Permitted Development Rights Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The role of permitted development in the planning system

1.The Government’s recent changes to the use class system and the introduction of the class MA permitted development right are a continuation of the policy of successive governments since 2013 of using PDR to speed up housing delivery. We understand the intention behind residential PDRs. We also support the use of prior approval and other conditions to control the quality and other aspects of permitted development. We note, however, that the regime might have become so complicated it is now little different from the full planning system. (Paragraph 23)

2.To date, the Government has not explained how its PDR regime fits within the wider planning system or its proposed reforms in the planning White Paper. In particular, the recent extensions to permitted development appear to contradict the increased focus on plan-led development and local democratic involvement, and to fatally undermine the role of local authorities in place-making. This raises the question: How can a local planning authority explain to local communities that its hands are tied and it cannot secure the future of its town centres? We note, too, that there is no scope for local communities to comment on permitted development schemes. (Paragraph 24)

3.We recommend the Government pause any further extensions of permitted development rights for change of use to residential, including the new class MA right, which is due to take effect on 1 August, and conduct a review of their role within the wider planning system. As part of that review, it should set out its long-term vision for permitted development for change of use to residential and explain how it plans to retain the benefits of these PDRs whilst not also sacrificing the ability of local planning authorities to control the quality of development. In setting out its long-term vision, the Government should set out how the PDR regime fits with the wider reforms to the planning system and what plans it has, if any, to further extend permitted development rights. (Paragraph 25)

Impact on local authorities

4.The prior approval process is the principal mechanism by which local planning authorities can control permitted development in their areas, and we welcome the recent inclusion of more criteria, but we are concerned about its increasing complexity and the consequent impact on councils’ resources. This tension—between setting necessary limits on the PDR regime and the negative impacts of greater complexity—is difficult to resolve. The efficacy of permitted development depends on whether it can speed up planning decisions and make the outcomes more predictable for developers. The expanded use of prior approval unavoidably compromises its ability to do this. It also places a burden on local authorities that is not commensurate with the fees charged, and at a time when their resources are already strained and they are therefore not equipped to provide a quick service. (Paragraph 34)

5.As we have already recommended, the Government should review the role of permitted development rights in the planning system. As part of that review, it should consider how to amend the prior approval process to both simplify it and give local authorities the tools they need to shape their communities in line with Local Plans. In addition, the Government should calculate the cost to local authorities of processing prior approval applications and increase the fees accordingly. (Paragraph 35)

6.Local councils should be able to protect certain areas from permitted developments rights where they have legitimate concerns about the impact on town centres, high streets and commercial centres. We welcome the amendment to the proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework clarifying that Article 4 directions may be applied “to prevent the loss of the essential core of a primary shopping area”. This is an improvement on the original proposal, although it is too early to say if it goes far enough. It is also not clear why the Government feel it necessary to amend the current wording or what problem it is trying to fix. In addition, we still believe that councils should not have to wait one year before being able to apply a direction without also being liable to pay compensation to developers. (Paragraph 43)

7.The Government should clarify why it considers it necessary to amend paragraph 53 of the National Planning Policy Framework, and set out how the new wording addresses the issues it is seeking to resolve. In addition, we recommend that the Government monitor whether the changes to paragraph 53 give councils the power they need to protect high streets and town centres from permitted development rights for change of use to residential. If the evidence suggests they do not, the Government should amend the wording again to give councils greater freedom to restrict the use of PDRs in certain areas. We also recommend that the Government allow councils to apply Article 4 directions more quickly without having to pay compensation to developers. (Paragraph 44)

Impact on high streets and town centres

8.We broadly welcome the new use class E, as we can see the advantages of greater flexibility, but it should not permit development to bypass the sequential test or risk the loss of medical centres. As we have already recommended, the Government should review the role of permitted development rights within the planning system. As part of that review, we recommend it consider amending the use class regime to prevent out-of-town commercial and business premises from being converted to retail without having first gone through the sequential test and to prevent the loss of medical centres through change of use within the new use class E. (Paragraph 50)

9.We support the Government’s aim of revitalising our high streets and town centres, but we are concerned that the new class MA right could undermine attempts to do so. The current requirement that properties need only have been vacant from three months could put viable businesses at risk of being evicted by landlords seeking a profit from residential conversions. This resulting loss of businesses could have a negative effect on footfall. As we heard repeatedly, a viable business will attract more footfall than a residential conversion. We cannot see how footfall will be boosted if high street shops, which serve local workers and visitors, are replaced by flats. That being said, we acknowledge that there may be merit in converting upper floors of properties on the high street. We are also concerned that the protection for ground-floor premises in the prior approval process applies only in conservation areas. (Paragraph 62)

10.The Government should either extend the vacancy period or devise a test that can be applied to properties to make sure they are not still viable as class E premises. It should consider the most appropriate vacancy period or test as part of the review of PDRs for change of use to residential. We also recommend the Government amend the prior approval process for the class MA right so that councils, in deciding whether to approve development, can consider the impact of a loss of ground-floor commercial, business and service use on the sustainability of a town centre or high street. (Paragraph 63)


11.When compared to the overall number of new homes being delivered, it appears that permitted development rights have made a contribution to the supply of new homes, although the precise number is difficult to calculate given the likelihood that some of these homes would have been built anyway. It also seems likely that the new class MA right will increase its contribution further. Given the acute housing shortage in this country, we welcome this additional housing, but we have serious concerns that some of these homes are of poor quality and that some of the people living in them do not have the option of living elsewhere. All new homes delivered through PDR must be truly fit for purpose and suitably located. A flat on an industrial estate is totally unsuitable for young children. (Paragraph 80)

12.As already recommended, the Government should pause any further extensions of permitted development, including the new class MA right, which is due to take effect on 1 August, and conduct a review of all PDRs for change of use to residential. As part of this review, it should consider how to extend prior approval without also adding to the burden on local authorities. In particular, we recommend that local authorities be able to prevent the siting of homes in inappropriate locations, such as business and industrial parks. Among other amendments to prior approval, the Government should consider the following:

13.Housing delivered under permitted development can have as great an impact on local infrastructure and the delivery of services as housing built through the full planning process. It should therefore contribute to the cost of offsetting its negative impact. The loss of affordable housing is a particularly unfortunate consequence of its effective exemption from Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy. We welcome the idea of the proposed new Infrastructure Levy covering permitted development, but we are concerned about the lack of detail and of a clear timetable for its introduction. (Paragraph 90)

14.Whatever the Government’s long-term plans for permitted development and the Infrastructure Levy, we recommend it legislate as soon as possible to ensure that permitted development contributes towards the cost of providing the infrastructure and affordable housing needed to offset any negative impact on the local community. (Paragraph 91)

Published: 22 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement