'Build, Build, Build'- The Relaxation of Planning Rules: Opportunity or Threat?

 The Relaxation of Planning Rules: Opportunity or Threat?

On 21st July 2020, the relaxation on planning rules to convert commercial units into residential properties, and plans to reduce planning permission obligations for home owners, were taken to parliament to change the current regulations. The amendment for the conversion of commercial units is in response to the need to increase the national supply of housing and to encourage economic growth. Furthermore, the government has announced a plan to allow home owners to build two storey extensions without formal planning permission.

It has been recognised that there are buildings which no longer function as intended in their existing locations. For example, shops have struggled due to the general decline in high street shopping with the rise of the internet shopping, which has meant that units remain vacant, coupled with older units no longer fit for purpose. Under the governments initiative such buildings could offer promising opportunities for conversion and would ensure good edifices don’t go to waste.

This type of opportunity brings big potential for landlords and developers. For example, landlords can convert their properties or the site into new homes, without the need for planning permission. Furthermore, this could reduce the demand for greenfield sites and create new opportunities for home-working and small business. Encouraging more people to live in the town centres will ensure they:

  • remain vibrant places
  • contribute to wider regeneration
  • reduce commuting.

But could the negative impacts of this change outweigh the positives as far as the high street is concerned? The National Housing Federation has warned: ‘Plans to relax how old commercial buildings can be used are concerning and could lead to some very poor-quality housing.’ This loss of control over design and standards of housing could lead to slumlike quality and reduced contributions to new social housing.

As an example, the charity ‘Shelter’ reminds us that other office-to-residential conversions that have happened in the past have:

  • had no windows
  • been in isolated locations, miles from a shop or public transport
  • been impossibly small.

Other possible negatives that will mainly affect more rural areas and towns include the loss of any buildings used for economic purposes and reduced availability of small, affordable employment space. As a result, small and medium businesses and home business start-ups could suffer. There is also a concern that some rural villages will become dormitory settlements as local shops close and residents need to travel further for work.

Many have argued that the Central Activity Zone should be used primarily for business.

It must be noted that, although planning permission restrictions have been relaxed, Building Control and SAP calculations are still required.

If you are a landlord or developer looking to convert your property or even a private home owner keen to build an extension, how is this new change likely to affect you? Do you think this will stimulate the market?