The end of the rabbit hutch, but will it bring any quality?

Rabbit hutches to go after Easter

Birketts LLP

Birketts LLP logo
Nicola Doole

United Kingdom March 31 2021

For many years there has been a real need to address the severe shortage of residential accommodation in England; as the homeless numbers rapidly increase the need for affordable accommodation is at an all-time high.

With developers being blamed by the Government as being unable to build at the pace required to meet the housing needs and demands of the growing population, the Government decided a decade ago to take action and saw an opportunity for the housing supply to be boosted by allowing commercial buildings to be converted into residential dwellings. The Government said they recognised that there were many vacant and redundant office and industrial buildings, no longer serving any useful purpose that could readily be converted into a residential use and therefore ticked another box in which the Government wanted brownfield sites to be redeveloped – a win-win scenario apparently and so in the March 2011 budget, the Government’s Plan for Growthwas introduced.

After supposedly consulting the masses the Government has, since 2013, permitted the conversion of office buildings and light industrial buildings into homes without the developer first going through a full planning application process. Housing Ministers last summer then extended the scope of permitted development even further to include additions of two storeys on top of existing houses, and replacement of vacant commercial, industrial and residential buildings with homes. This news was announced the very same day as the Government published research showing that many of the homes that had been created by the permitted development route were substandard.

Six professors and lecturers from UCL and the University of Liverpool reviewed 240 planning schemes, 138 of which were change of use projects authorised as permitted development and 102 of the schemes were granted planning permission through the usual application process. Collectively, they reached the conclusion that:

“Permitted development conversions do seem to create worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers…These aspects are primarily related to the internal configuration and immediate neighbouring uses of schemes, as opposed to the exterior appearance, access to services or broader neighbourhood location. In office-to-residential conversions, the larger scale of many conversions can amplify residential quality issues.”

In addition their research found that as little as 22% of the dwellings created through the permitted development route actually met the nationally described space standards as opposed to 73% of those dwellings created via the application route. Furthermore, the permitted development properties not only had small internal areas, only 4% of the permitted development dwellings had access to outside private amenity areas.

It was becoming increasingly apparent that whilst the Government said it wanted to deliver high-quality, well designed homes, in reality, by changing the permitted development rights, local planning authorities were unable to do anything to prevent those unscrupulous developers from converting buildings into substandard homes with some flats being of a size no bigger than a budget hotel room, or the proverbial rabbit hutch. Until now, when, after the Easter Bunny has visited us all at the weekend, with effect from 6 April 2021, Regulation 3 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 comes into being and includes the new requirement that all homes built through the permitted development route must meet the nationally described space standards. These standards set out the minimum floor spaces permitted for numerous configurations and start at 37 sqm for a new one bed flat with a shower room rather than a bathroom. This change is long overdue and will hopefully stop those rabbit hutches from being constructed, but the debate about delivery vs affordability vs standards continues…Birketts LLP – Nicola Doole

Like Lying to a Spoilt Child to Avoid A Tantrum – How National Policy on Greenfield Sites Appears to Say One Thing and Means Another

Nick Boles was at least straightforward. We need to build more houses and that means more greenfield sites in local plans. That scared the horses. …

Like Lying to a Spoilt Child to Avoid A Tantrum – How National Policy on Greenfield Sites Appears to Say One Thing and Means Another

These Endless Refusals on Sites Allocated in Development Plans Shows there is no Logical Case Against Zoning

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Hardly a day goes by these days without another decision overturned on appeal against a refusal of a site in a local authorities development plan.

There is only one distinction in law between a planning system based on discretion and one based on zoning. That is in a zoning system the zoning system gives consent as of right to one or more levels of detail of the schemes design. They dont prevent consultation or discretion, they simply give some finality to proceedings, finality concluded when all consents and permits are granted. Frequently a zoning plan only gives consent to a sites land use, quantum of development and some limited parameters. Other matters are subject to consultation and/or design control. Where form based codes (design codes in English parlence) are in place they can often drill down another level, permitting the gneral layout and form. For these parameters not in the…

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Cold comfort, to empty pockets

Another hollow statement on a policy intention that will not happen without significant investment in time and resources by every planning authority. This at exactly the same time as councils are dealing with 40%+ funding cuts, an ever increasing demand on services and the still increasing cost of dealing with the Covid pandemic.

Unless each Local Planning Authority invests several, if not tens of thousands of pounds in a local design guide, developers will use the appeal process to thwart every attempt to lift the quality of their developments beyond the normally mediocre and often depressing.

New design standards
Local communities are to be given the power to set design standards for all new developments, under plans announced by the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick. Developers will be required to make sure all new properties adhere to the character of the areas where they are being built. Any planning proposal that fails to meet the new criteria will be automatically rejected by councils as part of efforts to eliminate “identikit” housing estates. Councils will be expected to draw up their own individual design codes in consultation with local residents, supported by a new national Office for Place which will advise councils developing their plans.’

Times – Beauty will be in the eye of the council (£)

MPs’ outrage prompts U turn over controversial planning algorithm

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online

So what’s the point of the consultation process, that is now a statutory requirement, if the government is going to plough on ahead with their controversial policies and cause themselves so much grief?


Plans to use a new algorithm to set how many homes need to be built in local areas are being overhauled after a backlash from Tory MPs concerned the reforms would concrete over vast swathes of countryside and fly in the face of the government’s levelling up ambitions, it has been reported.

The Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday that the formula used to produce targets for each area is being “rebalanced” to focus on building homes in urban areas after many senior Tories including Theresa May made their opposition felt.

