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Planning Rules

Volume 805: debated on Tuesday 28 July 2020

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their announcement on 21 July about changes to planning rules, how they intend to measure the impact on communities of (1) any further relaxation of planning rules, and (2) any increase in permitted development rights.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The new permitted development rights and changes to the use classes order that we announced on 21 July will reduce planning bureaucracy, speed up housing delivery, support homeowners and families, and help to renew our town centres. We keep all new policies under review, including in respect of their impact on housing delivery and the wider community.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he share any of the concerns expressed by a wide range of professional bodies, including the LGA and others, that the cumulative impact of these PDRs is to create the slums of the future? That is evidenced most recently by research from the noble Lord’s own Government which shows that four out of five units already created in this way do not meet the very low national minimum space standards? Can the Minister say what action the Government are taking to ensure that this does not continue in the absence of local planning permissions? Can he see how the continuous erosion of local councils’ plans and policies is undermining public confidence in the planning system, as any councillor will confirm?

My Lords, I point out that permitted development has yielded 60,000 homes that would not otherwise have been available. On the point on quality, the report raises some concerns about the quality of some of the schemes developed under permitted development rights. We have made changes in respect of requirements for adequate natural light, and that should deal with some of the issues raised in the report.

Would the Minister agree that not just windows but room size, insulation, fire safety and the quality of the heating provision are essential to ensuring that affordable social housing does not end up being, as the noble Baroness rightly described it, the slums of the future? Some of that is already revealing itself.

Space standards are of course outlined in building regulations, and there are strict requirements with regard to building safety covering all development, including permitted development. That should ensure that we see high-quality homes as a result.

I welcome this improvement on permitted development. However, in small towns it is likely that fewer than 10 units per development will be built, and so there will be no CIL money for infrastructure. Will money be allocated to the Housing Infrastructure Fund so that small towns can get the infrastructure needed around these new housing developments?

The noble Lord makes an important point about the importance of ensuring that we have adequate infrastructure to fuel the continued delivery of homes, and that the Housing Infrastructure Fund will be the means by which a number of these opportunities will be unlocked. However, this of course has to go through the spending review process.

My Lords, in view of the vital importance of improving the nation’s fitness, will my noble friend the Minister undertake to ensure that planning policy serves local needs by protecting and promoting existing sports and physical activity provision? Can he also confirm that any changes to planning rules will deliver viable management and maintenance of new and existing sports and physical activity provision for local communities?

My noble friend knows that open space, sports and recreation facilities are taken into account in the National Planning Policy Framework, and there is no suggestion made by the Government that that will not continue to be the case.

My Lords, I am a councillor. Under these changes, a local business could be demolished and replaced with flats. The existing residents would be badly affected. Such residents would contact councillors like me as they want to have their say on this development. I would have to tell them that they will have no say—their rights have been removed by this Conservative Government. Does the Minister accept that this is a fair response, and if not, what would he say?

My Lords, as someone who was a local councillor for 16 years and the leader of a council for six years, I point out that simply because you have prior approval does not mean that local communities are unable to comment. They can comment on individual applications for prior approval under the consultation requirements set out in the general permitted development order of 2015. There are ways to make your voice heard, even if there is a presumption that things will go ahead in the ways outlined in the PD rights.

My Lords, can my noble friend explain to the House what the Government’s targets and aims are for building more affordable homes that we desperately need, and how these new measures are expected to impact affordable homes supply?

These new measures are about unlocking housing potential and housing growth for the much-needed homes that we need. I point to the fact that we are investing £12 billion to build affordable homes between 2021-22 and 2025-26, which is the biggest single cash investment in affordable housing for a decade. I hope that that reassures my noble friend.

My Lords, how will the Government ensure that the health of residents will be safeguarded in permitted development rights applications? In particular, will the Government adopt the minimum standards for healthy housing advocated by the Town and Country Planning Association, which include important matters such as daylight, which has been mentioned, space, access to the natural environment, insulation for heat and for noise, and others, which are so important for people’s health and well-being?

My Lords, we cover these standards within existing building regulations, which are updated on a relatively frequent basis. It is then a matter for local authorities to adopt those as part of their local plans.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Does the noble Lord think that the planning system supports or blocks economic growth?

My Lords, the planning system can be improved. We are seeking to do that through the measures that we have outlined as a Government, and will continue to do so with more planning reforms to be announced.

My Lords, can the Minister guarantee that changes to the planning rules will not mean fewer accessible homes for disabled people, such as 50 year-old Daniel, who has to live in a care home for elderly people due to the lack of accessible homes?

My Lords, I point out that the National Planning Policy Framework is clear that local planning authorities are expected to identify all types of housing, including the housing outlined by the noble Baroness.

My Lords, what guarantees can the Minister give that we will not lose to commercial development buildings used, or empty buildings that might be used, for arts and cultural purposes at a time when those activities are extremely vulnerable? That is so important for communities and the country.

My Lords, certain uses—such as theatres, pubs and other venues—are protected in the planning rules. This will continue to ensure that we have entirely the sorts of uses that the noble Lord is seeking to protect.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the recent report of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership on the deregulation of upward extension developments? This report has calculated how great would be the profits to developers but how little would be the benefit to public housing, as well as documenting the crucial loss of rights and assets to leaseholders. Will the Minister please meet me and other noble Lords to discuss our concerns over this issue as soon as possible?

I am aware of the issue raised by noble Baroness and would be happy to meet her as soon as she is able to.

Sitting suspended.