My Lords, it is very exciting in its way. We have consulted on a package of proposals to support the high street and speed up the planning system to deliver more homes. This includes new national permitted development rights—for greater diversity on the high street and to create additional homes by extending certain buildings upwards. Decisions will be taken in due course on the introduction of any new permitted development rights, taking account of the responses received to the consultation.
I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I seek an assurance that the Government will review and evaluate the impact of the current permitted development rights—which, in my experience, have resulted in poor-quality homes in inappropriate locations and a significant loss of developer contributions for local infrastructure and social and affordable housing—before there is a further expansion, with even more development going ahead without planning permission.
My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the consultation closed on Monday. We have had more than 400 responses. One thing that people will be able to comment on is design, which I think the noble Baroness referred to tangentially. Obviously, we will want to analyse those responses before going further, but this is about ensuring that there are more homes available and seeking to liven up the high street, which is much needed.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. What does the Minister see as the risk to quality and space standards of increased permitted development rights, and what would be the benefit to our struggling high street of the loss of more shops, reducing the variety available to customers?
My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that this is not about losing shops but about permitting speedier change of use from one medium to another. It is also about looking at the ability to build up to five storeys from ground level, so it is not necessarily about losing shops. There are many vacant shops and there is a question about what we do about that, but, as I say, the consultation has just ended. We are beginning to analyse the more than 400 responses that have come in, so there is a job of work to be done, but we are very conscious of the need for more homes and to liven up the high street. Those two things are not necessarily inconsistent.
Does my noble friend recognise that the consultation was enormously welcome? Can we hope there will not be a further delay, as there has been on a large number of other consultations? As this is an important matter, can I press my noble friend that by the autumn there will be a clear statement of policy?
I thank my noble friend for his kind comments. I think he would agree that swift action is something we would want, but obviously the consultation has only just ended. We will want to bring forward legislation, dependent on the consultation and the analysis of the responses, and to do it at the earliest possible opportunity. I take very seriously what he says, but this consultation is an important one and we will be analysing those 400 responses.
My Lords, I remind the House of my declaration of interests. I also remind the Minister that since 2015, 42,130 housing units in England have been converted from offices to flats without having to go through the planning system. As a consequence of that, there have been problems, such as no Section 106 agreements, a lack of affordable housing and problems around space standards. As the Government review the consultation, will they look at whether the planning system should be strengthened to prevent poor-quality conversions, given that quite a number in the last three years have been?
My Lords, the noble Lord mentions many important facets. I take seriously what he says about design; he will be aware that we introduced that into the National Planning Policy Framework, and it certainly cropped up in the consultation so we will be looking at it closely. I am also aware of the number of conversions from offices to residences, which has certainly put us in a much stronger position than we were on housing starts and completions, and I note that the latest figures show an increase in both. I am sure that noble Lords will share in the delight at that. I take seriously the points made by the noble Lord and we will obviously analyse the consultation responses carefully.
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a much broader point. She will be aware that there is £9 billion in the Budget for this spending period in relation to affordable housing—a considerable contribution. That will, I hope, create more homes, although not necessarily affordable homes, but once again there was provision in the consultation for people to comment on this and we will look at it when we analyse the responses.
My Lords, Napoleon called us “a nation of shopkeepers” and of course 95% of the supplies that come to our shops come by sea. Does the Minister think that perhaps we need more ships to look after that, otherwise the shops will have nothing to sell?
My Lords, the noble Lord never disappoints and today is no exception. I certainly agree that we are a nation that depends very much on trade; we are also a nation that is very dependent on the sea. Both those things inform the Government’s broader policy concerns.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that not all places are the same and not all high streets are in collapse? Some are surviving, such as that in Colne, the town I live in—I declare my interest as a councillor there. Therefore, what is needed is not a new set of one-policy-fits-all rules imposed on councils but flexibility for all local councils to adopt the policies which are appropriate in their areas.
My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s view that it is important that we have that diversity. As he indicates, there are many successful high streets. He mentioned Colne but the high street awards, sponsored by my honourable friend in the other place and Visa, have also been very successful. I am pleased to say that the overall winner was Crickhowell but Altrincham was the winner in England. We are looking at many ways of promoting the high street but the noble Lord is absolutely right that one size does not fit all.