Industry News Eleanor Bateman 11/04/2024

Could the relaxation of permitted development rights hit housing standards?

The UK’s housing crisis is undeniable. But the reasons behind it are more contested – planners, developers and the Government are variously criticised for the lack of supply. What is clear is that numerous attempts to increase housebuilding have failed, making an affordable home out of reach for many.  

The Government believes that deregulation of the planning system will help to generate the scale of building needed. However, the most recent reform attempt was shelved after the Chesham and Amersham by-election, and the proposed ‘rules based’ planning system has not materialised.  

Nearly three years on and, rather than implementing any comprehensive changes to the planning system – or indeed tackling other barriers to housebuilding – the Government seems intent on tinkering with permitted development rights in an effort to boost housing supply.  

What is permitted development? 

Permitted development refers to development that can be undertaken without the need for planning permission. Permitted development rights were introduced in 1947 to help simplify the planning process for minor development that has minimal planning impact.  

However, since 2015, 19 reforms to permitted development rights have been introduced, allowing the conversion of high street properties, commercial units, and agricultural buildings into dwellings, often without the scrutiny of the local planning authority. 

Is permitted development a good thing? 

Yes and no. Permitted development was intended to increase flexibility in the planning system and free-up local planning authority resources. It allows for certain changes of use, for instance converting cafés and offices into residential dwellings, and enables householders to extend their homes with relative ease. On the face of it, these are benefits.  

However, the mechanism is increasingly being used to support housing delivery, and incremental deregulation of permitted development rights has arguably complicated the process. Concerningly, a growing mass of evidence suggests that dwelling spaces created via permitted development often fail to meet minimum safety and quality standards.  

Permitted development schemes are also not subject to developer contribution requirements, meaning much-needed funding for local infrastructure and affordable housing is foregone.  

What changes have been proposed? 

A consultation launched in February 2024 outlines plans to increase allowable limits for extensions constructed through permitted development, as well as changes to the permitted development right allowing for certain buildings to be demolished and rebuilt as dwellings. It also includes plans to ease restrictions on installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure and air source heat pumps.  

The proposals under consideration may appear minor – an increase of one metre in the maximum depth for smaller, single-storey rear extensions on detached homes and the removal of property age restrictions on the existing permitted development right to extend upwards. But the continued extension of rights threatens to undermine good quality placemaking, produce sub-standard housing, and reduce the amount of outdoor space and urban green infrastructure. 

What does the NRLA want to see? 

The NRLA wants more homes to be built across all tenures. Yet, as well as an increase in supply, we want to ensure that the homes created – whether through full planning approval or permitted development – are in the right places, meet (if not exceed) minimum safety and quality standards, and contribute to wider placemaking efforts.  

We support the use of permitted development rights to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure and air source heat pumps – this is precisely the kind of development that should benefit from a streamlined process. But we are concerned that further extensions to permitted development rights tip the balance too far and undermine a local planning authority’s ability to deliver development where it is needed.  

Rather than tampering with permitted development in a somewhat last-ditch attempt to increase housing supply, the Government would do better to heed the warning of post-war Health Minister, Nye Bevan: “While we shall be judged for a year or two by the number of houses we build…we shall be judged in 10 years’ time by the type of houses we build.”  

We need a planning system that is flexible and proportionate, but we must also ensure that local communities are protected from poor quality development and provided with adequate infrastructure and services. 

Eleanor Bateman

Eleanor Bateman Senior Campaigns and Public Affairs Officer

Ellie joined the NRLA to progress its campaigning and public affairs work. Having spent six years working in town planning, Ellie became an ‘accidental landlord’ and went on to hold roles in the sales and lettings industry, both in agency and in policy and lobbying. She has amassed a wealth of experience in her 15 years working in housing at national and local levels and is passionate about making sure the needs and benefits of the private rented sector are fully recognised by Government.

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