Government reform to future proof our housing

8 December, 2020

Newly built houses in the UK are getting smaller, this is an indisputable fact. Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, it is also the case that we have never spent so much time in our homes.

In light of the pandemic, it seems that today an Englishman’s home is not just his castle but also his gym/office/barber/pub/living space. 

Now more than ever the need for sufficient living space is crucial. This is not a new concept. Indeed, in 1961 the Parker Morris committee published the ‘Homes for Today and Tomorrow’ report which made the following observation:

 

“There was a time when for a great majority of the population the major significance of the structure in which they made their home was to provide shelter and a roof over their head. This is no longer so. An increasing proportion of people are coming to expect their home to do more than fulfil the basic requirements.”

– Homes for Today and Tomorrow, paragraph 10

 

This is a far cry from some of these newly converted homes which have sprung up around the UK as a result of permitted development rights (PDR) which allow developers to convert office units into residential accommodation without going through the usual planning process.

In brief, PDR are a national grant of planning permission which allow certain building works and changes of use to be carried out without having to make a planning application. In such circumstances, planning permission is “deemed” to have been granted and developers need only gain “Prior Approval” before starting work.

The conversion of office buildings to residential dwellings, as mentioned above, has proved to be a popular PDR over recent years. Whilst some argue that this allows developers to provide much needed rapid and cost effective  accommodation; critics argue that because the usual planning process is bypassed, PDR proposals are not subject to the same level of investigation which, in some cases, has led to the development of cramped “sub-standard” residential accommodation.

It has been reported that some PDR flats are as small as 13m2 which is only slightly larger than the average parking space in the UK. In fact, an independent report commissioned by the government by UCL and the University of Liverpool showed that overall only 22.1% of dwelling units created through PDR met the National Described Space Standards (NDSS).

 

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1243)

The General Permitted Development (England) (Amendment) Regulations make several amendments to the existing laws on PDR in the General Permitted Development (England) Order 2015, including mandatory compliance with the NDSS.

From the 6 April 2021, developers who wish to take advantage of PDR to create new residential dwellings must meet the NDSS, unless the proposed dwelling is an exempt unit. The space standard begins at 37m2 of gross internal floor space for a one bed flat with a shower room (and 39 m2 with a bathroom) which is deemed adequate for a single occupier.

 

Effect of the Regulations

Whilst the regulations may prove to be a step in the right direction by preventing particularly rapacious developers building dwellings no bigger than  car parking spaces, it will be interesting to see the impact this has on more mainstream developments in the future. By prescribing mandatory compliance with minimum NDSS, developers will be forced to think more carefully about the viability of some of these PDR schemes. The amendments to the regulations should help to ensure that only high quality “fit for purpose” residential units are being created out of former office spaces.

Interestingly, the development of new homes delivered via the usual planning route will not always be subject to the same mandatory minimum space standards. So, it would appear that the main effect of the amendment to the regulations will be to close the loophole through which a minority of developers have been looking to make quick profits by developing office space into inadequate residential accommodation through the PDR scheme.  

Whilst we are still getting to grips with the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the full effect on society and the economy is yet to be fully established, one key take-away is the renewed importance of home and having suitable living accommodation. Perhaps this may be one of the few positive legacies left behind by the pandemic.