I beg to move,
That the Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 632), dated 23 June 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24 June 2020, be revoked.
With this we shall discuss the following motions:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 755), dated 20 July 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21 July 2020, be annulled.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 756), dated 20 July 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21 July 2020, be annulled.
I thank the Minister for finding the time for this debate in response to the prayer motions that Her Majesty’s official Opposition have laid against these regulations.
I will start by telling Members a story, one that is real and with which some across the Chamber will be familiar. It does not have a happy ending, and given the Secretary of State’s radical extension of permitted development, it is about to get a whole lot worse for many people in many of communities up and down this nation.
Over the weekend, the Minister may have read an article in The Observer about permitted development. It began by talking about the experience of a woman, Katya, who lives in a block of flats created under the existing permitted development regulations. All Katya wants, like many of us, is a place to call home, to bring up a young family and to feel secure, space for her children to play safely, somewhere to shelter during this pandemic and to be able to travel to work from, and some communal green space. Yet Katya is one of thousands of residents who are crammed into former offices and industrial units that were not built for human habitation. Some have no or few windows, some are as small as 10 square metres—the average car parking space is 11 square metres—and many are on the outskirts of towns, with few amenities such as shops and schools.
Katya is not alone. Up to 60,000 units have been built under the previous extension to permitted development, many of which are unfit for human habitation. I am certain that neither the Housing Minister nor the Secretary of State would like to find themselves or their families in them.
This debate is about three further ways in which the Government want to create poor-quality housing by bypassing the local community, local democracy and local control: by adding new units on top of flats; by allowing developers to demolish and rebuild empty buildings; and by allowing people to add multiple floors to their homes in a village, town and city near you.
Let me take Members on a visual journey up north to Leeds, where Abbey, a young professional, bought her leasehold flat only to discover that it had been cladded with flammable material. She is one of many thousands affected. She cannot sell it. It is zero-rated for a mortgage and she has to pay thousands in waking watch and insurance fees. There are also massive problems, with which the Minister and the Secretary of State are very familiar, with the EWS1—external wall survey—forms.
What is the Government’s solution? Instead of building back better, safer, healthier and greener for Katya and communities up and down our nation, the Secretary of State will go down in history not only for his unlawful planning direction in Tower Hamlets, with the Westferry affair, but as Bob the bad builder, coming to wreck a village, town and city near you.
Instead of having a relentless focus on making people like Abbey safe in a cladded building, he has rammed through a negative statutory instrument to lob an extra two storeys on blocks of flats, overnight giving some freeholders and overseas investors a multi-million pound windfall of up to £42 billion.
At the same time, this very SI has added an additional cost for leaseholders who may want to buy the freehold. No need for donors to attend the Carlton Club dinner circuit anymore and exchange chummy texts—just sneak the windfall through Parliament via an undebated instrument. What does that instrument deliver a year? Just 800 flats per year; that is 8,000 over a decade.
To make matters worse, because permitted development bypasses the planning system, we could have a ludicrous situation where high-rise buildings extended by two floors do not go through gateway 1 of the draft building safety Bill. Have the Government learned nothing just three years on from Grenfell? Oversight, regulation and rules protect lives.
In a moment.
In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, I happily quote the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who strongly advised the Prime Minister to get a “better housing adviser”. I find it difficult to disagree. Permitted development has been disastrous for our towns and cities since its introduction by the coalition Government in 2013 and things are about to get a whole lot worse. That is not me saying that—it comes from the Government’s own advisers. In fact, on the day that the Secretary of State laid two of the three statutory instruments that we have prayed against, his own commission’s review of permitted development was published—and it was damning.
The review found that only 22% of permitted development dwellings met the Government’s own space standards, fewer than 4% have access to a private amenity space and a vast majority have only single-aspect windows. These are not beautiful homes—in the words of another Government commission report—these are the slums of now, the slums of the future.
The Royal Institute of British Architects president, Alan Jones, put it like this:
“The arrogance and lack of understanding is breathtaking.”
It is not just RIBA that think the extensions to permitted development are a bad idea; they are opposed by the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Chartered Institute of Building, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Town and Country Planning Association and many more. Aside from some developers looking to make a quick buck out of shoddy housing, who supports these pieces of legislation?
With a slight nod to the fact that windows for people in flats might be a step forward, all three SIs allow councils to challenge developers if there is inadequate lighting provision.
I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s tone. He and I got on very well as co-members of the Select Committee, and he will know from his experience on that Committee that the problems with Grenfell, which he lays at the Government’s door, were decades old in the building regulations system. This is not something he can lay at the door of this Government—there were decades of failure. The issue in relation to the £40 million Westferry windfall for the developer is factually incorrect; there would simply have been a reduction in the amount of affordable housing on that development. On the space standards, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, today the Government set out clearly that space standards will be included in future permitted development rights.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. In terms of Grenfell, I referred to the draft building safety Bill and gateway 1. Certainly in terms of planning permitted development, there is an issue there—it is an issue that we will undoubtedly discuss beyond the debate today. With regard to the concession to the rebels, and the fact that we have laid the motions today, of course we welcome baby steps forward—finally, there is a concession that actually people deserve space as well as windows. That is a step forward, undoubtedly, but major problems remain with permitted development.
I declare an interest, as chair of the all-party group on healthy homes and buildings that sits in this House. We carried out an inquiry two years ago and made recommendations. The hon. Gentleman is talking about the importance of homes having the heating, quality of life and lighting correct, and having environmental amenities throughout. A home is not just four walls; it is much more than that. Does he agree that that has to be part of what the Government bring forward?
I wholeheartedly agree with those powerful and pertinent points.
The quality of housing—the minimum standards required from Government—should be guided by a moral compass, one that puts health and wellbeing at the heart of housing provision, rather than the profit margins of some of the more unscrupulous developers in our country. Rather than bypassing local residents and councils, why not resource and fund local planning authorities properly and maximise that civic voice to create healthy communities and housing that people are proud to call their home? Ministers wax lyrical about the need for more affordable housing, yet this massive extension of permitted development bypasses the requirement for section 106 contributions and in many cases community infrastructure levy payments too, robbing communities of decent affordable housing and local infrastructure. The Conservative-led Local Government Association estimates that 3,500 affordable homes have been lost due to the current regime of permitted development. This centralisation of our planning system is a Stalinist power grab, bypassing local democracy and creating a developer’s charter, while vandalising the character of our villages, towns and cities, hollowing out our high streets, flattening industrial estates and concreting over green space. It is ideological claptrap with bells on. I worry that the Secretary of State is spending far too much time with his Russian oligarch friends—Private Eye is even referring to him as “Moscow Bob”.
If these statutory instruments are passed today, when more of these unplanned monstrosities start to appear in our communities, residents will no longer be able to voice their concerns to local councillors, their MPs or the local planning departments.
