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

Dual Purpose

I need to declare an interest as I’ve recently been acting for an electronic communications code operator but…

Ouseley J’s ruling in Westminster City Council v Secretary of State & New World Payphones Limited (5 February 2019) raises more questions than some of the media headlines would suggest.

Background

New World Payphones is the operator of an electronic communications network for the purposes of the Communications Act 2003 and the Town and Country (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

It proposed replacing two existing telephone boxes with a single new kiosk on Marylebone Road. It had made two applications to Westminster City Council: an application under the GPDO for a determination as to whether its prior approval was required for the new kiosk and at the same time an application for express consent under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 for the “display of illuminated digital advertisement panel…as part of new telephone kiosk“. The panel was to be on the rear of the proposed kiosk.

Westminster City Council refused both applications. New World Payphones appealed. The inspector allowed the appeal against refusal of prior approval under the GPDO and refused the appeal against refusal of express consent under the Control of Advertisements Regulations.

Westminster City Council then challenged the decision to allow the prior approval appeal.

The legislation

In brief summary, Class A of Schedule 2 Part 16 of the GPDO gives deemed permission for:

A. Development by or on behalf of an electronic communications code operator for the purpose of the operator’s electronic communications network in, on , over or under land controlled by that operator or in accordance with the electronic communications code consisting of –
(a) the installation, alteration or replacement of any electronic communications apparatus
….”

If the apparatus comprises a public call box, a determination is required from the local planning authority as to whether prior approval is needed for the siting and appearance of the development.

It should also be noted that whilst an illuminated advertisement needs express consent under the Control of Advertisements Regulations, there is automatic deemed consent for a non-illuminated advertisement on one glazed surface of a telephone kiosk, subject to certain restrictions.

Westminster City Council’s submissions

Ouseley J summarised Westminster’s grounds of challenge as follows:

⁃ “the grant of prior approval was outside the powers conferred by the GPDO because the new kiosk was not “for the purpose” of the operator’s electronic communication network, but instead was primarily for the purpose of advertising via the illuminated panel.”

⁃ “the Inspector had ignored an issue which it raised, namely that there was no need for the proposed kiosk. There had to be a need for the proposal before it could come within the scope of permitted development in Class A of Part 16 of the GPDO, and before consideration of its siting and appearance could be relevant. Third, as a form of belt and braces, it contended that the Inspector’s approach to the need for and purpose behind the proposed kiosk was irrational or inadequately reasoned.”

Ground 1

The judge didn’t accept the council’s formulation that that the “provision of communications facility had to be the dominant or primary purpose in order for the development to come within the scope of Part 16” and that the “operator’s purpose was to be identified by the reason for which he proposed the development.” According to the council:

A differently designed and smaller communications facility could be provided were it not for the advertising panel component of the design. This also showed what its dominant purpose was, as did New World Payphones’ statement in its written representations that a kiosk would only be replaced if both prior approval and advertisement consent were granted. The dominant purpose could not be the provision of the electronic communications facility if, in the absence of the advertising panel, the electronic communications facility would not be provided.”

The judge approached the issue in a different way, starting by considering the nature and purpose of the GPDO. “If there were no GPDO, a specific planning application would have to be made for all the developments which benefit from the general permission it gives. A whole array of different types of development, are regarded as fit for permission, subject to specific conditions. For some, and Part 16 Class A is one of them, the relevant material considerations are taken into account in the grant of the general permission, provided that certain specific material considerations are resolved through a specific decision-making process. Those specific considerations vary from one type of development to another. That restricted range of considerations is established because the others have already been resolved in favour of the type of development proposed. The restricted range is clearly tailored to the specific type of development at issue. However, the general range of considerations have not been resolved in relation to a development which does not come within the Class relied on, and the issues for specific consideration have not been tailored to such a development. The definition of the Class has to be interpreted in that light.

In my view, that means that the whole development for which prior approval is sought must fall within the Class relied on, and no part of it can fall outside it. Otherwise, the general permission in the GPDO, and the restricted range of considerations would be applied to development which falls outside the scope of the permission.”

A development therefore falls outside the scope of Class A Part 16 if it is not “for the purpose” of the operator’s network. That means, at least in the specific context of a GPDO permission, that a proposed development falls outside it, if part of it falls outside it. It cannot be said that the whole falls within the GPDO. The benefits of the GPDO, a quicker process, the limited range of material considerations, and the restricted range of conditions would be used for a development, part of which they were not intended for, and which had not been judged to merit permission on that basis. A development which is partly “for the purpose” of the operator’s network, and partly for some other purpose, is not a development “for the purpose” of the operator’s network, precisely because it is for something else as well. The single dual purpose development must be judged as a whole.”

I do not consider that the question is whether the dominant purpose is for the operator’s network, although for certain purposes that is how a statutory purpose is judged. In the context of planning law, the concept of dual or mixed uses does not turn on dominant or secondary purposes: thus a farm, when a farm shop was added, would be used for mixed purpose of agriculture and retail; similarly a house with an office use in a part of it, would not be “residential” but a mixed use. The other use would create a mixed or dual use unless it was incidental or ancillary to the identified use, which would mean that it was part of that use and not a separate use at all, or was legally so small as to be of no significance, de minimis. I consider that the GPDO should be analysed by reference to concepts with which planning law is familiar, rather than by dominant or primary /secondary considerations.”

I do not consider that the evidence here could permit of any conclusion other than that the kiosk served a dual purpose. Part of its purpose was for the operator’s network, as a telephone kiosk. Part of it was to be the electrified advertising panel. The panel was for the purpose of displaying advertisements. It was not ancillary or incidental to the kiosk, nor legally insignificant. It does not matter whether it would have been lit if no advertisements were displayed. No relative significance has to be attributed to either part of the dual purpose; it is sufficient if the two purposes exist without the advertising use being ancillary or incidental or of no legal significance.

