Existing measures allow conversion of offices to residential use without council consent. Councils, architects, social housing providers and charities are urging the government to reconsider measures that enable homes to be built outside the planning system.
Organisations ranging from the Royal Institute of British Architects to the Local Government Association, which represents councils, have written jointly to the housing minister calling for him to scrap a proposed widening of “permitted development rights”, which allow the construction of homes without planning permission.
They also want the government to hold an independent review of existing measures that allow homebuilders to bypass the planning process when converting offices or other commercial buildings to residential use.
The groups argue that such measures — under which more than 42,000 homes have been built in the past three years — prevent the construction of thousands of affordable homes, which councils would normally require as a condition of planning consent.
“Because [the new homes] are exempt from the full local planning process, they come forward with minimal scrutiny and outside of local authority control,” the groups, which include the charities Shelter and Crisis, added in an open letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire.
Since 2013, developers have been allowed to convert offices into homes under permitted development rights. Ministers concluded a consultation this month on extending this provision to enable the demolition of commercial buildings and their replacement with new homes.
Their proposals would also allow upward extensions of some existing buildings for housing without planning permission.
The aim is to increase the rate of housebuilding in areas suffering from a shortage. But a growing chorus of voices has argued that permitted development leads to construction of poor quality housing, as well as removing from councils the ability to require developers to include affordable homes.
The letter was also signed by the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations; the Campaign to Protect Rural England; the Mayor of Liverpool; the Chartered Institute of Housing, a professional body for the sector; and others.
Shelter and the LGA have calculated that if homes built under permitted development rights in the past three years had been built through the normal planning process, an additional 10,000 affordable homes would have been constructed.
Meanwhile, just 6,463 homes for social rent were actually built last year, while 1.2m households were on councils’ housing waiting lists, they said.
“Thousands of families remain in temporary accommodation and on council house waiting lists for years, despite levels of housebuilding rising — underlining that we need to think more about what we build as well as how many homes we build,” the letter said.
Mr Brokenshire said: “I am determined to speed up the planning system and make the housing market fair for everyone. Increasing the availability of affordable housing is vital and under permitted development rules, 32,000 homes have been delivered in the past two years.
“But I’m also committed to ensuring that what we build, whether from scratch or through conversion, is built to last, is designed well and adheres to building regulations.”
The Financial Times reported in December that homes proposed under PDRs have included some as small as 9 sq m. Buildings converted under the provision in Croydon include flats with no communal space, poor ventilation, and serious fire safety problems.
You can see the text of the letter here.