On the point about local democracy, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be as pleased as me to note that the plans for local development codes and local style codes, which have to be drafted by local councils—set by them, with local standards—ensure a valid local voice; it is just doing it in advance, rather than retrospectively. Surely he must accept that his points about a lack of local democracy are without foundation.
Labour and Conservative councillors, parties of all political persuasions, are expressing major concerns about this. The Tory shires are on the march about it. It is a fundamental attack on democracy. It hands too much power to unscrupulous developers—that is a fact and we will consistently challenge on it. When MPs vote on these measures today, I know that Katya, Abbey and many thousands more who desperately need decent, safe and affordable homes will be looking at us all to know which side we are on. A vote to annul these SIs and to stop this chaotic vandalism coming to a town or city near you is a vote to stop this power grab from our local communities, which will create a bad developer’s charter.
I have an email from someone from a constituency outside my own who bought a flat 13 years ago and has received a letter saying that two more storeys are going to be put on top. He is living in a block of 15, and it is going to be a block of 25, with apparently no consideration for the leaseholders whatever.
If I were part of a Government, rather than just a supporter, who said they were for the many, not the few, how could they possibly put a four-year blight on every leaseholder in virtually every one of the 1.2 million flats? It is possible for more homes to be built in four years’ time under a statutory instrument that has “coronavirus” in it, as though it will have a short-term impact on the construction industry. It will not.
During the time of my speech, I invite the Secretary of State—through his colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), I invited him to Worthing to see how he could invent more land between the South Downs and the sea—and the Minister of State to say why the impact assessment does not have a section on leaseholders. The Government consulted on that two years ago and then went in for technical consultations with the public and the industry, but not with the leaseholders. Did they invite the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform, led by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), me and the Liberal Democrat, the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey)? No. Could they have done? Yes. Did they not think of it or did they forget about it?
In St Andrews Gardens in Tarring in my constituency, the tallest building is the church and the second tallest is a 1960s block that should not have been built, which is three storeys high—higher than any other house. An application to put an extra floor on it a year ago was turned down flat by the council and flatter by the inspector. I ask the Secretary of State, through the Minister and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to look at what the inspector said and then write to me to say: if the developer, which has had their second application turned down, appeals again, the inspector has the same power to say that it is totally unsuitable for the neighbourhood.
My point, really, is this. Let us not be concerned about leaseholder blocks that are owned by the leaseholders—they are freeholders, as I am in my small block in Worthing. Let us take the ones that are not. If the leaseholders want to form a recognised tenants association—another place where the Government can make an improvement—any freeholder or their agent should recognise that. The property baron William Astor, with his Long Harbour, spent years and years resisting this. The Tchenguiz interest in housing, which has done things that many would describe as crooked and others would describe additionally as improper, has been given a gift of tens of millions—potentially billions—of pounds, and who is paying? The leaseholders. Absolutely nobody else can.
The occupants of 6 million lease-rented homes own nothing except the responsibility to pay for cladding removal and other things—although I am grateful for the help that the Government are giving on that. Any benefits go to the landlord and freeholder; none go to the ordinary people who are probably on their first home. We can talk about the people whose homes are blighted by cladding, but think what it is like for those who have a home blighted in a block where they can be pretty sure the developer will not get around to getting the permission or doing the building for five or six years, and they cannot sell until the work has been done.
How did this happen? If I were on the Front Bench, my face would be red, and I would stand up at the end of this debate and say, “We apologise—we got it wrong.” The Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 is one of the worst things that has got through Government in my time here, which has been quite long. I say to the Government: revoke it. Even if they do not lose the vote today, they should put in a provision so that, if there is to be an application, a condition is that the freeholder landlord gives the freehold to the leaseholders, and they can decide whether to go for the application. The Government could additionally add a requirement that means that, in going to the local authority for pre-approval, the landlord shows what they are prepared to give to the leaseholders whose lives will be blighted, at least during the time of uncertainty and building.
This House should rise up and say to the Government, “Come with us. If not, we are going to make you, if not today, then in the days and weeks to come.” Six million households and 10 million voters are losing a great deal of money and who gains? It is not that many homes, but it is an incredible amount of money for the people the Government are trying to make an improvement for in the leasehold reforms.
Have the Law Commission reports been enacted? Not yet, and they need to be. How about getting the property tribunal to work properly? How about getting the Leasehold Advisory Service to work in the interests of leaseholders? We need to do better, and I ask the Government to join me in doing it.
The planning system is there so that individuals and organisations can develop sites and buildings appropriately. It is also there to protect the community from inappropriate development. Permitted development rights confer rights on some individuals but take away rights from others to have their say on developments. They take away community rights to object and to have an application turned down. That is a very important and serious issue that we all ought to be addressing.
I want to talk about space standards. Shortly after the Government produced their independent review of conversions under permitted development, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) drew attention, I asked the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions whether it was reasonable that flats of 16 square meters were allowed to be built, which was 1 square metre larger than the footprint of his car. Clearly, it is not a reasonable size for properties. The Prime Minister’s response to my question, which was welcome, was that the Government will
“give people the space they need to live and grow in the homes that we will build.”—[Official Report, 22 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 2149.]
Given that response, I wrote to the Housing Minister on behalf of the Select Committee on 4 August to ask what he was doing to put the Prime Minister’s commitment into effect. I have not had a reply to that letter. I thought the Minister had either forgotten about it or was waiting to reveal a significant change of policy. It appears that it is the latter. At least on that issue, we now have some recognition that local authorities can take into account the issue of space standards, along with the right to light and the impact on the wider environment from permitted development applications. That is welcome, because properties of 16 square metres or even smaller are nonsensical and not fit in the modern age for anyone to live in.
In terms of section 106, this is a serious matter. If the Government are seriously going to allow more development without 106 commitments, that will simply mean we have fewer affordable rented homes built, because the reality today is that the majority of affordable rented homes come through 106 commitments. That will have a significant impact on communities up and down the country. Why are the Government excluding permitted development from that obligation? I have not seen any justification for that. That is what happens, and it is important, so we ought to take account of it.
The Select Committee produced a report in 2019 on the future of the high street, “High streets and town centres in 2030”, which we are going to update in the light of the covid situation. We looked at permitted development. There are some odd properties that had been for retail use and can be converted for residential use perfectly reasonably, and those should be encouraged and helped. That can be done through the planning system now, if the development is appropriate. The problem is that some of our high streets and town and city centres need more radical reconstruction. They need to be redeveloped significantly and cleared. That is why we called for improved compulsory purchase order powers for councils in our report. However, we can find in a couple of years’ time that the local plan proposing the clearance of a derelict and underused retail area is made more difficult to construct and implement, because it seeks to get a CPO and demolish derelict retail properties that have just been made into residential homes. Trying to put together rights to convert—and properly convert—in the light of wider local planning situations simply is not taken account of.
Our 2019 report therefore said:
“The Government should suspend any further extension of PDRs, pending an evaluation of their impact on the high street.”
Other organisations have gone further. The Town and Country Planning Association, the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the Chartered Institute of Housing have all called for an impact assessment of the PDRs that have been allowed and changed over the last few years and those proposed for the future. Indeed, the Select Committee first called for an impact assessment back in 2012. If the Secretary of State and the Minister believe there are just benefits and no disbenefits from expanding PDR, why will they not commit now to do a full impact assessment of the changes made previously and the changes proposed now?
I believe in liberalising planning regulations in the sense that I want more affordable housing for my constituents in Harlow, where we do have some exemplary PDR conversions—Edinburgh House has been developed to an extremely high standard—but, as the House will know, Harlow has paid a high price for the prior extension of PDRs. Office blocks never intended for residential dwellings have been brought up on the cheap by developers and converted rapidly into rabbit-hutch housing.
My hon. Friend is right, and that is the kernel of my argument today. What has happened is that the homes, some of them smaller than my office in the House of Commons, and the relatively inexpensive rent charged by property management companies have proved an attractive and lucrative model for social housing, and, I am sorry to say, it is predominantly London’s Labour borough councils have that seen this as an opportunity for what can be described as social cleansing: moving vulnerable residents from their own boroughs into our town of Harlow.
The redevelopment of Terminus House in particular is a blight on our town centre. Antisocial behaviour sky-rocketed. Essex police have attended 238 recorded incidents at or near the site. Another office block, Templefields, has been converted in an isolated part of town on an industrial estate with no proper transport links or amenities for residents.
The crucial issue is how we avoid this in the future. I have had long meetings with the Minister and have been reassured that today’s extension of PDRs, allowing for additional stories to be built on top of purpose- built flats, will not have the same consequences for my constituency, particularly because the Government have announced that they are putting a stop to matchbox houses. All new homes developed under PDRs must meet the nationally prescribed space standard. A one-bedroom apartment will need to be a minimum of 37 square metres.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that the 300,000 dwellings per year target is indeed delivered, and that, as part of that, some innovation in the planning system, with the right controls, is needed? Does he also agree that we would not be in such a challenging situation if it was not for the failure of the Mayor of London to deliver housing in the centre of London, and our businesses are paying a terrible price for the failure to make London a proper live-work city?
I go back to my previous argument: we need quality housing. We need a lighter planning regime, because I want affordable houses for my constituents, but I want them in the right place. I therefore welcome what the Secretary of State said to me in our meeting yesterday: the introduction of a prior approvals process for these new rights, and local planning authorities and the community will now have a say over any new redevelopment, with the ability to object to plans. Local authorities can also now consider the external appearance of the building, the development’s impact on transport and neighbouring premises, as well as the provision of adequate natural light.
I understand—I would welcome the Minister’s confirmation of this—that a time-limited PDR allowing for the conversion of warehouses and buildings on industrial estates lapses today and that the Government will not be renewing this right. It was noted by the shadow Minister that the rights introduced today are so limited that this is just to deliver around 800 homes per year.
On the basis that the Secretary of State is putting an end to rabbit-hutch housing and creating a level playing field by prohibiting unwanted through-the-backdoor developments, I will support the Government. However, as I have said previously to my right hon. Friend the Minister, I ask that the Government hold to account those councils that are socially cleansing their boroughs by moving people to strange areas without any links to their families and friends. If councils must make out-of-area placements, they should contribute financially to the receiving councils’ associated costs, so that Harlow does not bear the brunt financially.
Extended PDRs have caused irreparable damage to Harlow’s landscape, social cohesion and reputation. There are unintended consequences to the drain on our local resources, which is why I strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s moves. I note that we will be able to repair some of the damage because of our £25 million bid for the Government towns fund, and I very much welcome the £1 million of accelerated funding for Harlow, announced last week, to regenerate our town centre and make sure that what has gone wrong in the past can never happen again.
I follow that excellent speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) by saying that I am worried that the tone and tenor of this debate have assumed that quantity and quality cannot come together. We should put that false dichotomy aside, because it is perfectly possible. We should take together not just the three statutory instruments before the House but the whole raft of the Government’s planning reform proposals, because that is what we should get and what I expect we will see.
I say all that because, as I mentioned in an intervention, the development codes will mean that we end up with good-looking local development that is locally appropriate, uses local styles and materials and is set by local councillors and local councils, meaning that local democratic voices are properly heard. Taken together with space standards that were reaffirmed today, that means we can have good-looking and high-quality housing while at the same time opening the floodgates to a far higher overall rate of housing construction than we have ever managed under any Government of any particular political persuasion for decades and decades in this country.
Ultimately, the quantity of new housing, whether to buy or to rent, is what will dictate, over the medium term, the affordability of housing to buy or to rent. That is the long-term answer. The fundamental problem we have had in this country over decades is that we just have not been building enough homes of any kind of tenure. That is what has driven up housing costs to their current unaffordable levels.
I welcome the total package of reforms, of which the three SIs form part, simply because it resolves this dichotomy—this false choice—between quantity and quality. However, I make one plea. A number of us—many Members from all parties, I suspect—will be getting all sorts of concerned emails from residents and councillors alike who are worried about what someone colourfully called the mutant algorithm that is being used to calculate the number of homes that need to be built in each local authority area. I have written to the Housing Minister with a suggestion about how we might be able to resolve this important local democratic concern: if we can allow large numbers of permitted development rights for homes built under high-quality development codes in town and city centres right the way across the country, we should allow the permissions that have thus been created and the homes that will therefore be built to count against the housing targets.
The average height of buildings in a town such as Weston-super-Mare, in my constituency, is roughly two storeys. If we allow them to go up to four storeys, it will take years of steady construction and conversion to get there. We will end up with good-looking local terraces, crescents and mews homes and mansion blocks, every bit as good as the best in any part of this country, but they will have local character and, more importantly, we can create thousands and thousands of new homes. It makes no sense not to allow a proportion of those thousands and thousands of new homes to be set against the new housing targets. With that will come far greater local democratic acceptance of the overall package, including some of the concerns about the overall housing-build rate.
When I raised concerns about the permitted development rights at Prime Minister’s questions a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister waved away my concerns with the promise that they would result in “beautiful” houses on brownfield sites for young people. We do not have to look far from Westminster to find that the opposite is true. In Balham, a developer has turned a two-storey commercial building on an industrial estate into 26 flats measuring as little as 18 square metres. That is smaller by more than 3 square metres than a typical Premier Inn hotel room. Four of the flats have no windows, just a skylight. All of the flats fall far short of the national space standards that say that the minimum floor area for a new one-bedroom, one-person home, including conversions, is 37 square metres, and for a one-bedroom, two-person home it is 50 square metres. That is not the only example. Are they really the beautiful homes that the Prime Minister said the rights would bring: no windows, no outdoor space, no room to swing the No.10 cat let alone to bring up a family?
Removing the requirement for planning permission to convert offices into residential properties will produce uninhabitable rabbit hutches. In the five years from 2013 to 2018, the number of such living spaces, which are below the minimum recommended size, has increased five times. The UK can now claim the dubious title of having the smallest rooms and the second smallest homes to be found across all of Europe, with some micro-developments as small as a single garage at 8.3 square metres, and others without windows or ventilation.
Research conducted by University College London and the University of Liverpool found that only 22% of dwellings created through permitted development met the nationally described space standards, compared with 73% of units created with full planning permission. Even the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s own report just months ago acknowledged that there were considerable negative differences in space standard, adequacy of natural light into homes, and access to amenity space, and that the immediate location of homes built under permitted development are less likely to meet basic minimum requirements than those that went through the existing planning process.
My city, Liverpool, is a university city. It is home to four universities, three of which are in my constituency, and to more than 60,000 students, many of whom live out in the community in their second and third years. There is great demand in some parts of Liverpool Riverside for student homes and the local planning lists are dominated by requests for extensions to allow houses to be registered as homes of multiple occupation to house students.
My fear and the fear of Liverpool city councillors is that permitted rights to allow two-storey high extensions on what are primarily terraced houses as well as extensions to the side and rear will create poor-quality housing for the occupants, as well as overcrowding and the environmental problems created by more people living there than the houses were originally designed for. It may give a windfall to landlords and developers, but it will distort the housing market by pricing out local people and families. Yes, Liverpool desperately needs new homes for 30,000-plus people on the waiting list, but the answer is to invest in good-quality homes that are genuinely affordable. I am proud that Liverpool City Council is building its first tranche of council housing in more than 30 years.
Back in 2015, this Government promised 200,000 affordable starter homes for young people. They have built none. Shoeboxes are not the answer. What we need and what the people of this country deserve are 100,000 genuinely affordable, decent quality homes built every year. Permitted development rights will undermine that.
The scrutiny provided by the local planning process is a core part of our democracy and a vital means for people to have a say over their local environment. The process should never be disapplied by permitted development rights unless proper safeguards are in place. I recognise the need for new homes. Indeed, the borough of Barnet, where I live and part of which I represent, has been delivering more new homes than almost any other London borough, but the Government’s rush to build must not come at the expense of our environment, or at the expense of the quality of homes produced.
I accept and welcome that Ministers have listened to the concerns that I and others have put to them strongly about these statutory instruments. I very much welcome the concession that legislation will be brought forward to ensure that space requirements apply to homes created under PD rights. This is much needed, as are the provisions on entitlement to natural light. It is also a relief that the new right to add two storeys will be subject to a prior approval process that requires neighbours to be notified and allowed to object.
The new process does not cut out the council scrutiny process altogether, but I want to ask the Minister whether the provisions in paragraph 3.2 of condition AA.2 on the external appearance of upwards extension will allow prior approval to be denied where bulk and massing mean that the plans are inconsistent with the character of the surrounding neighbourhood. That is a crucial protection. I also hope the Minister will confirm that people who are allowed to add two storeys under these provisions cannot turn them into a separate dwelling without planning permission. I also urge him to find a solution for leaseholders, as was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley).
With the concessions that Ministers have made, I am sure many of us will feel comfortable abstaining rather than backing the Opposition motion today, but we also want to see real change in relation to other planning reforms, particularly the housing algorithm. The new algorithm would more than double the housing target in my constituency and require the equivalent of a small new city somehow to be crammed into outer London. That would see the suburbs change forever. There is simply no way the algorithm’s numbers would be achievable without the major urbanisation of the suburbs, and in the covid era, when the importance of homes with gardens and space to breathe has become ever more apparent, do the Government really want to be cramming East Berlin-style tower blocks into thousands of neighbourhoods across the country? We do not want future generations to look back on this era in the same way that we look at the architectural disasters of the ’60s, which left many people living in poor-quality homes in blighted communities. So today I am asking the Government to act in the way they have on the statutory instruments, to listen to the concerns and to drop their housing algorithm in the same way they dropped their A-level one.
I rise to oppose these plans. What have we learned since the war? When we think back to the new towns developed in Hertfordshire, Essex and elsewhere, and the great planning that went into them, we realised that we really did some fantastic stuff. These statutory instruments would remove the ability of people in Warwick and Leamington and across the country to have their say in how their neighbourhood is being developed—we have seen a degree of that over the past 10 years—and instead hand over power to the big housing developers while communities and councils are emasculated. Shelter, the Local Government Association, Crisis, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors are among the bodies to have expressed serious misgivings about these changes.
SIs 632 and 755 have been spoken about around the Chamber, so I will not dwell on them. It is actually SI 756 that most concerns me. Developers will be able to demolish housing and offices and rebuild them as denser and taller blocks of flats—as tall as six storeys and containing up to 60 or 70 flats—without making a full planning application. We already know that the previous permitted development regulations, which allow for the conversion of empty office blocks into new homes, have led to modern-day slums. This was forcefully exposed by BBC “Panorama” earlier this year, and the Government’s own report has concluded 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, well-being and quality of life of future occupiers.”
There is also a lack of control over where the homes are placed. Naturally, many previous PDR developments have ended up on industrial estates and other unsuitable places. This leaves residents without essentials such as access to public transport, local services, shops and amenities. Whatever happened to our communities and town planning? It beggars belief, therefore, that the Government are seeking to expand these rights at the cost of the most vulnerable members of our society and our communities, who will end up living in these appalling homes. It is the developers who are gaining significantly. I think about the multimillionaires and billionaires who have made so much money out of development in south Warwickshire, south of Warwick and Leamington, but they have provided no amenities or facilities there.
One of the most serious problems running through all the statutory instruments is that they allow developers to avoid obligations to build affordable housing. Last year, just 6,300 new social homes were built in England. When sales and demolitions are accounted for, we lost more than 17,000 social homes over the course of last year. We have had only 21 new social rented council homes built in Warwick district since 2010—and we wonder why we have a housing crisis. Section 106 obligations are now the main way to get new social rented homes built. According to the most recent year’s stats, 10 times as many social rented homes were built through section 106 as were built with money from Government grants. These SIs mean that developers are not obliged to contribute to affordable housing through section 106.
Instead, the Government must make building social rented council homes their No. 1 priority. Look at places such as Goldsmith Street in Norwich: built under a Labour council, it shows us what social rented housing can be—beautiful, well designed and environmentally friendly; reminiscent of the great developments in the post-war period. We know that building social rented homes is popular: 268,000 people have signed George Clarke’s petition to build 100,000 council homes a year for the next 30 years.
These statutory instruments will strip away power from local communities in favour of big housing developers. They will lead to poor-quality unaffordable homes. I am afraid that these changes are a foretaste of the full reforms proposed in the planning White Paper. They are a developers’ charter, giving them sweeping power to build poor-quality homes and, importantly, avoid commitments to build truly affordable social rented homes.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate, secured by my Front-Bench colleagues.
As others have laid out, the regulations have been subject to widespread criticism. The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised concerns that they would result in a lighter touch prior approval process and that the changes could lead to the construction of low-quality housing. In fact, there has been report after report, piece after piece of evidence, in that regard. Even the Government’s own research, published in July, shows that permitted development rights lead to lower quality development and worrying impacts on space and overcrowding. It noted that only 22.1% of dwelling units created in this way would meet the nationally prescribed space standards, compared with 73.4% of units created through full planning permission. Furthermore, in January, the Local Government Association found that thousands of affordable homes had been lost through permitted development rights. It called for permitted development rules to be scrapped and for local communities to have a vital say on new developments in their area.
It is obvious that the consequence of removing the requirement for planning permission results in the removal of the requirement for affordable housing at the worst possible time—all in the name of the Government’s planning reforms, which have already been aptly described as a developers’ charter. Many are concerned about the watering down of what some perceive to be already limited requirements for developers to build affordable housing, known as section 106 requirements. The housing and homelessness charity Shelter points out that the majority of social homes being built now are being built under those requirements and warns that we desperately need to build more social homes, not to put the already pitiful trickle at risk.
What the Government call red tape is what housing experts recognise as important protections against unsafe and low-quality housing. Will the Minister explain why he has seen fit to pursue measures, such as the regulations before us today, that are likely to result in poorer quality housing and a reduction in affordable housing?
It is no surprise that the planning reforms were announced just weeks after the controversy surrounding the Westferry Printworks development in my constituency, which many saw as further evidence that the Government are more interested in serving billionaires than the interests of local people. Tax haven-using Northern & Shell’s ongoing clash with Tower Hamlets council has shown that the system is not fit for purpose and that we need more transparency and accountability in planning processes, not the deregulation that the measures today represent.
Although approval for the Westferry Printworks development has been withdrawn, I understand the case remains live and is to be decided soon. Will the Minister commit to publishing viability assessments in future relevant cases where affordable housing and site values are contested? Will he commit to do so for the Westferry Printworks development before the case is decided by another Minister, and confirm that he will not simply let companies do their own viability assessments, untested?
Local people really need assurances. Many people in Poplar and Limehouse cannot understand why luxury development after luxury development continues to pop up, given the local housing crisis and the fact that the borough is so overcrowded and densely populated. It is utterly incomprehensible that, at this juncture in time, the Government are further empowering developers at the expense of local people.
When will the Government ensure that developers make their buildings safe, given that there are still 300 high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings with unsafe cladding, including in my borough, and not offload costs unfairly on to residents and leaseholders? Perhaps the Minister can explain how on earth recent history has led to the decision that further deregulation of the housing sector is needed, along with less scrutiny of developers. I would also like the Minister to explain to me how these regulations will impact on the BAME community in particular.
I invite all Members, especially the Ministers, to come and have a look at an example of permitted development that is probably the worst and most shocking that I have ever seen over my 40 years working in housing and then as an MP. It is a warehouse in the middle of an industrial estate, where the neighbour is a tip yard, a skip lorry site or a factory that processes food. It is a warehouse converted into 86 flats in the middle of one of south London’s busiest industrial estates—far from the train, far from the buses and nowhere near a school. These flats were never intended for people who had an alternative. These flats were always intended for homeless families as temporary accommodation, and they were intended as bait for desperate councils. I say to the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), whom I greatly admire, that councils are not housing people in these places because they want to cleanse them; they are doing it because they are desperate and they have nowhere else to put people.
If Ministers would like to see permitted development at its worst, they should come with me to Connect House. They should come and see the flats, which are so small that babies cannot learn to walk because they simply do not have the space, and children have nowhere to play because outside is the car park of the factory opposite. Ministers should come and watch the juggernauts run up and down the main streets of this industrial estate. If they have children, they would be terrified at the prospect of their children being on that street, and it is no different for any of the families forced to live in Connect House. The developers will tell them, “We were allowed to do this, and therefore it must be okay.” They should come and have a look, and see if they think that it is okay.
It does not matter what planning regime Ministers have, for if they do not have a view about how people live and where they should live, it is not going to work. I am not a nimby, but I would like to suggest to Ministers that they start considering building on the un-green green belt. I know it is easy for a Back Bencher to say that, because we are not going to take the abuse that Ministers will take, but there are plans where they could build up to 1 million new homes on old green-belt land, close to London train stations, to give people the real opportunity of a home to buy or a home to rent.
The only way this Government or any Government will ever get to the target of 300,000 homes is by ensuring that at least half of them are built by councils and housing associations. We have not met that target since 1964, when half were social housing units. That is not just my rabid, Labour view, but the view of Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission. Why would the private sector build 300,000 homes when they cannot sell them and when property values have reduced? If the Ministers want to see the numbers, they have to intervene, and if they intervene, it has to be with homes they would be willing to live in.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made some very fair points on space standards that we looked at in the Select Committee when I was a member. She will be aware that the Government have brought forward these new proposals to make sure that there are space standards in permitted developments. That is why I support the proposals in principle, although there are one or two points of detail that I would like to raise.
The hon. Lady painted one side of the picture, but I have seen many developments in my constituency and just outside it that are conversions of redundant office buildings that are not being used any more into perfectly adequate, nice apartment blocks for young first-time buyers. Clearly there is a lot of merit behind permitted development, which has delivered 60,000 homes in the past few years in terms of additional stock. That is partly how this Government have doubled housing delivery since the lows of 2009. There is a lot to commend in the Government’s action on this.
Statutory Instrument No. 755 seems to say that any two-storey property, pretty much anywhere in the country —there is no geographic restriction, as I understand it—be it a three-bed semi in Thirsk, Malton, Harrogate or wherever else, can have two more storeys put on top of it as long as it is no more than 3.5 metres higher than the neighbouring property. I worry about the street scene in that situation. It is the same for terraced houses as well. It may be appropriate in some parts of London where it would not impact adversely on the local street scene, but I wonder whether it would be appropriate in some parts of the country. I urge Ministers to consider whether more controls should be put in place in relation to certain parts of the country where that would not be appropriate.
Similarly, paragraph AB.2 allows a commercial property such as a takeaway or shop of two storeys to have two more storeys put on top of it, with, again, the 3.5 metre height restriction. Again, that could impact the street scene in certain parts of our towns, cities and suburbs. Another point is that lot of these kinds of properties are owned in self-invested personal pensions. They are commercial properties. Ministers will be aware, as I have raised this on a number of occasions, that residential property, even a rented property, cannot be put as a separate dwelling on top of a commercial property if it is owned in a personal pension and held in a pension wrapper, which is restricting supply in many towns and cities. We should change that to allow it to be the case as long as the properties were delivered for social rent at half market value to encourage development of such properties on their upper floors. If I look down the streets in Thirsk, I will see lots of instances where this is the case. This is a real opportunity to deliver more housing above shops in our city centres.
On the other planning reforms that are being brought forward, I very much support the zoning element. I do worry about some of the underlying assumptions, though, which are driving the high number of properties in certain locations with low affordability, and therefore expensive house prices. I am not convinced that simply building lots of houses in expensive areas is going to lower prices to the degree that Ministers obviously want.
This set of SIs is an answer to a massively important question about how we build more homes that are fit for communities, but the answer is blindingly obviously the wrong one. There is no evidence that planning logjams such as those to which the SIs are meant to be a solution are the problem. Some 40% of homes with planning permission over the past 10 years have not been built.
We need to look instead at some of the other reasons we are not building the houses that we need. It is about, for example, the lack of funding for local authorities—the lack of understanding that we need to directly intervene through council housing and social rented housing to provide the homes that we need. It is also about the fact that the price of land is so utterly prohibitive. It would be much more sensible in this time of rapid and urgent legislation to tackle the Land Compensation Act 1961 and reduce the value of land as a whole so that we get more houses built that are affordable.
The relaxation of permitted development rights has, as we heard from the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), already reduced quality. The Government’s own commission reported that seven out of 10 buildings built under the existing rights lacked adequate light and ventilation, and were, as the hon. Gentleman said, creating the slums of tomorrow.
That was not always the way the Conservative party approached social rented housing, by the way. Harold Macmillan, when housing Minister, did tremendous work. He was the one behind the Parker Morris standard: really good quality council houses, with lots of good space around them. Council houses can be good houses, and that is what they need to be. [Interruption.] If I have got something wrong there, I will give way.
I am delighted to take the correction. And there was me praising a Conservative! What Macmillan did do was build numbers, and the estates of the ’50s were certainly better than the estates of the ’60s, but I do indeed stand corrected.
The biggest concern I think many of us will have is the undermining of democracy: communities having what will be done to them dictated to them, without them having the ability to contradict or to say otherwise. If you are somebody who represents two national parks, the lakes and the dales, and the wonderful communities within them—Grange, Kendal and others—you will be particularly worried about what that means. We are not nimbys, by the way.
I am grateful for that intervention, because I am about to talk about that.
The key point is simply this. South Lakeland District Council, a Liberal Democrat majority authority, has built well over 1,000 social rented homes. What we are talking about is not saying no to development; we are talking about saying yes to the right kind of development, and being able to have power and community control over where those houses are built and what kind of houses are built. Local control means better quality.
That is what worries me most about not just these proposals today, but the suite of proposals they sit alongside in the White Paper. We need to able to build the homes we need. It is absolutely infuriating that we have to say yes to private developments of executive homes that we do not need in order to crowbar in a handful of affordables. The average house price in my constituency is £260,000. The average household income is £26,000. It is obvious why we lose a third of our young people. Our communities, our council, our national parks want to be able to build houses, but build the right houses so that there are homes for local people in the lakes, the dales and the rest of the south lakes. The replacement of section 106, as proposed separately by the Government, risks, as has been reported to me by our local housing associations, at least 50% of their developments. That will not do anything to meet the needs of people in my communities.
There is also a particular concern—I will finish with this—that the Government are planning to say that developments of up to 50 units would not have to take any affordables as part of that proposal. I can tell hon. Members that in our communities we very rarely get developments of larger than 50 units. This set of proposals would lead to the removal of any affordable homes being built in the south lakes for the foreseeable future. It seems to me that there are many stakeholders the Government could have listened to when bringing forward these and similar proposals. The only stakeholders they have listened to appear to be the biggest of the developers. They have carved out our communities and caved into the big developers.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I start by endorsing what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers). We both represent London suburban seats. I give the Ministers credit for having moved to meet some of our concerns in a number of areas, but I have to say that they have not gone far enough. There is a real problem here and a broad-brush approach does not meet the needs of the particular pressures faced by many London suburbs. I welcome, for example, that we are limiting this to post-1948. That is some protection for the between-the-wars semis and terraces, which are a great feature of much of suburban London and many other cities, but there are still many streets with good-quality post-war developments that could be damaged, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) said, so we still have further to go. That is why, although I will not oppose these measures, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet, I cannot join the Government in the Lobby tonight to support them either, because we have concerns.
The big rub will be that we cannot go down the route of linking these measures to the wholly unacceptable growth in the housing requirement, be it through an algorithm or a formula. Bromley is already building to its current requirement and simply cannot take the wholly unrealistic numbers that are proposed. My concern is that diminishing local control will not assist in that. I was glad to see the reference to Harold Macmillan. I am a great Macmillan fan—after all, he was MP for Bromley for the second half of his career—and he got it right in building 300,000 houses. I gently say to the Secretary of State that Harold did that while respecting the local rights that were provided for in the Housing Act 1949. He did not do it by relaxing development controls; he did it through other means and determination, so this is not the route we have to go down. That is why I think that the extension of permitted development is a false route for us to be taking. It has its place, but it needs careful constraints, and I do not think we have quite achieved that.
I also endorse what my hon. Friend Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) said about the serious failure—from my point of view, perhaps the most serious—of these SIs, which offer no protection for leaseholders in flats. Constituents of mine in Northpoint, which I have raised in the House on a number of occasions, suffer from having the freehold owned by an offshoot of the Tchenguiz property empire, whose behaviour towards those people has been disgraceful. The idea of enriching them is, I am afraid, simply not something that I can countenance. I cannot support a set of orders that do not yet give adequate protection to leaseholders.
What we really need in Bromley is affordable family housing. That is where the pressure is. People want to move to the London suburbs—they will endure the commute in and out—because they want space for their kids, gardens, and easy accessibility to parks and so forth. The trouble is that these SIs are making it easier to build yet more flatted units, which is not what we need to maintain the proper social mix in outer London suburbs such as ours.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has moved on space standards. I give credit for that, but again there is still a real concern about whether the prior approval regime will be sufficient to maintain high standards, because in both Bromley and Beckenham town centres we have seen too many instances of low-quality development. I have a real problem with the idea of taking a semi-detached house and putting two storeys on top, as a separate, self-contained dwelling. That is creating a separate house effectively, turning it into flats in all but name, which should not be done through a waiver of the permitted development process. There should be a proper planning application for that.