Ground 2

The judge rejected the council’s argument that it was relevant for a decision maker to consider whether there was a “need” for the kiosk.

The text of Class A was intended to be quite simple, and would not have been intended to import some objective “need” test, or to involve the local authority questioning precisely why the operator “required” the kiosk, and judging how good a reason that was. This would contradict the essential feature of the GPDO which is to narrow the range of considerations which a decision-maker has to consider, in order to streamline certain aspects of the planning system.”

It’s not straight-forward

I say that for a few reasons:

1. The ruling was based on the facts of the case: a proposed illuminated/digital advertisement panel and two applications having been made, one being for the display of an illuminated advertisement. Plainly the ruling can’t read across to every telephone kiosk, even those that allow for a facility to display a non-illuminated advertisement with the benefit of deemed consent under the Control of Advertisement Regulations. After all, what purpose would the deemed consent mechanism (specifically directed at telephone kiosks) serve if any kiosk that allowed for such an advertisement, by definition, did not have prior approval under the GPDO? Kiosks such as the BT image below have long been a familiar part of the UK street scene for many years (ah London 2012…)

The idea that some advertising on the surface of telephone kiosks can be considered to be inherent or ancillary, and indeed specifically is controlled by a code within the Control of Advertising Regulations that has specific criteria as to what advertisements on telephone kiosks should have automatic consent and therefore legally irrelevant at prior approval stage, is surely reflected in previous rulings such as Infocus Public Networks Limited v Secretary of State (Foskett J, 17 December 2010) (a different Infocus case to that which is cited in Ouseley J’s judgment):

As I have indicated, it is this part of the Inspector’s reasoning that I find difficult. If the primary issues for consideration, once the principle of this kind of development is acknowledged, are the siting and appearance of any kiosk, then “appearance” (though apt to include anything attached to the surface of the kiosk) would ordinarily be thought to be the intrinsic appearance of the kiosk itself. The fact that a telephone kiosk is something of a magnet for advertising material is obvious to anyone who walks along a street where telephone kiosks are situated. It has been recognised in a formal sense by the promulgation of the 2007 Regulations. Those Regulations give what would certainly seem to be a self-contained code for the regulation of advertising material generally and, in this particular context, of advertising materials attached to the surface of a telephone kiosk.

Against that background, it seems to me that a Local Planning Authority has ample powers to ensure the discontinuance of advertising that represents a “substantial injury to the amenity of the locality or a danger to members of the public”. There is a right of appeal for the owner or occupier of the site to the Secretary of State. To that extent and upon that basis, I do not consider that the existence of advertising material on a telephone kiosk that is otherwise sited appropriately in the planning context and has an intrinsically acceptable appearance is a material consideration in deciding whether prior approval should or should not have been given to the erection of that kiosk.”

2. Ouseley J rejects the dominant or primary purpose test proposed by the council, in favour of “concepts with which planning law is familiar” in the form of his “dual purpose” test which, as far as I’m concerned, is without any precedent. But then the test seems to come back in his statement that “it is sufficient if the two purposes exist without the advertising use being ancillary or incidental or of no legal significance“. Is this acknowledging the points in my paragraph 1 above?

3. To what extent is the motive of an operator relevant? Perhaps it is straight-forward in the New World Payphones type situation where the operator is making a specific application for the display of advertising alongside the application for the kiosk, but what about in other circumstances where motives can only be discerned from secondary evidence? And taking a step back, do we apply such considerations in relation to other industry business models that are dependent on advertising or sponsorship? Is the London Evening Standard a newspaper? Is Channel 4 News a news programme?

4. What are the implications for other parts of the GPDO? For instance, close to the pockets of local authorities, there is Part 12:

“A.  The erection or construction and the maintenance, improvement or other alteration by a local authority or by an urban development corporation of—

(a) any small ancillary building, works or equipment on land belonging to or maintained by them required for the purposes of any function exercised by them on that land otherwise than as statutory undertakers;

(b) lamp standards, information kiosks, passenger shelters, public shelters and seats, telephone boxes, fire alarms, public drinking fountains, horse troughs, refuse bins or baskets, barriers for the control of people waiting to enter public service vehicles, electric vehicle charging points and any associated infrastructure, and similar structures or works required in connection with the operation of any public service administered by them.”

So presumably one implication of the ruling, on the broad interpretation that some might give it, is that there no longer deemed permission for any bus shelter, refuse bin or seat that allows for advertising? If not, why not?

Permission to appeal

Ouseley J granted the Secretary of State permission to appeal, the test for which is that either (a) the court considers that the appeal would have a real prospect of success; or (b) there is some other compelling reason for the appeal to be heard.

So his judgment is unlikely to be the last word on this subject.

MHCLG consultation paper

I covered MHCLG’s consultation paper Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes in my 8 December 2018 blog post Permitted Development: Painting By Numbers Versus Painting The Sistine Chapel?, at the time not saying much about the proposal to “remove the existing right that allows the installation of, and advertising on, new public call boxes“, because the proposed restriction seemed to me not to fit well with all of the other proposals, which are for extensions of permitted development rights, nor with the theme of supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes.

It would be helpful if MHCLG were to reflect, with DCMS and Ofcom, on what comes from the Court of Appeal’s thinking when any appeal comes before it, before considering further, on the back of a specific consultation paper, whether any legislative change is in fact needed, and if so what. As I mentioned in my previous blog, in my view what is really needed is an updating of the permitted development rights in Part 16 of Schedule 2 to the GPDO to reflect the role of streetside furniture in relation to 3/4G (soon to be 5G and all that 5G will facilitate in terms of smart city functions) and wifi. The “public call box” terminology is certainly old fashioned and misleading. But, to use other old fashioned terminology, there is a big risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Simon Ricketts, 16 February 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Dual porpoises

Permitted Development: Painting By Numbers Versus Painting The Sistine Chapel?

