The Royal Town Planning Institute has joined forces with other built environment professionals to call on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reverse controversial new planning regulations that will enable unused commercial buildings to be changed into homes.
In a joint letter, the RTPI, together with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Chartered Institute of Builders (CIOB) and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) press the prime minister to “urgently reconsider the measures”.
The RTPI has said the new permitted development (PD) rights that would allow change of use from commercial, business and service uses (class E) to residential use (C3) in England, risks tearing at the fabric of local communities and jeopardising the vibrancy of high streets.
The institute has also expressed grave concern that the announcement was “sneaked out” through the press during recess and before responses to the Planning for the Future white paper, or the consultation on the new regulations themselves, had been published.
The joint letter says: “Nobody can deny there is a looming crisis facing our high streets, but yesterday's [31st March] pronouncement will do nothing to help. In fact, these measures will pull the rug out from under high street businesses that you have supported throughout unprecedented circumstances. Just as they prepare to reopen with our great unlocking, their future is put in peril.
“It is counterproductive for the government to commit to reviewing business rates – with the express goal of keeping more businesses on our high streets – while simultaneously incentivising property owners to push them out.”
Previously, the RTPI had set out a series of additional prior approval matters that must be considered if the proposals go ahead. These include the impact on the provision of essential services, access to amenities such as parks for outdoor fitness and exercise, the provision of fresh air through ventilation and the quality of design.
The RTPI also set out two ‘red lines’ to prevent the creation of large areas of residential development in existing warehousing and supermarkets in highly unsuitable locations. These stipulate that there must be a size limit of 250 square metres on such change of use and the land must have been in retail or office use in December 2020.
This is to prevent the exploitation of a loophole that could see warehouses and supermarkets ending up in residential use. The RTPI supports extensions of hospitals and other premises which provide health services to the public during the Covid crisis.
The Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management said it had noted the proposals "with interest" including the amendment of permitted development rights for schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and prisons.
Chief executive Linda Hausmanis, said: "As we seek to emerge stronger economically and socially from this pandemic, we see a number of forces in play that will clearly have ramifications for how organisations and communities use their buildings and spaces in future. As the institute for professionals who can transform organisations and their performance by supporting productive work wherever it happens, we will continue to monitor developments in this area.
"We hope that new rights are exercised strategically and responsibly by organisations in consultation with the workplace and facilities management professionals who are best placed to deliver the most effective use of new and existing spaces.”
A Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: “We are overhauling the outdated planning system to give communities more control from the start of the planning process.
“These changes to Permitted Development Rights will help support our high streets by removing eyesores and transforming unused buildings into much-needed new homes.
“Measures are in place to protect existing recreational green spaces and important community assets, as well as to ensure all developers deliver high-quality, sustainable homes that meet national building regulations.”