I would like to briefly address my remarks to both the SIs and the wider changes that the Government propose to make to planning policy. I also endorse the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) about some unscrupulous developers.
My first concern is about the proposals to increase the number of houses that can be built in many parts of England, which could lead to a significant growth in unwanted developments on green land, such as the countryside near Woodley and Earley in my constituency. I should add that, as other Members have pointed out, there is a plentiful supply of brownfield land in many towns and cities, including in the Thames valley, and in Reading there is a great deal of brownfield that could be developed.
The sheer size of the increase in house building numbers in the countryside could cause significant problems for our community, from both the loss of green spaces and the knock-on effects, in terms of increased traffic and pollution, and pressure on schools, doctors surgeries and other local services. Some of these problems are indeed all too obvious already in Woodley and Earley, where there has been a great deal of development.
Secondly, to make matters worse in the longer term, the Government have announced that they want to deregulate the planning system, making it far easier for developers to build exactly what they like. These SIs include a foretaste of exactly those measures, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) mentioned earlier. I am particularly concerned about the measure to allow two-storey redevelopments without planning permission, which my hon. Friend the Member Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) mentioned. Just imagine the likely impact of that on neighbours in terraced streets in Victorian neighbourhoods around the country, where there will be serious concerns about people being overlooked and their whole quality of life turned upside down by unwanted development led by the needs of developments, not local people. Surely that is why we have planning in the first place—to give everybody a fair say and to let local people raise reasonable concerns about planning, not to allow developers to ride roughshod over residents.
Thirdly, in my opinion, the Government are not doing anywhere near enough to encourage the right mix of development, and Berkshire is a prime recipient of that poor mix. There are far too many executive flats and expensive houses, and there is a limited supply of family housing, which has been mentioned by colleagues from across the country. I believe that there should be a major programme of investment in council house building and in other forms of affordable rented properties and homes to buy, and that renters should be protected from the unscrupulous nature of some landlords to ensure proper standards of quality and affordability.
These three areas of policy where the Government are letting the public down amount to a serious failure for residents in Reading and Woodley and, indeed, across the country. I am afraid that the Government are simply heading in the wrong direction, and I urge Ministers to think again.
I rise to oppose these three SIs. The planning system exists specifically to address and balance often conflicting demands: public versus private; local community versus national requirements; environment versus the economy; and financial capital versus human need. Every planning application is judged against clear policies and clear demands, and every planning decision considers quality as well as quantity. It is a transparent and accountable process that enables community involvement. Permitted development rights were introduced to reduce bureaucracy in specific, clearly understood circumstances, but these SIs put a coach and horses through the normal system of judging and determining a proposed development.
I had 30 years of involvement in the town planning system before being elected to this place, and these instruments give me a terrible sense of déjà vu. In 2013, the Government introduced an extension of permitted development rights; then, as now, there was cross-party and cross-sector opposition. Why? Because extending PDR created, and will create, new slums of substandard housing, over which local planning authorities have little or no control and there is little or no opportunity for community input.
Now the Government have come back for more, ignoring the conclusions of their Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. Although they have conceded, after a lot of pressure, on minimum light and space standards, there are still major concerns about issues such as neighbour impact, access, parking, play and amenity space, and of course the proposals remove section 106 contributions from larger developments to the community on things such as affordable housing, traffic and transport improvements. As a member of the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform, I also share the concerns of my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), and of the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) about the implications for leaseholders.
Where is the evidence that these SIs will deliver more homes? There are 318,000 homes granted planning permission between 2011 and 2018 that remain unbuilt. The Government say that these measures will provide affordable housing for younger people, but there is no evidence that suggests they will. In my west London constituency, even a substandard rabbit hutch would still be affordable only to a young person working on a City of London salary who has a chunky deposit from the bank of mum and dad. As usual, families on UK average and below-average incomes remain invisible to Ministers.
There is, of course, inconsistency between the high-falutin’ intentions in the White Paper about sustainability and quality, and what will actually happen when these SIs are implemented. Speculators and owners will be able to use these regulations to avoid all the normal conditions that are to be expected when someone goes through the normal application process, which are there to address the principles of planning that I listed at the start of my speech, and of course they will avoid community engagement.
If the Government think that we are worried unnecessarily about these issues around standards and that it will all be all right, why do this in the first place, when we have a perfectly adequate planning system? We will see yet more homes that are bad for those living in them now, bad for their neighbours, and bad for those living in them in the future.
I will do my best, Madam Deputy Speaker. I speak as a local councillor in Luton, and I and many of my constituents have considerable concerns about the impact of permitted development rights on housing in Luton and the Government’s proposed changes that we are debating, which mean the problems will only proliferate. Whether we are talking about a young person trying to get on the housing ladder, a family on the council housing waiting list, or a renter stuck in an unfit flat, the plans to extend permitted development rights will not improve their situation. These statutory instruments, alongside the planning White Paper consultation, amount to a developers’ charter that will give developers increased powers to build poor-quality housing, permanently remove shops from high streets, change the shape of our town centres and build towering extensions, all at odds with the interests of local people.
We do need to increase the quantity of housing, but that should not be at the expense of the quality of housing. I have heard much said about beautiful terraces and crescents. Well, look at what has happened already, and I was very taken by the description from my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) of children not being able to play. That happens in my constituency. Children kick a ball down the high street because that is the only place they can go. That is not good enough for the children in my constituency, which is why I am here today.
Bypassing planning permission and section 106 obligations means that local communities are unable to object to inappropriate developments, and developments can escape any contribution to the delivery of affordable housing and local infrastructure needs. In fact, the Local Government Association stated this year that 13,500 affordable homes were lost through office conversions. We are in the midst of a housing crisis, and expanding PDR is not the antidote. Today’s motion demonstrates that the Government do not understand how PDR is impacting on our communities. Reforms are leading to the wrong homes in the wrong places. In Luton, a number of office buildings have been converted into temporary accommodation, housing a variety of individuals with complex needs, within an air quality management area along a four-lane inner ring road. This was allowed only under PDR, and it will only increase if we can then freely expand by two more storeys, and that is not good enough.
The Government should listen to the report that they commissioned, which stated 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.”
If they will not listen to their own report, they should listen to the local councillors on Luton Borough Council, from three parties, who all voted unanimously to oppose PDR.
I am grateful for this wide-ranging and interesting debate and to the hon. Members on both sides who have contributed to it. I hope that I shall be able to cover most of the points raised during my remarks, but I am always happy to discuss the points that colleagues wish to raise beyond the Chamber.
