We Have Standards

Will we soon see minimum space standards for PD residential conversions? There was a hint in that James Brokenshire written statement on 13 March 2019.

I set out below in full the parts of his statement relating to PD resi and I have emboldened the relevant sentence:

The consultation, Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes closed on 14 January 2019. As confirmed in the Spring Statement it is our intention to bring forward a range of reforms. To support the high street we intend to introduce additional flexibilities for businesses. This will be to amend the shops use class to ensure it captures current and future retail models, which will include clarification on the ability of (A) use classes to diversify and incorporate ancillary uses without undermining the amenity of the area, to introduce a new permitted development right to allow shops (A1), financial and professional services (A2), hot food takeaways (A5), betting shops, pay day loan shop and launderettes to change use to an office (B1) and to allow hot food takeaways (A5) to change to residential use (C3). Additionally, to give businesses sufficient time to test the market with innovative business ideas we will extend the existing right that allows the temporary change of use of buildings from 2 to 3 years and enable more community uses to take advantage of this temporary right, enabling such premises to more easily locate on the high street. I will also shortly publish “Better Planning for High Streets”. This will set out tools to support local planning authorities in reshaping their high streets to create prosperous communities, particularly through the use of compulsory purchase, local development orders and other innovative tools.

We will take forward a permitted development right to extend upwards certain existing buildings in commercial and residential use to deliver additional homes, engaging with interested parties on design and technical details. We would want any right to deliver new homes to respect the design of the existing streetscape, while ensuring that the amenity of neighbours is considered. We will also make permanent the time-limited right to build larger single storey rear extensions to dwellinghouses and to introduce a proportionate fee. I do not intend to extend the time-limited right for change of use from storage to residential. This right will lapse on 10 June 2019. Alongside I intend to review permitted development rights for conversion of buildings to residential use in respect of the quality standard of homes delivered. We will continue to consider the design of a permitted development right to allow commercial buildings to be demolished and replaced with homes. We will also develop a ‘Future Homes Standard’ for all new homes through a consultation in 2019 with a view, subject to consultation, to introducing the standard by 2025.

[…]

I intend to implement an immediate package of permitted development right measures in the spring, with the more complex matters, including on upward extensions, covered in a further package of regulations in the autumn.”

The lack of minimum space standards in relation to residential conversions secured under permitted development rights is surely a significant flaw in the GPDO and the nature of some of the schemes that have come forward has certainly provided easy pickings for the press:

Is Harlow being used to ‘socially cleanse’ London? (Guardian, 16 March 2019)

Will these be the worst new ‘rabbit hutch’ flats in Britain? (Guardian, 2 March 2019)

This is a small part of the development industry but these stories are reputationally terrible.

The change would surely be pretty straight forward: either to require that all PD schemes where prior approval has not been obtained by a transitional date should comply with the nationally described space standard or perhaps only to require this in areas where the standard has been adopted in an up to date local plan.

The standard itself is a bit of an oddity. It was first announced by Eric Pickles in March 2015 as part of what was basically a deregulation package – a series of optional technical standards for local authorities to apply, in lieu of authorities not being able any longer to include in their plans “any additional local technical standards or requirements relating to the construction, internal layout or performance of new dwelling, such as for instance the code for sustainable homes“. The standard’s curious wording (“described” not “prescribed“) is because the present function of the standard is for it to be able to be adopted by local planning authorities in their plans “where the need for an internal space standard can be justified” (NPPF, footnote 27), so that it becomes a policy requirement against which planning applications are assessed. It is not a legal requirement, and only relevant in areas where it has been adopted as policy.

In areas which have adopted the standard it is particularly egregious that PD schemes can simply bypass it. (It is equally egregious that PD schemes are also able to bypass the affordable housing and other policy requirements that are triggered by residential conversions requiring planning permission – see the open letter from Shelter and the Local Government Association to the Secretary of State dated 21 January 2019 – and I have directly experienced some authorities then wrongly try secure those requirements by the back door when an application for planning permission for re-cladding or extra floors of development is sought).

The Government indicated in its February 2017 housing green paper that the standard was to be reviewed, to allow some greater flexibility in its operation:

1.55 The use of minimum space standards for new development is seen as an important tool in delivering quality family homes. However the Government is concerned that a one size fits all approach may not reflect the needs and aspirations of a wider range of households. For example, despite being highly desirable, many traditional mews houses could not be built under today’s standards. We also want
to make sure the standards do not rule out new approaches to meeting demand, building on the high quality compact living model of developers such as Pocket Homes. The Government will review the Nationally Described Space Standard to ensure greater local housing choice, while ensuring we avoid a race to the bottom in the size of homes on offer
. ”

Perhaps it is right that some flexibility is required, I don’t know. See for example the recent Adam Smith Institute paper Size doesn’t matter https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56eddde762cd9413e151ac92/t/5c41d02f0ebbe8aa256c361c/1547817061183/Size+Doesn%27t+Matter+—+Vera+Kichanova.pdf in which Vera Kichanova puts forward the case for micro housing.

But in any revised system we arrive at, whatever the standards that may be justified in relation to homes designed to be occupied as long-term self-contained living accommodation, care is needed before equivalent requirements are read across to other forms of living that don’t fall within use class C3, such as serviced apartments and co-living, if the baby isn’t to be thrown out with the bath water in terms of what makes these different types of living attractive and affordable for those with differing requirements or priorities.

There appears to be no sign of the review of the nationally described space standards that had been promised (although in October 2018 minimum bedroom sizes were introduced for HMOs pursuant to the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Mandatory Conditions of Licences) (England) Regulations 2018).

Perhaps the review will be part of the “Future Homes Standard” consultation to be carried out this year, according to that James Brokenshire statement, although that does not appear to be the intended focus, if the statement made on 21 March 2019 to the House of Lords by Lord Bourne, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Housing, Communities and Local Government, is anything to go by:

The Government will consult later this year on our plans to introduce the future homes standard for new-build homes to be future-proofed with low-carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. Separately, the Government are currently working on a review of accessibility standards for new homes.”

As always, piecing together what is planned is like putting together a jigsaw, the picture for which is in parts just fog.

Finally, a plug for the best book on the subject, freely available via this link: One Hundred Years of Housing Space Standards: What Now? by Julia Park (January 2017).

Simon Ricketts, 23 March 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning law firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

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