Written evidence submitted by Brighton & Hove City Council [PDR 035]

 

The key points we wish to highlight are as follows, with more detailed responses to the specific questions asked below:

              We do not support the new national permitted development right for the change of use from all E classes to residential.

              It will erode democratic oversight and decision making; lose the opportunity for local community involvement and for proper professional planning consideration in planning processes

              It will further erode the ability of Local Planning Authorities to appropriately plan for the future of their areas in an evidence-based and consultative way taking into account local needs and local circumstances. In Brighton & Hove we seek to plan positively for a city where people can live and work to avoid becoming a commuter dormitory town in London’s orbit. To do this, the ability to support and maintain sustainable local communities by protecting business premises, shops and leisure facilities through evidence-based planning policies is crucial.

              The expanded PDR risks undermining the purpose of the new ‘E’ class which allows for more flexibility regarding changes of use between various commercial uses to ensure town centre vibrancy and resilience. It facilitates premature and unmanaged loss to residential of a much wider range of uses than are covered by existing PDRs;

              It risks the loss of designated local parades which are important for the sustainability of local communities, in particular those on the periphery of the city, as accessibility to local services could be reduced. This could lead to undesirable increases in traffic movements and congestion, and negative effects on air quality and would be inconsistent with national and local carbon reduction targets.

              In Brighton & Hove the tourism sector is a key driver of the local economy with the character of the city centre and its associated retail and leisure industries being an important facet of the city’s tourism offer. The potential loss of these premises and hollowing out of areas where they are currently located with residential properties through the PDR risks undermining their unique character and vibrancy.

What role should permitted development rights (PDR) play in the planning system?

Permitted development rights should contribute towards a speedier and more effective planning system by allowing simple, small-scale, uncontroversial development to proceed without the need for full consideration through a planning application. This results in a more effective and efficient use of resources in Local Planning Authorities. Used in this way it speeds up the planning process without resulting in harmful long-term environmental and social consequences.

The government’s expansion of PDRs in recent years seems to be rooted in a distrust of the planning system’s ability to plan for and deliver sufficient housing development and to adapt to the changing nature of local economies. As such the broader range of PDRs, particularly those that are the focus of this call for evidence, appear to be a tool to circumvent the planning system and its democratic processes rather than a means of helping it operate more efficiently. They apply to large scale sites and premises and can therefore result in fundamental reshaping of neighbourhoods and urban centres without inclusive and appropriate participation by local communities.

PDR for particular changes of use should not result in incremental long-term change in the balance of land uses within local communities. This undermines longer term planned strategies for creating vibrant, mixed neighbourhoods which meet the housing, employment, retail, social and leisure needs of its population. The increasing use of PDR will lead to short-termism in which the motivation for regeneration is based upon meeting a short-lived market trend rather than the sustainable long-term economic and housing growth required based upon empirical evidence of the identified and democratically derived needs of the population. 

What is the impact of PDR on the quality and quantity of new housing, including affordable and social housing?

In Brighton & Hove over the five-year period 2015-20, residential development delivered through all PDR/prior approval routes has been 19% of total delivered dwellings (an average of 90 units per annum). Although numerically this provision is welcomed in contributing to the city’s housing target, the lack of affordable housing and other developer contributions has been a major concern particularly due to the city’s housing affordability issues.

However, in addition to the impact of PDR in delivering additional housing, it is also necessary to consider its impact on the supply of commercial and employment floorspace. The evidence underpinning the Brighton & Hove City Plan Part 1 (adopted in 2016) indicated a requirement for a net gain of 112,240m2 over the Plan period (2010 – 2030. However since 2013/14, 30,796m² office space in the city has been converted to residential through PDR. The net loss of office space to residential due to PDR has therefore significantly increased the shortfall in office space within the city leading to impacts on the local economy.

The unmanaged conversion to residential accommodation under PDR can result in inadequate poor-quality internal living accommodation, poor outlook, daylight and a poor quality or unsafe external environment. The quality of new housing accommodation can be impaired for example by the conversion or extension of buildings not designed for living accommodation due to the construction and original design of the building or its location in proximity to other land uses. Environmental factors cannot be managed at the planning stage which can affect new occupiers and existing neighbouring interests. These include unneighbourly commercial businesses or existing residents unsuitability or absence of private amenity space, landscaping and public realm, loss of amenity to neighbours due to noise or lack of privacy, although it is welcomed that national space standards now apply to dwellings provided through PDR.

