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Revitalising High Streets and Town Centres

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 1 July 2021

As part of our ongoing measures to improve the planning system, increase housing supply on brownfield land, stimulate investment in urban areas and sustain jobs, we have in recent years introduced new permitted development rights which allow the change of use to residential without the need for a full planning application. I am pleased that, through these measures, we have made a significant additional contribution to our housing supply by utilising already developed brownfield land. We have also legislated to ensure new homes delivered via permitted development rights provide adequate daylight and meet national space standards. Our most recent reforms introduced a new right to allow change of use from commercial, business and service use to residential. This will breathe new life into commercial areas and high streets by bringing vacant buildings back into use as new high street homes, all the more important as a result of the economic disruption caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

In very specific circumstances, local authorities can make article 4 directions to suspend individual permitted development rights, when justified by robust evidence.

This written ministerial statement sets out measures I am taking to ensure that our policy on article 4 directions is used in a highly targeted way to protect the thriving core of historic high street areas, but does not unnecessarily restrict the ability to deliver much needed housing through national permitted development rights. Our new policy will apply to all article 4 directions.

We recently consulted on revised policy on article 4 directions in our consultation on the “National Planning Policy Framework and National Model Design Code: consultation proposals”, which ran from 30 January to 27 March 2021. I have reviewed our national policy in the light of the helpful responses to that consultation.

As a result, I intend to make changes to the national planning policy framework later this year, but ahead of that I wanted to announce our new policy, so that local authorities and communities can take it into account from today when they consider bringing in any new article 4 directions.

The new paragraph 53 of the national planning policy framework will read:

“The use of article 4 directions to remove national permitted development rights should:

where they relate to change from non-residential use to residential use, be limited to situations where an article 4 direction is necessary to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts (this could include the loss of the essential core of a primary shopping area which would seriously undermine its vitality and viability, but would be very unlikely to extend to the whole of a town centre);

in other cases, be limited to situations where an article 4 direction is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being of the area (this could include the use of article 4 directions to require planning permission for the demolition of local facilities);

in all cases, be based on robust evidence, and apply to the smallest geographical area possible.”

Our aim is to support high streets and by ensuring a higher threshold for making article 4 directions relating to change of use to residential we will maximise the potential for underused buildings to be converted to an alternative use. Councils should recognise the value to housing supply and increasing resident town centre footfall from supporting “flats above shops”; for example, councils can consider applying different policies to residential conversions above ground floor level. This is important to support mixed and flexible high streets, to deliver additional homes more easily, and to support jobs in the construction industry, while increasing demand for local high street services through new high street homes. This change only applies to changes from non-residential to residential use. This change does not apply to changes between different residential uses, which will enable local authorities to continue to restrict change of use from a family home to a house of multiple occupancy where that is necessary to protect local amenity or the wellbeing of an area.

Article 4 directions should be very carefully targeted, applying only to those locations where they are necessary to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts. For that reason, I want to make clear that the geographical coverage of all article 4 directions should be the smallest area possible to achieve the aim of the article 4 direction. In respect of historic high streets and town centres, this is likely to be the irreducible core of a primary shopping area. It is very unlikely to be applicable to a broad area, and is not expected to be applied to an entire local authority area. Local authorities will need to have robust evidence to justify the article 4 direction and the area it covers.

In advance of the publication of the revised national planning policy framework, I want local authorities to follow this new policy when they consider making new article 4 directions so that they can assure themselves and their communities that the article 4 direction is necessary and meets the higher threshold. Local authorities are required to notify me about new article 4 directions. I will instruct my officials to look closely at all new article 4 directions to check that they comply with the new policy, and I will consider exercising my power to intervene if they do not.