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ARE ENGLAND’S HIGH STREETS UNDER THREAT FROM UNPLANNED RESIDENTIAL INCURSION?

Fears Persist as Permitted Development Moves to Next Phase

16th August 2021

At the beginning of August, permitted development rights in England were expanded. A wide range of commercial premises under the relatively new ‘Use Class E’ can be converted to homes without planning permission. This includes shops, offices, restaurants, cafes, financial services and many others uses.
 
This change has raised significant concerns across our industry. Such a change would be considered risky during normal times, but during a pandemic where businesses and property owners are struggling with debt, residential conversions could be accelerated as some landlords look for ways to exit a turbulent commercial property market with potentially negative consequences for high streets.


High Street Conversations session 'Property in Peril?' at the beginning of 2021 provided of overview of the financial challenges faced by property owners as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ATCM has lobbied extensively against this change, working with our Advisory Council to outline our position, to raise parliamentary awareness of the dangers this poses and to develop compromises that would at least achieve Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) objectives of introducing more housing on high streets whilst protecting existing businesses.

ATCM has:

  • Helped to coordinate and co-signed a joint industry response to the proposals.

  • Responded to the official MHCLG consultation.

  • Met with senior MPs to raise concerns.

  • Submitted both written and oral evidence to the HCLG Committee during a parliamentary inquiry on permitted development rights.

  • Coordinated additional parliamentary response to the proposals through the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Town Centres (APPG).

As a result, we have achieved some successes with MHCLG agreeing to important concessions. For example, both health centres and nurseries which were part of the list of non-domestic properties which could be converted without planning permission, now require prior approval. ATCM has repeatedly spoken out against the short-sightedness of their original inclusion, not least the potential loss of health centres critical to the vaccine rollout during a pandemic.

Article 4 Directions which allow for specific commercial destinations of strategic importance to be exempt from conversion will now remain in place until at least the 31st July 2022.
 
Also, the extension of the moratorium on commercial tenant evictions with the aim of giving the government time to address the issue of pandemic debt accumulation between business occupiers and landlords could prove critical in taking the pressure of landlords if the right, long-term solution can be found.

While this is welcome progress, this is not enough to stop fears persisting.
 
The Town and Country Planning Association have published a press release stating that 80% of shops on high streets could be lost to permitted development rights.

It is not just fear around the potential harm to local economies that have been raised. Little information on how permitted development rights aligns with wider planning reform has led to the HCLG Committee to recommend that MHCLG suspend the introduction of permitted development rights until further notice.

Furthermore, the Observer highlighted the dangers of poorly converted new high street homes for inhabitants due to a warming climate and more severe heatwaves.


ATCM will continue to monitor the issue of permitted development rights and work with partners to deliver a better way of bringing forward mixed-use town centres and city centres.

Huge thanks to members of our Advisory Council, Board of Directors, other members and partner organisations who have been part of a collective effort to develop better policy around the changing uses in town centres in England. ATCM will support wider efforts to monitor the impact of the introduction of permitted development and will maintain a dialogue with key individuals and organisations to ensure we get this right.

Click Here to Access the Findings of the HCLG Committee Inquiry on Permitted Development Rights