressed”. Pointing to his report’s finding that 22.5 per cent of the PD right homes assessed by his team’s report would not meet nationally described space standards, he said: “Space standards is a hugely significant issue because it underpins so much of quality of life. “It’s not been acknowledged or addressed in the existing right or the new rights, which is why I have been so deeply concerned and disappointed