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If conservation areas can have a mix of homes and amenities, why can’t newly planned communities?

We’re concerned that a proposed change to ‘permitted development rights’ would make it harder for local authorities to plan communities with a mix of homes, shops and services.

Our Homes Without Jams campaign is all about ensuring changes to the planning system result in new homes being built in the right locations with good transport options, and with all the things residents need at hand so they don’t need to rely on a car.

We responded to the 2020 Planning for the Future white paper and outlined our concerns about proposed changes we thought could make things worse and not better for transport options at newly built homes.

But planning reform is not a sleeping beast and although the planning white paper talked about upcoming radical changes, it is likely we will see incremental reforms proposed in the coming months. These smaller changes could add up when it comes to deciding what kind of new homes are delivered.

The government is consulting on one such change right now, an update to permitted development rights that would come into effect later this year.

Permitted development rights (PDR) speed up the planning process by giving blanket prior consent for changes to building use. Perhaps the most widely known PDR is the ability to convert office buildings to residential. Although this makes it easier to create more homes, questions have been raised about the quality of the homes and their location.

The consultation that is currently out proposes to allow many more buildings to be converted into residential.

In 2020, as a precursor to this, the government made another change to the planning system that consolidated the way we categorise buildings. This is a system known as use classes. The change took a very wide range of land uses, from offices to shops, restaurants, medical and light industrial and put them in a new unified commercial, business and service use class E.

This change allows a lot of flexibility for high streets and town centres. If a local authority designates the buildings in a neighbourhood centre for use class E it means all sorts of amenities and trip generators such as employment and retail/hospitality can set up without the need for a planning application to change use class.

However, the latest proposal to add the permitted development right to residential for all of use class E means it will be very difficult for local authorities to plan communities with a mix of homes and amenities. Although planning permission might be granted for a hub of use class E surrounded by new homes, it would be very easy for the developer to exercise the new PDR right to convert those amenities to residential.

In our 2018 and 2020 reports we found that new communities are being built without basic facilities like local shops, which means the only way to do anything is to drive.

The government consultation suggests an exemption might be possible for conservation areas. But why an exemption there and not for newly planned communities?

We are concerned that this new PDR will remove the ability to plan for communities where residents can easily walk and cycle to basic amenities and live fulfilling, healthy lives without the need to own a car. We think this change will result in more estates with nothing but houses.

The consultation is open until 28 January 2021.

To be kept up to date with the Homes Without Jams campaign please sign up here.

Together with 18 other organisations we have had a letter published in the Telegraph on this issue; the text of the letter can be read here.