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Articles Planning 24th Jul 2020

Government study concludes that permitted development residential schemes create “worse quality” homes

Since the introduction of a raft of change-of-use PD rights in 2013, including the right to convert offices into homes, more than 60,000 homes have been created using the rights.

On 21 July 2020, The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published the ‘Research into the quality standard of homes delivered through change of use permitted development rights’ report, which University College London’s (UCL’s) Bartlett School of Planning have produced.

As part of the research, 639 site visits were conducted, and a detailed desk based analysis of 240 of those schemes, comprising 138 prior approval schemes, comprising 92 office-to-residential, 33 retail/sui generis-to-residential and 13 storage/light industrial-to-residential. The study also examined 102 schemes consented through the traditional planning permission route, comprising 44 office-to-residential, 47 retail/sui generis-to-residential and 11 storage/light industrial-to-residential.

Overall, the report found that permitted development housing schemes “offered extremely poor residential amenity” and that only 22% of PD units met the government’s nationally-described minimum space standards, compared to 75% of units delivered via planning permission. In addition, the research found that 72% of PD approved homes were single aspect (i.e.  windows on only one wall) compared to 29.5% of conversions delivered via planning permission.

Following the above findings, the report concludes that permitted development conversions “do seem to create worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers“.

It is unclear whether or not the Government plan to introduce new legislation to address the problems highlighted in this report, but it is clear there are some serious shortfalls with the current system. A key issue with residential conversion through permitted development is there is no obligation to meet minimum space standards or provide play space or outdoor space, no local authority control over the location of units and no way of ensuring schemes contribute to community infrastructure, such as affordable housing.

We do note that the Government has recently acted to concerns about the quality of residential conversions that are being created via the PD route, an additional requirement to judge whether new homes are benefiting from sufficient adequate natural light in habitable rooms will now need to be considered as part of Prior Approval applications. This change comes into force on 1 August 2020 and will not apply to Prior Approval applications submitted before that date. For more detail on this new natural light requirement please see here.

Recent announcements have underlined that the Government is continuing to press on with an expansion of PD rights to create residential dwellings. We will need to follow in detail to see whether these findings are replicated for those new forms of PD.

The full report can be viewed here.

For further advice regarding permitted development rights and planning law please contact Mark Harris and Stephanie Gozney.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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