Time now to look at some of the proposals to extend permitted development rights and to amend the Use Classes Order that are set out in the Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes consultation paper published alongside the Autumn budget on 29 October 2018, and strongly criticised in Nick Raynsford’s final review of planning in England (November 2018):

The government’s announcement of its intention to extend even further this permissive ‘shadow’ planning process appears to reflect its model for the future direction of the system; and this has real implications for people and for the nature of both planning and planners. This reflects the tension recorded in evidence presented to the Review as to whether planning is a form of land licensing, which implies one set of skills and outcomes, or the much more complex and creative practice of shaping places with people to achieve sustainable development. The former task is like painting by numbers; the latter is like painting the Sistine Chapel. The difference in outcomes for people is equally stark.”

I’m not sure that sort of language (describing traditional planning applications as equivalent to painting the Sistine Chapel, a spectacularly inapt comparison, or indeed TCPA interim chief executive Hugh Ellis’ language in the accompanying press release: “‘Permitted development is toxic and leads to a type of inequality not seen in the Britain for over a century.“) is helpful to the debate.

It seems to me that the two key issues which need to be addressed in relation to permitted development rights that enable additional residential development (whether by way of conversion or construction) are the need for some control at a national or local level over room sizes and the need to provide a proportion of affordable housing whether on site or by way of financial contribution. Aside from those obvious issues (not addressed in the latest consultation paper), what is wrong with the Government looking to streamline development management processes where appropriate? Surely the question is where is the appropriate dividing line. Surely deemed planning permission should be for types of development where, given the public benefit in seeking to encourage them, the local planning authority should not need to question the principle of what is proposed up to a defined scale at a particular location (with more general powers to restrict rights available by way of Article 4 Direction) and where wider issues do not arise that cannot be resolved within a 56 day period for prior approval of specified aspects which are, as far as possible, not open to differing subjective views? Don’t we need to define some sort of principle along these lines before then considering different common types of development?

Allow greater change of use to support high streets to adapt and diversify

The Government proposes that uses in classes A1 (shops), A2 (financial and professional services), and A5 (hot food takeaways) (as well as uses as betting shops, pay day loan shops and laundrettes) should be allowed to change to “office use (B1)” (do they mean “office use” or do they mean B1 which also encompasses light industrial and R&D?). Hot food takeaways will be allowed to change to residential use (C1) as is already the case with the other uses referred to. There would be the requirement for prior approval, as with existing change of use permitted development rights.

Alongside this, the current “pop up” temporary permitted development rights to change the use from shops (A1) financial and professional services (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3), hot food takeaways (A5), offices (B1), non-residential institutions (D1), assembly and leisure uses (D2), betting shops and pay day loan shops to change to shops (A1) financial and professional services (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3) or offices (B1) will be extended from two years to three years. The temporary permitted development rights are proposed now to extend to changes to certain community uses, namely as a public library, exhibition hall, museum, clinic or health centre.

All of these proposals are put forward in the context of “supporting the high street” but no geographical limitation to the proposed changes is indicated that would prevent their application to any building in the relevant use, wherever it is located – shades of the original proposal in relation to the office to residential permitted development right, which was couched in terms of underused and empty office premises, when of course the right turned out not to have any such limitation. There is no indication of any floorspace cap. Might a department store, or supermarket, turn into an office? Nor indeed any cap on the proportion of any shopping area that might be converted to offices.

The document goes on to explore whether changes could also be made to the Use Classes Order, namely to:

“simplify the A1 shops use class to remove the current named uses and allow for a broader definition of uses for the sale, display or service to visiting members of the public.”

⁃ consider whether there is “scope for a new use class that provides for a mix of uses within the A1, A2 and A3 uses beyond that which is considered to be ancillary, which would support the diversification of high street businesses. This would replace the existing A1, A2 and A3 and result in a single use class to cover shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes. This would mean that movement between these uses was no longer development and not a matter for the planning system to consider. It would bring greater flexibility but reduce the ability of communities and local planning authorities to distinguish between shops and restaurant uses“.

I agree that these parts of the Use Classes Order potentially need reform (within boundaries – is it really workable for there to be no distinction at all between A1 and A3?) but can’t this be as part of broader reform of the Order? The B, C and D classes all give rise to equivalent issues in that the old distinctions between uses have become increasingly difficult to apply.

A new permitted development right to support housing delivery by extending buildings upwards to create additional homes

This idea has been around since February 2016 without civil servants arriving at draft legislation, which is surely going to be the practical test.

Looking back, I covered this proposal most recently on 13 October 2018 in my blog post The Up Right, before that in my 17 March 2017 blog post Permitted Development: À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu and before that in my 15 June 2016 blog post Permitted Development: What Next? However, this latest version of the proposals is certainly the most far-reaching.

The permitted development right would allow additional storeys to be built above buildings in a wide range of uses, including residential, retail and offices. The Government indicates:

We want to explore whether there may also be other buildings whose use is compatible with the introduction of new homes. Given they are usually located in residential areas or high streets, would premises such as health centres and buildings used for community and leisure purposes be suitable for inclusion in the permitted development right? Out of town retail parks with a mix of shopping and leisure uses may also be suitable for upward extensions to provide additional homes.”

The consultation paper asks for “examples of how this permitted development right might be used in practice, and particularly of how the use of local design codes could help to encourage take up of the proposed right and improve the design quality and acceptability of upward extensions.”

It’s sounding complicated already. Then add the question of how far upwards the permitted development right could allow development to go. The consultation paper offers two alternatives, both of which could lead to significant factual disputes:

⁃ “A permitted development right could apply to the airspace above premises in a terrace of two or more joined properties where there is at least one higher building in the terrace. The roof of the premises extending upward would be no higher than the main roofline of the highest building in the existing terrace.”

⁃ “An alternative approach would be to permit upward extensions more widely to a height no higher than the prevailing roof height in the locality. While this may extend the proposed right to a greater number of properties, it would not be possible to define prevailing roofline in regulations. Therefore it would be a matter to be considered by the local authority as part of the prior approval. In doing so, the local authority would be able to define what it considered to be the prevailing roofline taking account of the local building types and heights and the extent of the area over which it should be determined.”

To add to the complications:

Where premises are not on level ground the impact of adding additional storeys can be significantly greater on the amenity of neighbouring premises, for example from overlooking and overshadowing and on the character of the area. We would welcome views on how best to take account of the topography of specific areas.”

The consultation paper proposes that there should be a maximum limit of five storeys from ground level for a building once extended (so the extension could be up to four storeys!). But there would be an even broader permitted development right for purpose built, free standing blocks of flats of over five storeys. “The government would also like a permitted development right to apply to such buildings, and is interested in views, including whether there should be a limit on the number of additional storeys that could be added, for example 5

The permitted development right would allow for the physical works required to construct or install additional storeys on a building. It could also, for instance, allow for “works within the curtilage where it is necessary for access to the additional new homes“.

The prior approval requirements would include appearance, ie “considering whether the proposed development is of good design, adds to the overall quality of the area over its lifetime, is visually attractive as a result of good architecture, responds to the local character and history of the area and maintains a strong sense of place, as set out in paragraph 127 of the National Planning Policy Framework. We expect prior approval on design to be granted where the design is in keeping with the existing design of the building.

Prior approval would also consider the impact of the development on the amenity of neighbouring premises, for example, from obscuring existing windows, reducing access to light or resulting in unacceptable impact on neighbours’ privacy from overlooking. It would also consider measures to mitigate these impacts, and enable the neighbours, including owners and occupiers of premises impacted, to comment on the proposal.

This is asking a lot of the 56 day prior approval process – sounds like a job for a traditional planning application to me.

Finally, yet another extension of the previous proposals: “We are seeking views on whether the proposed right to build upwards to create new homes should additionally allow householders to extend their own homes.”

This all sounds like it’s on a collision course with what the Government has set in train with the establishment of the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful‘ Commission.

The permitted development right to install public call boxes and associated advertisement consent

I may come back in a later blog post to the Government’s proposal to remove permitted development rights for the installation of public call boxes. Since earlier blog posts on the subject, I’m now off-side from commenting in detail due to acting for an electronic communications code operator, but I would briefly note that the need for additional apparatus is about enabling electronic communications both present (3G, 4G and wifi) and future (5G) rather than just being about the old phone box concept and in that respect the terminology in Part 16 and the references in the Control of Advertisements Regulations probably do need updating without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Supporting housing delivery by allowing for the demolition of commercial buildings and redevelopment as residential

Well this proposal dates back to October 2015! As with the upwards extensions proposal, is it simply too difficult to draft in legislative form? The wording in the consultation paper is certainly tentative:

⁃ “It may be that a right focused on smaller sites may be more practical...

⁃ Despite the Government having set its face against affordable housing requirements in relation to the office to residential permitted development right, with this right it is said that the Government “would be interested in views on how developer contributions expected towards affordable housing and other infrastructure could be secured.

⁃ “We would welcome views as to the design of a right which could operate effectively to bring sites forward for redevelopment. The responses to these questions will inform further thinking and a more detailed consultation would follow.”

To be provocative, if additional storeys of residential development are to have deemed permission, and if new residential developments are to have deemed permission if they replace commercial buildings, what is the logic for not granting deemed permission for residential development on brownfield land more generally – what is inherently more complex or controversial arising from that than from the development that could come forward under these new rights? Why the prior complications with brownfield land, but not with these other rights, of land having to be placed by a local planning authority on a register before there is permission in principle?

The deadline for consultation responses is 14 January 2019.

Simon Ricketts, 8 December 2018

Personal views, et cetera

The Up Right

In his speech to the Conservative party conference on 1 October 2018, James Brokenshire announced that the Government will consult “in due course” on “introducing a new permitted development right to allow property owners to extend certain buildings upwards, while maintaining the character of residential and conservation areas and safeguarding people’s privacy“.

Not that one again?!

My second ever blog post, on 15 June 2016, Permitted Development: What Next? summarised the February 2016 consultation paper jointly published by DCLG and the previous Mayor of London, which sought views on proposals “to increase housing supply in the capital by allowing a limited number of additional storeys to be built up to the roofline of an adjoining building through permitted development rights, local development orders or development plan policies”. The paper set out in some detail the criteria and prior approval requirements which would apply.

Nothing then happened, perhaps due to the change in Mayor and the ministerial changes that followed the June 2016 referendum, or perhaps it was always going to be a difficult piece of legislation to draft in a way that arrived at a mechanism that would be simpler for developers than a traditional planning application but which secured necessary amenity protections.

My 17 March 2018 blog post Permitted Development: À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu reported on the conflict between on the one hand a ministerial policy statement on 5 February 2018 which appeared to make it clear that the initiative (now across England, not just London) would be dealt with by policy, within the NPPF and then on the other hand Sajid Javid’s speech launching the draft revised NPPF on 5 March 2018 which had this passage:

And there are also other areas in which we’re ready to go further to take the delivery of housing up a gear.

Including a new permitted development right for building upwards to provide new homes”.

Paragraph 118 (e) of the new NPPF does specifically address upwards extensions: Planning policies and decisions should “support opportunities to use the airspace above existing residential and commercial premises for new homes. In particular, they should allow upward extensions where the development would be consistent with the prevailing height and form of neighbouring properties and the overall street scene, is well- designed (including complying with any local design policies and standards), and can maintain safe access and egress for occupiers.”

In the light of the Javid speech, the Brokenshire announcement was not a big surprise but I do wonder how the permitted development will be drafted so as to avoid the obvious issues that arise and why that NPPF statement isn’t considered to be sufficient.

The RTPI’s response to the announcement on 2 October 2018 was surely right, in which its chief executive, Victoria Hills, said:

Densification of built-up areas can bring about much needed housing supply, but quality is as important as numbers. Blanket height extensions come with issues that have potentially serious impact on streetscape and people’s access to light. National policy can provide a favourable steer, but local communities should be able to set standards which enable higher buildings to make a positive contribution to housing supply.”

There is no indication as to when the consultation will take place. For instance, is the Chancellor’s 29 October Autumn budget statement too soon?

It is interesting that Brokenshire did not take the opportunity at the party conference also to reheat the Autumn 2017 budget policy paper announcement that “the government will consult on introducing… a permitted development right to allow commercial buildings to be demolished and replaced with homes“.

In the meantime, the existing office to residential permitted development right continues to be controversial.

Earlier this year, the RICS published a research paper, Extending permitted development rights in England: the implications for public authorities and communities (1 May 2018)

The study estimated that “between 86,665 and 95,045 dwellings (depending on how student accommodation is classified) might potentially have been created under the extended PD rights between 2010 and 2017. The bulk of these additional dwellings arises from small-scale (less than 10 units created) conversions from commercial uses (including offices) to residential use and from agricultural buildings use to residential use.

These small schemes have been broadly distributed (largely in locations with relatively low property values) through cities and towns without any marked regional patterning. The large-scale conversions of office and other commercial uses to residential use that are a key matter of concern to policy makers are less important with regard to the overall number of dwellings delivered and are overwhelmingly concentrated near the cores of major urban areas. These large scale office conversions (excluding student accommodation) are concentrated in the South East. The scale of PD occurring entirely within the industrial and commercial use classes is relatively modest.

Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) compared the direct costs and benefits to local authorities of extended PD rights with the outcomes of an identical development that had obtained formal planning permission. The key findings were that:

The largest estimated financial impact is the loss in affordable housing contributions. This amounted to about £42.5m.

The benefits arising from savings in staffing costs within planning departments (£14m) are not enough to offset the loss of fees (£22m).

Overall, this part of the analysis estimates that the direct financial impact of the extension of PD rights is a net loss to all the Local Authorities across England of around £50m.”

The research indicates that office to residential conversions under PD have also produced a higher amount of poor quality housing than schemes governed through full planning permission.”

But the mechanism still has its cheer leaders. Conservative MP Nick Herbert wrote a piece in the Standard, Permitted development is key to race to build homes on 8 October criticising the London Mayor for encouraging, in the draft London Plan, boroughs to use article 4 directions to remove the permitted development right.

Then a penny dropped. Nick Herbert is chairman of a think tank, called The Project for Modern Democracy. Who should be the research director for the “Planning Change” strand of the think tank’s work but Alex Morton? As set out on the Project for Modern Democracy’s website:

“Alex was Special Adviser to then Prime Minister (David Cameron) for two and a half years, focused on housing, planning, and local government. He also drafted the Conservative 2015 Manifesto on those areas. Prior to working in No.10, he led on housing and planning at the Policy Exchange think tank.”

He was lobbying for a permitted development right to convert offices to residential as long ago as 2011 in a Policy Exchange paper, More Homes: Fewer Empty Buildings.

Morton has now published a short paper, A backwards step on Permitted Development (26 September 2018) on which the Nick Herbert article was based. The piece seeks to rebut criticisms of the office to residential permitted development right, particularly that it has led to shortages of business space, lower affordable housing and “unsuitable homes“. Read it for yourself but I found it a pretty weak analysis. I also found it strangely inconsistent with a comment piece he had written in the Independent in 2013, which contained passages like this:

Finally, there are unnecessary and unhelpful side-shows like the extensions debacle last week, which stripped immediate neighbours of their powers to object to major changes next door, and which even most supporters of planning liberalisation felt went too far.

I wonder what the Project for Modern Democracy thinks about the proposed Up Right?

Simon Ricketts, 13 October 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Maximus: Dove J Ruling On PINS Validation Approach

My 14 April 2018 blog post Telephone Kiosks v Homes commented on the rash of prior approval applications for “telephone kiosks” under Part 16 Class A of Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. I queried in passing as to whether some of these applications met the test in the General Permitted Development Order that the development should be for the purpose of the electronic communications code operator’s electronic communications network. I didn’t know at the time that a more basic (and surely from the operator’s perspective entirely avoidable) dispute was under way between one operator and the Planning Inspectorate.

The background to Maximus Networks Limited v Secretary of State (Dove J, 25 July 2018) was that Maximus had lodged around 390 appeals in situations where either the relevant local planning authority had not determined a prior approval application within the statutory period or had decided not treat the application as valid. The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham had declined to validate the applications on the basis that Maximus had, in submitting their applications, not met the statutory requirement to provide evidence that notice had been served on the relevant land owner (which in every case was either the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham or Transport for London). Maximus “contended that since the land the subject of the application was in the ownership of the highway authority who were also the local planning authority there was no need for compliance with this condition.” The Planning Inspectorate refused to validate the appeals.

