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

Rabbit hutches to go after Easter

Birketts LLP

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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

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