Council Set To Block ‘Undemocratic’ Permitted Development Rights From Next Year

  • Council moves to block substandard homes being built using permitted development rights
  • Use of the planning law means the views of residents and the local council are often ignored
  • If agreed, new rule would become effective in parts of Reading from October next year

Reading Borough Council will move this week to block the future use of planning laws which allow developers and owners to bypass the local democratic planning process to build substandard homes for profit.

Permitted Development Rights (PDR) allow changes to be made to a building without the need to apply for planning permission. They are increasingly used to permit conversion of commercial and retail premises to residential properties, with the views of nearby neighbours and the local council ignored.

The Council strongly opposes PDR because:

  • PDR can often lead to new residents being introduced into areas considered wholly inappropriate as a place to live, due to noise, disturbance and air quality issues. This can leave residents unhappy and the Council having to pick up the pieces at public expense
  • Flats which were previously office accommodation are often substandard, poor quality conversions with little or no outdoor space
  • More than 4 in every 5 new PDR homes are one bedroom or studio, completely ignoring the local identified need for homes of different sizes set out in the Council's Local Plan
  • 55,000 sq m of office accommodation has been lost in Reading due to PDR, with the loss of a further 31,000 sq m on the horizon. This reduces the space available to local businesses and can impact existing businesses by limiting their ability to operate and expand
  • PDR is estimated to have cost the town nearly 600 new affordable homes along with the loss of at least £3.5 million in off-site contributions to affordable housing. Nearly £4 million in planning fees and education, leisure and transport contributions, has been lost since 2013

On Thursday (Sep 23)  Reading Borough Council will vote on introducing an Article 4 direction to large areas of the town - effective from 31st October 2022 - to prevent developers and owners from harming local communities through the use of PDR.

As well as blocking commercial to residential conversions without planning permission, the Article 4 direction would also prevent adding residential storeys onto commercial buildings and demolishing commercial buildings and rebuilding them as residential units, without the local planning authority approving the plans. If approved, the direction would apply to the town centre, district and local centres, core employment areas and other primarily commercial locations, as well as areas of poorest air quality.

Proposals to put an Article 4 direction in place need to be accompanied by clear evidence to show the harm that results from the PDR. It is the view of planning officers at the Council that the proposed direction is clearly necessary to avoid wholly unacceptable impacts continuing in Reading. These reasons are set out in the September 23 Policy Committee report at https://democracy.reading.gov.uk/documents/s18374/Article%204%20Direction.pdf

Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Councillor for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:

“Owners and developers have been riding roughshod over local communities in Reading and the local planning process for many years by using PDR to force through often substandard accommodation, to the detriment of the residents and the local neighbourhoods they are located in.

 “This has been purely for profit with zero or little interest in the impact these conversions have on local communities and the people living in them. The damage this has caused to communities in Reading is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.

 “The Council is now using the powers available to it to block such conversions from October next year, which we know will be welcomed by many residents across the borough. The Article 4 direction would apply to a number of areas across the town and, given the importance of the air quality issues in Reading, to communities with the highest NO2 levels.

 “The intention of this is not to halt all changes of use or development on commercial sites to residential use. It is to give the Council more control over relevant applications through the planning process, to help protect the existing office and industrial supply and to guard against conversions which are harmful to local communities. It will also allow the consideration of other vital planning matters - such as affordable housing or amenity space provision - to be considered with change of use applications, which would not otherwise be possible with the PDR in force.

 “Reading Borough Council objected to the original introduction of office to residential PDR almost a decade ago now and has consistently objected to further roll-out of PDR ever since, including giving evidence to that effect to a House of Commons Select Committee inquiry earlier this year.

 It is absolutely essential the correct planning framework is in place nationally to enable local councils to keep an overview of local planning decisions. Councils must retain the ability to insist that developers make an appropriate contribution to local infrastructure and affordable housing, as opposed to solely increasing their profit margins at our expense.

 “I call on the new Secretary of State, Michael Gove, to endorse our proposals and reverse the damaging PDR changes introduced by his predecessors.”

Local planning authorities have powers to remove PDR through making a direction under Article 4 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development Order) 2015 (as amended) (known as the GPDO). Reading Borough Council has a number of Article 4 directions already in place in certain parts of Reading including covering changes of use from houses to small houses in multiple occupation and restrictions on alterations to a number of dwellings of particular character.

There would be a period of at least 21 days for consultation responses before the proposed Article 4 Direction could be confirmed. The Secretary of State has powers to modify and cancel directions.