Maximus took the position that whilst it is unlawful for a local planning authority to accept an application which does not meet the statutory validation requirements (section 327A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) the position is different on appeal, in that the Secretary of State is not constrained by section 327A and, pursuant to section 79 of the 1990 Act, “may deal with the application as if it had been made to him in the first instance” and therefore has a discretion to waive any procedural irregularity. By the time of the court hearing before Dove J, issues had been resolved in all save 53 appeals.

Maximus relied on three grounds of challenge:

1. PINS had wrongly approached the appeals on the basis that they did not have a discretion to treat them as validly made.

2. “even if PINS did, in reality, recognise that there was a discretion which had to be exercised as a consequence of the legislative framework and authorities which are set out below, the discretion was in fact exercised irrationally.”

3. In the event that the court were to find that the appeals were not validly made, Maximus was entitled to refund of the application fees that it had paid to the local planning authorities.

Dove J accepted that PINs did have a discretion to treat the appeals as valid:

“...section 79 of the 1990 Act provides the defendant with a discretion to exercise as to whether or not to accept an appeal even if it is found to be wanting in relation to any procedural aspect. This discretion arises both under section 79(1) which contains a wide discretion for the Secretary of State to allow or dismiss an appeal, reverse or vary the local planning authority’s decision or any part of it, and deal with the application as if made to the defendant in the first instance. A discretion also arises under section 79(6) which provides that the defendant has a discretion to decline to determine an appeal or proceed with its determination if it emerges during the course of the appeal’s determination that the local planning authority could not have granted planning permission…

However, he considered that PINS had indeed exercised its discretion:

“It needs to be borne in mind that this was an administrative decision and thus an overly forensic scrutiny of its terms would be inappropriate. It is particularly pertinent in my judgment that, without being a detailed legal treatise, the decision sets out the nature of the statutory discretion set out in section 79 and summarises the decision of the Court of Appeal in Bath v North East Somerset. I am unable to accept that what follows in terms of PINS’ decision involves a complete negation of the exercise of discretion under section 79. The decision goes on to note the view that had been formed that there had been a failure to comply with the formal requirements in relation to notice under part 16 of schedule 2 of the GPDO and in my judgment that is not evidence of PINS assuming that they only have power to conclude that there was no jurisdiction to entertain appeals, but rather explaining their justification for concluding in applying section 79 of the 1990 Act that the applications have not been valid and therefore the appeals should not be entertained.

In my judgment a fair reading of the decision leads to the conclusion that it is a concise analysis of the basis upon which PINS were declining to accept jurisdiction in respect of the appeals, rather than an assertion that PINS had no power at all to do anything other than refuse to accept the appeals. ”

Dove J accepted that PINS had exercised its discretion rationally in determining that a local authority could be prejudiced in circumstances where it was not served with notice of the making of an application in its capacity as landowning highways authority:

A local authority as a land owner may have very different interests and concerns to take account of in exercising its powers to own and control land. It cannot be assumed that when an application of this kind is made to a local planning authority that the element of the local authority exercising its planning functions will automatically or of necessity consult that part of the council concerned with protecting its interests as a land owner or automatically be aware of all matters which the department responsible for safeguarding the council’s interests as land owner would wish to draw to their attention. Certainly that assumption is not contained within the statutory framework which, uncontroversially, by implication provides for the separate notification of the land owner when it is a local authority as part and parcel of the formalities for the application itself. […] It is a wholly unproved hypothesis that simply because the local planning authority is part of the same organisation as the affected landowner no prejudice from failing to notify the land owner could conceivably arise. It may be that the local authority as land owner would have different concerns and observations to draw to the attention of the local planning authority exercising its development control functions. I am unable to accept therefore that this observation in the pre-action protocol letter betrays circular reasoning or an irrational approach. ”

So, PINS was perfectly entitled to turn the appeals away. However, there was a sting in the tale for the authorities; Dove J accepted that the application fees paid were as a result refundable:

In my view where, as here, the defendant concludes that an appeal is to be rejected on the basis that application is invalid (and he declines to exercise his discretion under section 79 to nonetheless continue to consider the appeal) then that is in effect a conclusion that the application was and should have been rejected as invalid and therefore falls within the scope of regulation 14(3) of the 2012 Regulations. It follows the claimant’s case in relation to Ground 3 should succeed, leading to a declaration that in respect of those applications made to the first interested party they are entitled to have their fees refunded.”

As mentioned, an avoidable dispute, but an interesting reminder of the slightly different approach to validation requirements that applies on appeal. And something other to write about than the NPPF.

Simon Ricketts, 29 July 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Telephone Kiosks vs Homes

Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” (Edward Lorenz)

Congratulations to Trudi Elliott for her well-deserved appointment as independent chair of the Planning Inspectorate’s board of directors on 1 April 2018. She is uniquely qualified for the role and it is such a crucial time for the Planning Inspectorate.

As far as I’m concerned PINS has been one of the country’s most impressive bodies, truly independent in its decision-making, rigorous and non partisan in its approach and in recent years increasingly open as to the targets it is working to and the challenges it faces. Sarah Richards appears to be a competent chief executive and in the best traditions of the organisation.

However, I am worried that all is not well. Current average performance timescales for appeals by way of written representations, informal hearings and inquiries are reported to be as follows, as at 20 March 2018:

– written representations are taking 24 weeks overall (with the first ten weeks being to start date)

– hearings are taking 36 weeks overall (with the first 17 weeks being to start date)

– inquiries are taking 49 weeks overall (with the first five weeks being to start date).

Whilst the numbers do not appear to be worsening materially over the last year or so, they are certainly not materially improving, at a time when you would think that the Government should be pulling every lever. Furthermore the most frustrating delays are between validation of the appeal and receipt of the ‘start date’ letter, which sets the procedural deadlines for the appeal process itself. Until the start date, you’re just sitting in the in-tray.

Whilst individual experiences are inevitably anecdotal, we are acting on one appeal, in relation to a scheme for around 70 apartments (refused by members against the officers’ recommendation), where an appeal was submitted on 14 December 2017, with the written representations appeal procedure requested, validated on 9 January and yet still no start date.

Not quite the flap of a butterfly’s wing, but I posted a frustrated tweet on 20 March commenting on the delay.

Various people responded to the tweet with their own similar recent experiences, which led Mark Wilding to write a good piece in Planning magazine on 28 March Why new inspectorate data substantiates complaints about lengthening appeal delay. That in turn for instance led to a former inspector writing to the magazine with his own speculation as to the reasons for the current problems.

After the Mark Wilding piece, I wrote on 3 April to Sarah Richards to provide more details about the particular appeal in case something could be done to unlock the continuing delay in obtaining a start date. Sarah responded very quickly on 6 April. She made clear that of course she could not intervene in the particular appeal but she took the opportunity to set out the challenges which PINS is currently facing. As she said in her response that she would do, she adapted the response into an open letter to Planning magazine which it published online on 12 April.

One particular passage in her letter was news to me:

The demand on our resources has been compounded by the unexpected receipt of more than 1,000 prior approval appeals for phone kiosks, and that number is likely to increase. Currently these have been absorbed into our normal planning appeal work, with consequent delays. We are now adopting a different model to process these appeals which will use our non-salaried inspectors, and this should release capacity back to mainstream work. This will have a positive impact on the overall time taken to determine appeals over the coming months.”

So one of the reasons that there are currently delays in the processing of appeals for housing and no doubt other forms of development is a deluge of prior approval appeals for phone kiosks??

Who uses a phone kiosk any more, I naively thought. Well of course advertising companies do, for a start.

I did a little digging and I now see that there is this huge drain on the resources of local planning authorities as well as PINS caused by somewhat of a gold rush.

The Local Government Association raised a concern earlier this year, LGA: call for crackdown on ‘trojan’ telephone boxes amid 900 per cent rise in some areas (27 January 2018).

Councils have been under sustained attack for some time from a variety of, usually pretty anonymous, companies, each with a licence to operate under the electronic communications code, each seeking approval for the erection of a large number of new style telephone kiosks. The main companies include such household names (not) as Maximus Networks Limited, Infocus Public Networks Limited, Euro Payphone Limited and New World Payphones.

Electronic communications code operators benefit from deemed planning permission for the installation of their telephone kiosks under Schedule 2, Part 16, Class A of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015, subject to prior approval by the local planning authority of siting and appearance. Need, or the lack of it, is irrelevant (see for example a decision letter dated 14 November 2017 relating to an appeal in Hackney by Euro Payphone Limited).

Operators then have deemed consent under the Advertisement Regulations for non-illuminated advertisements on the kiosks, but often apply for express consent for illuminated advertisements (see for example a decision letter dated 12 January 2018 in relation to an appeal in Eltham by New World Payphones).

Councils often understandably seek to resist these proposals but it is clearly difficult. The BBC reported last June Westminster City Council’s rejection of 80 proposals by Maximus Networks Limited as well as proposals by other companies:

Councils block ‘ugly and unwanted advert space’ phone boxes.

Whilst the issue has raised concern in local areas and provoked comment, I have not tracked down any recent Parliamentary debate when plainly something is not quite right is it?

This from the ChiswickW4 website about Infocus Public Networks Limited (I haven’t verified its accuracy):

The phone boxes, which are wheelchair accessible, have been rejected by a number of local authorities, and critics say their primary purpose is for the display of advertising rather than making phone calls.

The Warwickshire-based company, Infocus Public Networks Ltd, applied for ‘prior approval’ to site the phone boxes on the pavement at 120, 96, 135 Chiswick High Road (outside Insider Dealings Interior Design , Sainsbury Local, and the former Ballet Rambert) .

Local authorities, including Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, and Westminster have all said ‘No’ to the kiosks on grounds of siting and appearance – the only grounds on which a local authority can refuse ‘prior approval’. Councils are not allowed to consider any advertising benefits which may accrue from the phone boxes as they are already the beneficiaries of ‘deemed consent’ from the regulatory body Ofcom.

Infocus, which describes itself as the UK’s third public payphone operator, has challenged a number of local authorities for refusing to allow the phone boxes in their area. An attempt by the company to install fifteen phone boxes in Swindon, which was turned down by Wiltshire council, was partly overturned by the Planning Inspector who ruled that nine phone boxes could be sited in the town streets.

The payphone kiosks use mobile telephony for connection to other networks and the company says there are no invasive pavement works involved. They say the large windows deter the use of the kiosks for antisocial and criminal activity, and that there is still a need for public payphones for tourists, and ethnic minorities and those in wheelchairs.

The old-style kiosks are not allowed to be installed because they do not comply with disability regulations from Ofcom. BT has also removed hundreds of kiosks from UK streets due to the growth of mobile phone use.

Wiltshire Council has asked the government to give local authorities greater powers over the control of advertising on public payphones, following the Inspector’s reversal of its decision, according to the Swindon Advertiser. The City of London also lost its attempt, on appeal, to prevent seven similar boxes in the Lambeth area.

Critics of the scheme say the phone boxes are a lucrative method of attracting commercial advertising to the company which installs them, and are not of any public benefit to disabled users as they take up more pavement surface than traditional kiosks and add to ‘street clutter’.

Incidentally Infocus has possibly the world’s least informative website.

These kiosks are prime advertising space as is clear from Clearchannel’s website.

