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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.

Our joint letter to the Telegraph about high street planning

On 18 January 2021 our joint letter, written together with 18 organisations, was published in the Telegraph:

Sir

We urge the Government to think again about its proposals to allow high street businesses to be changed to housing without full planning permission. Based on recent experience, we believe that the proposals, if enacted, will lower housing standards and accessible, natural green infrastructure provision, extinguish local democracy, and end public participation.

Permissions for over one million new homes are already in place but these have not been built out, according to the Local Government Association. There is little case to be made that the current system does not deliver consent for development.

We believe that local people and businesses are best placed to lead the change in town centres – for example, in providing more space for health and wellbeing purposes.

The planning system needs to ensure: local, democratically accountable decisions; the right to have a say over all development decisions; more genuinely affordable homes for local people; environmental protection and recovery for biodiversity; heritage protection and provision of accessible green space and conservation; and strong climate mitigation and adaptation duties.

Miriam Turner and Hugh Knowles
Co-Chief Executives, Friends of the Earth

Hugh Ellis
Director of Policy, Town and Country Planning Association

Crispin Truman
Chief Executive, CPRE

Ian Harvey
Executive Director, Civic Voice

Julie Hirigoyen
Chief Executive, UK Green Building Council

Craig Bennett
Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts

Beccy Speight
Chief Executive, RSPB

James Cooper
Head of External Affairs, The Woodland Trust

Peter Hinton
Chief Executive, Chartered Institute for Archaeologists

David McDonald
Chair, Institute of Historic Building Conservation

Neil Redfern
Executive Director, Council for British Archaeology

Anna Liberadzki
Senior Campaigner, SumOfUs

Tom Platt
Director of Advocacy and Engagement, The Ramblers

Kit Stoner
Chief Executive, Bat Conservation Trust

Nicola Hodgson
Case Officer, Open Spaces Society

Fiona Mathews
The Mammal Society

Tony Gent
Chief Executive Officer, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

Steve Chambers
Sustainable Transport Campaigner, Transport for New Homes

Naomi Luhde-Thompson
Director, Rights Community Action

This letter was first published in the Telegraph.