Over the last few years, we have seen Councils expressing increasing frustration at the quality of residential units that are being allowed through the permitted development process and seeking to find ways to resist approving proposals.
A number of the classes within the General Permitted Development Order (2015) (as amended), in particular, Class O and Class P, offer the opportunity to enable a change of use to residential without requiring basic living standards or floor areas to be taken into consideration.
We are seeing decisions being made by Councils or Inspectors where they note that the living environment of the future residents would not be positive, however, they are left with no choice but to approve the prior notification submissions. They can only assess such applications or appeals against certain limited criteria. This means that issues such as lack of light or ventilation cannot be taken into consideration. Furthermore, floor areas can be below the national space standards.
An appeal decision made this summer has highlighted some of the issues with the standard of accommodation that has to be allowed. The appeal decision in question overturned Watford Borough Council’s decision to refuse an application to convert a building in light industrial use into fifteen studio flats. The application was refused for the proposal falling short of normal standards for accommodation, including small floor areas and having no windows in seven of the flats. The Inspector acknowledged these concerns but highlighted that decision-makers should solely assess the impact of proposals on the tests set out in the legislation.
It does seem contradictory that the Government should have introduced these generous permitted development allowances, with no control over the design or layout of the accommodation, in parallel with the introduction of the national space standards that explicitly seek to encourage certain standards of accommodation. We also note that the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into force in March 2019, which is a further indication of the importance of the quality of accommodation on the Government’s agenda.
The concerns highlighted above, plus the risk of losing commercial premises, has led many local planning authorities to introduce Article 4 Directions, which remove the permitted development rights from specific locations, although this requires advanced notice and robust evidence of the impact of the permitted development rights as justification.
Despite the concerns raised about the permitted development rights, they do provide developers with the opportunity to take advantage of the flexibility in terms of the mix and density of dwellings to receive a quick decision, within 56 days of an application being submitted.
Indications from the Government are that we may see changes to the tests set out in the General Permitted Development Order to address the increasing concern about the quality of resulting residential units.
It is, therefore, important to keep track of any forthcoming changes in the system and to not miss the opportunity to establish the principle of a change of use under the current allowances.