Do these payphones serve a legitimate function? If they aren’t “for the purpose of the operator’s electronic communications network” the permitted development right doesn’t apply in the first place.And what of some data privacy concerns (according to a piece in Wired, Stop replacing London’s phone boxes with corporate surveillance which might be considered alarmist if we weren’t currently highly sensitised by the Facebook data mining scandal)? Doesn’t the Government need to form a view and quickly? In the meantime these applications and appeals (1,000 appeals!) risk jamming up the system, quite apart from unnecessarily cluttering our streets. Of course PINS needs to do what it can to avoid the problem contaminating its mainstream caseload but why should it be forced to employ external consultants, at taxpayer cost? If ever there were a case for appeal fees!

One of the roles of the PINS board is “ensuring the Planning Inspectorate delivers against its strategic objectives and ensuring sufficient resources are available to achieve those objectives”. A brief scroll through previous minutes of its meetings will demonstrate the level of scrutiny given to every aspect of its performance, although no reference yet to these wretched kiosk appeals! Trudi, you have a crucial role to play in ensuring that resources are correctly prioritised.

Simon Ricketts, 14 April 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Permitted Development: À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu

Feeling a little Proustian après MIPIM? Where did that time go?
Some minor changes have been made this month to PD rights, more significant changes are possibly still to come and some existing PD rights remain controversial.
The minor changes
The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2018 was made on 8 March 2018 and comes into force on 6 April 2018. It makes various detailed amendments to the existing regime, the most significant ones being:

– Extending the existing temporary right to change use of a building from a storage or distribution centre to a dwellinghouse, which was shortly to expire. The prior approval date must be by 10 June 2019 and the change of use must be completed within three years of the prior approval date. 
– Expansion of the permitted development right to change the use of agricultural buildings to dwellinghouses such that the maximum amount of floorspace that may be converted is increased from 450 sq m to 465 sq m and up to five dwellinghouses may be created from that floorspace rather than three. 

– Enabling the Secretary of State to pause the 28 day period for prior approval where he is considering calling in an application for his own determination. 

The more significant possible further changes
In my 15 June 2016 blog post Permitted Development: What Next? I speculated as to whether two further permitted development rights would be created, which the Government had previously contemplated, namely:

– Office demolition and residential rebuild
– Upward extensions in London
21 months later, the position is still uncertain in relation to both proposals. If they are introduced their scope could well be wider than initially envisaged, but will they? More lost time if they are introduced and prove to be successful in increasing housing supply. 
We had heard nothing on office demolition and residential rebuild since Brandon Lewis’ October 2015 announcement, and it was assumed that the idea was dead, until the unexpected announcement in the Autumn 2017 budget policy paper that “the government will consult on introducing… a permitted development right to allow commercial buildings to be demolished and replaced with homes“. 
Was the reference to “commercial buildings” intentionally wider in scope than just offices? What would be the prior approval requirements? Would there be a floorspace cap? I had hoped for an update alongside the draft revised NPPF announcements in February or alongside the Spring budget statement this month but still we wait. 
Similarly, we had heard nothing about the proposed PD right for upward extensions in London since a joint Mayor of London/DCLG consultation paper in February 2016. The ministerial policy statement on 5 February 2018 appeared to make it clear that the initiative (now across England, not just London) would be dealt with by policy, within the NPPF. But then Sajid Javid’s speech launching the draft revised NPPF on 5 March 2018 had this passage:
And there are also other areas in which we’re ready to go further to take the delivery of housing up a gear.

Including a new permitted development right for building upwards to provide new homes.”
I’m left scratching my head in relation to both proposals, frankly. 

Office to residential and other existing PD rights
The office to residential permitted development right remains controversial. Undoubtedly it has delivered in terms of increasing housing stock, although with a free ride for developers in terms of affordable housing and other contributions and in some areas jeopardising the stock of office floorspace. Quality of the conversions has been variable. But, in a housing crisis, has the end justified the means?
The Local Government Association published some campaigning research One in 10 new homes was a former office against the right on 18 January 2018.  

The current areas exempted from the right will lose that exemption from 31 May 2019 and many authorities are taking steps to remove it in any event by way of Article 4 Direction, for instance recently Westminster City Council (see its 26 January 2018 report to cabinet). Indeed, policy SD5 F of the draft London Plan supports that approach:
The Mayor will work with boroughs and support them to introduce Article 4 Directions to remove office to residential permitted development rights across the whole of the CAZ and the Northern Isle of Dogs (and those parts of Tech City and Kensington & Chelsea lying outside the CAZ)
It will be interesting to see how this tension with national policy is addressed at the examination into the draft plan.
In the meantime, inevitably given the complexity now of the PD rights regime and its advantages for developers in many situations over the traditional planning applications procedure, we have seen an increase in litigation as to the nuts and bolts of the prior approval procedure. 

Most recently, in R (Marshall) v East Dorset District Council (Lang J, 13 February 2018), prior approval for the erection of an agricultural building was quashed on the basis that the PD right excluded buildings for the accommodation of livestock, whereas the application for prior approval had indicated that one of the proposed uses of the building was to “winter house 45 ewes and their lambs through the winter period“!
Last year’s decision in Keenan v Woking Borough Council (Court of Appeal, 16 June 2017) is also interesting, on a similar theme, making clear that where the authority fails to respond to an application for prior approval within 28 days, such that there is a deemed prior approval, if the proposed development did not fall within the criteria of the relevant part of the General Permitted Development Order it does not as a result of the deemed approval become “permitted development”. 
Accordingly, whether or not you have prior approval, or deemed prior approval, your proposed development still needs to fit within all of the relevant restrictions and thresholds within the Order. 
To end with M Proust:
“...loopholes opened by disappointment. Dreams are not to be converted into reality, that we know; we would not form any, perhaps, were it not for desire, and it is useful to us to form them in order to see them fail and to be instructed by their failure.”
Simon Ricketts, 17 March 2018
Personal views, et cetera