In June, the Prime Minister announced the most radical reforms to our planning system since the second world war, making it easier to build better homes where people want to live. These regulations that we are debating tonight are important levers in our ambitions to build, build, build as we recover from the economic effects of covid-19. They encourage developers and property owners to see the opportunities that already exist to increase housing delivery by the more imaginative use of existing buildings. That includes building in airspace or demolishing and rebuilding vacant buildings.
During these difficult times, we want to ensure that the construction industry continues to increase the delivery of the new homes that our country so sorely needs. We cannot sit back, as the Opposition seem so fond of doing, and just wait. We have to be fiercely proactive in helping communities and developers to bring forward these much needed new homes through carefully controlled permitted development rights. Removing red tape from the application process will encourage developers to step up and build out, providing a real boost for the construction industry while also delivering new homes in our existing towns and cities.
The three statutory instruments being considered today introduced new permitted development rights to allow the upward extension of buildings, creating new homes and extra living space, and they came into force in August. They also allow for the demolition and rebuild of vacant commercial, light industrial and residential buildings, enabling decaying properties to be redeveloped for a new generation of good-quality housing. This builds on our national planning policy to boost housing density and make effective use of existing land and buildings without the need to use and build on greenfield sites. We encourage these moves toward gentle densification.
Through the prior approval process, communities and local authorities will have rights to say yes or to say no, and I shall say more about that. Existing permitted development rights for the change of use to residential properties already make an important contribution to housing delivery, helping us meet our ambitious plans for 300,000 new homes per year, but we have no intention of reneging on that ambitious commitment. That is why, in June, we introduced rights to allow an additional two storeys to be added to free- standing residential blocks of flats, and in July we extended that to allow for two storeys to be added to a range of existing buildings in both commercial and residential use to create new homes.
It should be remembered that landlords, including registered providers and local authorities, are able to use that right to add additional homes to their existing blocks, making it easier to increase the supply of affordable housing as well as market-rate homes. That will unlock over 8,000 new homes—not 800 but 8,000—every year. Eight thousand new dream homes for their residents, every one of which Labour is planning to oppose. By speeding up and simplifying the planning process, the permitted development rights will green-light schemes that might not otherwise come forward.
However, we must all acknowledge that not all existing buildings will be suitable for conversion, and so, to make it easier to reuse sites occupied by redundant and vacant buildings, we have introduced the new permitted development right to allow such buildings to be demolished and rebuilt as residential blocks of flats within the existing footprint, and to make better use of the site. The right also allows an additional two storeys to be added to the height of the original building. That right will support regeneration by delivering additional homes and redeveloping vacant, unused and unloved brownfield sites, which blight local communities. New homes, new opportunities, new dreams—hopes that will be dashed if Labour votes against these measures tonight.
I will not give way. As a further safeguard, the local planning authority must advertise the prior approval applications and consult the owners and occupiers of any block being developed, as well as adjoining premises, to ensure that local voices are heard. We recognise, however, that further local consideration of all these proposals is needed, so the rights require prior approval by the local authority on a number of key planning matters before permitted developments can proceed. That ensures that local amenity effects can be considered. The look and the design of the new additions are also taken into account. The age of the building can be taken into account. In these cases, the rights provide for the local authority to grant or refuse prior approval. Conservation rights, listed buildings and scheduled monuments, areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks are also excluded from these rights.
My right hon. Friend refers to the right to refuse prior approval on the basis of the external appearance of what is planned. Does that include the right to turn down developments that are considered to be out of character with the surrounding neighbourhood? That is a key pillar of the planning system, and if that was part of the prior approval process, it would provide a lot of assurance to people who are worried about what is proposed.
Character and aspect are important, and if the proposed building were to be out of character with what is already there, the local authority would be quite within its rights to deny prior approval.
To ensure that homes delivered under permitted development rights are of the quality that people want and expect, the regulations we have introduced include a requirement for adequate natural light to be provided in all habitable homes.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will carry on, but I am always happy to speak to him beyond the Chamber, as we have done on several occasions in the recent past. If I have time, I will give way to him at the end of my remarks.
While independent research by my Department shows that the vast majority of homes built through permitted development rights are no different in terms of quality from those that come through ordinary planning applications, I have heard powerful representations from Members across the House—including from my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who have been tireless advocates on this issue—that there are a small number of developers who abuse these rights to build homes that are unacceptably small.
Those bad developers are damaging the credibility of these rights, which are crucial for regenerating brownfield land across our country. That is why I am pleased to confirm today that the Government will stamp this out once and for all. We will legislate so that all homes built through permitted development rights must meet space standards. They will be required to meet the nationally described space standards that the Government have already published, which will mean that permitted development rights can no longer be seen as a route to undercut housing standards. This Government will fight for increased standards and improved quality of design. We want to build more, we want to build better and we want to build beautiful.
We want to support local authorities through this change. That is why we have separately introduced a fee for new homes created under these rights of £334 per unit. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) knows that, because he sat opposite me when we debated the SI, and he did not say no to it. The money is there to help local authorities.
It seems that Labour has already decided—it has decided to say no. It is turning its back on the people it used to represent. It does not want to build homes for hard-working, aspirational owners and renters because it failed to build them, and it is ashamed to admit that. Look at the failure of Mayor Khan in London. Look at the failure of the Labour Administration in Wales, where in 2018 they built just 57 council homes. Could they do worse? Yes, they could: last year, they built just 12—not even enough to house a Welsh rugby team. That is the failure of the Labour party to build decent homes for people in this country.
We will not follow Labour’s route. We will continue to support and build the homes that this country needs with an unwavering commitment and priority. We will build homes for first-time buyers. We will build affordable homes for renters. We will reimagine and rebuild our brownfield sites and town centres. These regulations are an important tool in helping us drive up delivery by simplifying and speeding up the planning system. I call upon the House to reject the negative views of the Labour party and support our determination to build and build and build again for the people of this country, who deserve good homes.
I thank Members from across the House for all the powerful contributions made today. I am sorry that I cannot acknowledge them all, but I am limited in time. Although we recognise the Government’s last-minute concession on space, resulting from our motion, and the work of campaigners from across the country in the housing and planning sector, the fact remains that this is a developer’s charter. It will enrich them, freeholders and overseas investors to the tune of billions. As has been said eloquently by Members from right across the House, it will create vandalism in our streets, communities, villages and high streets; lobbing two storeys on semi-detached houses and on flats—flats cladded with flammable materials—is nonsense. It is not building back better, building back safer—it is nonsense. As for affordable housing, 6,400 social houses last year—
One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the Deputy Speaker put the Questions (Order, 24 September.)
The Deputy Speaker then put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time.
Town and Country Planning
Motion made, and Question put,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 755), dated 20 July 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21 July 2020, be annulled.—(Mike Amesbury.)
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Town and Country Planning
Motion made, and Question put,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 756), dated 20 July 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21 July 2020, be annulled.—(Mike Amesbury.)
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.