The formula had intended to take account of the gap between house prices and incomes over the past ten years, rather than the one year currently used to calculate housing need. But it was felt by many that the plans would have been a betrayal of the government’s levelling up agenda, as London would have seen 161% more homes required and the south east 57% more while in the north east housebuilding targets would be 28% lower than existing delivery.

The government is now looking at redesigning the formula so it is “fairer”, the Sunday Telegraph claimed.

LGC understands that the chair of the Local Government Association James Jamieson had been raising concerns with the government to get the algorithm changed, while district councillors in many areas had raised objections with their local MPs. However, the planned overhaul does not amount to a commitment by the government to abandon the algorithm altogether and allow councils to determine their own housing targets according to need, as the LGA have called for.

District Councils Network chairman John Fuller (Con) told LGC the housing targets thrown up by the algorithm were “so nonsensical that councillors did not have to work too hard to get MPs to see the folly of the proposals”.

Cllr Fuller told LGC the news was “no surprise” because “in many areas, the targets were to set unachievable ambitions which would have brought the entire planning system into disrepute, whilst delivering fewer homes in the areas that need the most – in urban centres and the North”.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, the change to the planned formula is expected to be formally  announced within weeks. Sources told the paper that the shift was designed to help the government to “re-imagine” town and city centres hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and claimed the prime minister and communities secretary Robert Jenrick “have been listening to Conservative colleagues”.

Speaking to LGC last week, Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely (Con) slammed the algorithm as a “suicide note to the Tory shires” that needed “significant evaluation”.

He claimed up to 100 Conservative MPs had voiced their concerns about the plans.

Harborough MP Neil O’Brien, who was formerly a special adviser to Mrs May, tweeted that it was “very encouraging that ministers are looking at overhauling the housing algorithm with a view to focussing on inner urban regeneration – something I’ve been arguing for”.

As well as facing opposition from backbenchers, LGC has been told the algorithm had been unpopular with some senior ministers who felt unable to vocalise their views in public, including at least one who attends cabinet.

The Planning for the Future white paper has also now been thrown into some doubt, as plans to carve the country into three tiers of development zones, making it harder for residents to oppose individual planning developments are also opposed by some MPs fearful of a public backlash over the consequences.

Mr Seely described the white paper plans as an “assault on democracy” which is “a missed opportunity because we should be focusing on the environment and community led reform”.

Meanwhile, former environment secretary Theresa Villiers told the BBC that the changes to the housing targets methodology were “encouraging”, but “a few tweaks are not enough”.

She said: “We need radical change to the proposal if we’re to ensure that this algorithm doesn’t lead to unacceptable overdevelopment.

“So there’s still a long way to go before the government’s planning reforms will be acceptable to backbench MPs committed to safeguarding the local environment in their constituencies.”

Cllr Fuller said it was “premature to double guess what the government response will be” to the white paper and whether “that can has been kicked down the road”, as the consultation took place after the consultation on the update to methodology for setting housing targets and only closed at the end of last month.

“Hopefully now we can have a proper conversation on how to deliver the government’s manifesto commitment to deliver 300,000 homes a year that puts rooves over people’s heads,” he said.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government had not responded to LGC’s request for comment at the time of publication

Race to build worst Quality housing in Europe continues

Planning system reforms
Permitted development rules have led to local authorities and residents being unable to oppose or alter proposals from developers, with no power to insist on adequate room sizes, daylight or influence the look of a building. Contributions from developers towards affordable housing or improving the pavements and landscaping around a property have also been lost under the rules, with the LGA estimating that 13,500 potential affordable homes have been lost in this way. Separately, LGA housing spokesman Cllr David Renard is due to take part in a debate on Times Radio at 1pm today about the ending of the eviction ban and protection to renters during the pandemic.
Observer – Sunday 27 September 2020

The Progressiveness of ‘As of Right’ Zoning

Thank for this Andrew. It helps sweep away some of the hysteria and replaces it with fact, knowledges and experience. Something desperately needed by us amateurs in respect of these proposals. I have major concerns at the references to comments from, what I assume is Policy Exchange. Such as, the suggestion that excluding the public from the consultation process on new style Local Plans, will help in meeting the 30 month deadline.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

As I have written on here many times in the last few weeks the government only has itself to blame in terms of importance and mistrust for creating a climate of opposition to the planning white paper.

Chief amongst the complaint is that the reforms are ‘anti democratic’ in reducing the chances to ‘object’ to a proposal from two to one.

The irony is that most progressive opinion in the world is that ‘existing’ zoning systems give too much of an opportunity to resist densification through site specific objection and this is excluding groups in terms of race and income.

This illustrates a number of fundmanetal misinderstandings of what zoning is and is not.

  1. Zoning is not Planning Control

The first modern planning controls – such as in Prussia, were controls over street alignments, subdivision, build to lines and infrastructure. Zoning – in terms of control over land use, came…

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How not to Package and Sell Planning Reforms

Curate’s egg, curate’s egg.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Planoraks Blog Interview with Kit Kat

How do you view the media’s reaction to the White Paper so far and (another bonus question!), what’s your answer to those who’ve painted the White Paper as a charter for the next generation of slums

I spent much of launch day shouting at the radio as commentator after commentator said ridiculous things about the proposals – I’m very sad to see the big ideas so mischaracterised, in many cases by people saying that the proposals are the exact opposite of what we’ve put forward; for example, one of the big themes of the critics has been that the proposals would remove the power of councils to decide what to build where, and deny local people the opportunity to object whereas in fact the proposals would give far more power to councillors and to local people and communities not only over what to…

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