Sarah Watts, senior planner with Lichfields, weighs up Reading Borough Council’s decision to implement an Article 4 Direction to limit Permitted Development Rights schemes.
Reading Borough Council (RBC) have never hidden their distaste for the growth of Permitted Development Rights (PDR) which have enabled some forms of new residential development without the need for planning applications (and associated affordable housing provision and financial contributions).
On October 31, they resolved to remove these rights across large parts of Reading.
However, this resolution (which was passed speedily in under 10 minutes and followed just four responses to their earlier consultation – only one of which objected to the proposals) may not be the end of the matter as they recognise that the Government may yet intervene in this process.
It also isn’t clear how the residential market may respond to the loss of this largely productive route in delivering new homes within the borough.
In 2013 the Government introduced PDR to enable offices to be converted to residential use and create new dwellings. Since that time several substantial additions have been made to PDR, both facilitating further sources for the creation of new dwellinghouses, whilst also introducing additional standards and prior approval criteria requiring consideration, such as compliance with national space standards and daylight/sunlight assessment.
The expansion of PDR has been pursued by central Government as a way to slash red tape and fast track the approval process, whilst boosting the delivery of homes and jobs in the construction sector.
Many councils have been less enthusiastic about PDR, citing concerns over the delivery of poor-quality dwellings, lack of outdoor space and failure to provide affordable housing and vital infrastructure.
It is no secret that RBC are not supporters of PDR schemes that allow new dwellinghouses to be created through this route. They objected to the original introduction of office to residential PDR around 10 years ago and have objected to further roll outs since.
Their resistance of PDR was crystalised at the October 31 policy committee meeting where councillors voted unanimously to confirm an Article 4 Direction to remove the following rights for sites in the town centre, district and local centres, core employment area and a number of other commercial areas:
- Change of use of commercial, business and service use [use class E] to residential uses (Part 3 class MA);
- Change of use of hot food takeaway, betting office, payday loan shop or launderette uses to residential (Part 3 class M);
- Change of use of casino or amusement arcade uses to residential (Part 3 class N);
- Demolition of certain residential and commercial buildings and replacement with residential buildings (Part 20 class ZA);
- Up to two storey extensions providing housing on certain detached commercial or mixed-use buildings (Part 20 class AA);
- Up to two storey extensions providing housing on certain terraced commercial or mixed-use buildings (Part 20 class AB).
RBC’s decision is not conclusive. Following the recent musical chairs at both Prime Ministerial and Secretary of State (SoS) level (with Michael Gove now back in the saddle), the Government has indicated they do not agree with RBC’s proposed Article 4 on the basis of the evidence provided about the need for such a wide geographical area to be covered by the direction, and it seems likely they will intervene.
As such there is a high probability that the direction may only be in place for a short time as it could either be modified (perhaps most likely to reduce the geographical extent) or even cancelled.
Meanwhile, RBC is hoping the removal of the Article 4 route will generate additional planning application fee income, as PDR applications require a fee of £96 per dwelling whilst a full planning application fee is far higher at £462 per dwelling (for schemes of up to 50 dwellings).
RBC noted in their policy committee report that “since the additional PDR were introduced in May 2013 in place of applications for full planning permission, the loss in fee income to the council was estimated to be £1,838,858 up to September 2022.”
It will be interesting to see how quickly the SoS will respond and if, in the meantime, any other Thames Valley local planning authorities (LPA) will follow trailblazers such as RBC (and Bracknell Forest who already have Article 4 Directions in place that remove certain PDR).
The PDR route enabling the creation of new dwellings has seen a strong level of take-up by developers within Reading with the most widely utilised right being to change a building’s use from office to residential.
According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government live tables on housing supply, RBC are one of the councils where office conversions to residential use have formed a substantial (albeit declining) part of their housing supply over the past seven years (Table 1), although these figures won’t capture the increased scope of the 2020 reforms – a route that RBC is now closing.
Table 1: Office to residential housing completions in RBC
Source: Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Live Tables
It will be interesting to see what impact the confirmed Article 4 Direction will have on overall housing delivery in RBC if it remains in place and how housing delivery might be affected in other LPAs within the wider Thames Valley if they seek similar restrictions on PDR.
It will of course remain possible to seek full planning permission for proposals controlled by Article 4 Directions, although this will require a more comprehensive planning assessment (with LPAs exercising greater discretion, including the scope to require affordable housing and other financial contributions).
This could affect the viability, and therefore deliverability, of some developments
Conversely PDR applications which carry a strict 56-day assessment period for the LPA, represent a certainty over planning application timescale welcomed by many developers in comparison to more fluid planning application timescales.
If a greater level of planning application fee income is realised for proposals now requiring full planning permission will this translate into an increase in resources in affected planning departments?
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