A failure to plan positively to create good quality, safe, neighbourly and attractive accommodation and surrounding environments can result in longer term social and environmental problems. The consequences of poor planning in turn become a burden on the resources of local government and health and social care providers. 

What is the impact of PDR on local planning authorities, developer contributions and the provision of infrastructure and services?

The consideration of the prior approval application requires significant officer time, both from planning officers and other internal consultees whose input is required to assess issues such as transport impacts. Lower fees associated with prior approval applications add to the resource burden on already stretched planning departments.

Residential development secured through PDR has not been subject to CIL or S106 requirements – including requirements for affordable housing or developer contributions towards improving other much needed infrastructure; e.g. open space, health facilities.

Developments brought forward through the class E to residential are, cumulatively, likely to result in significant additional infrastructure requirements. Considerable numbers of new residential units could potentially be delivered, leading to requirements for sustainable transport improvements; additional educational, health facilities and other services, improvements to existing open space, affordable housing and so on. For such requirements to be identified and funded and delivered in a timely fashion, CIL contributions and S106 agreements where necessary should apply.

Is the government’s approach to PDR consistent with its vision in the Planning White Paper?

The White Paper proposed that the scope of the Infrastructure Levy could be extended to capture changes of use through permitted development rights. Brighton & Hove is an area with high housing need, acute affordability issues and limited land opportunities for new development within the city’s boundaries and therefore any changes could affect the council’s ability to meet the needs of its residents. The White Paper offers no evidence to support its claim that the Infrastructure Levy would deliver higher levels of affordable housing overall.

The White Paper also put forward an ambition to raise design expectations and to create better, more beautiful places, which reflect local character and preferences through local community involvement. The impact of greater permitted development rights will be inconsistent with this ambition as it will greatly limit the scope for local planning authorities to affect the quality of design and public realm and will exclude local communities from having any meaningful influence on much development. PDR also removes much of the scope for individual creativity of designers and architects to adopt a ‘one size fits all approach’ and to undermine the creativity and problem-solving skills and knowledge of the Planning profession into a process driven function.  

What is the impact of PDR on the ability of local authorities to plan development and shape their local communities?

PDR applies a broad-brush national policy approach that restricts the ability of LPAs to undertake forward planning and to apply policies that plan for and control land uses in response to identified local needs and circumstances. It is reducing the ability to plan for healthy and sustainable communities.

The character and purpose of established urban and local centres is currently in a state of flux with covid-19 hastening a move away from a broadly retail focus towards a wider range of leisure and business uses, as reflected by the introduction of the ‘E’ use class. The government’s stated intention for the E use class is for it to allow high streets and town centres the best chance of adapting and thriving. We are very concerned that the PDR could undermine this by facilitating premature and unmanaged loss of a range of commercial uses which bring footfall and clustered activities to these areas. This is a strong concern for Brighton & Hove given the city’s unique character and the diversity of uses that cluster in the city centre to support not only the local community, but the large number of visitors to the city.

In Brighton & Hove the tourism sector is a key driver of the local economy. The character of the city centre and its associated retail and leisure industries is an important facet of the city’s tourism offer. For example, the independent shops in the Lanes and the North Laine areas are respectively the #2 and #5 rated best ‘things to do’ in Brighton on TripAdvisor and attract large numbers of tourists to the city every year. The potential loss of these retail premises and hollowing out of these areas with residential properties through the PDR risks undermining their unique character and vibrancy. This could have a consequential negative effect on the city’s economy through diminished appeal to tourists.

The unplanned creation of housing by conversion of buildings under PDR could result in isolated communities with poor access to amenities, services and public transport which could not be planned or mitigated for by developer contributions, infrastructure and services.

Is the government right to argue that PDR supports business and economic growth?

Agree that PDR can play a role in allowing for greater flexibility for changes of use and speeding up the planning process in appropriate circumstances. However, LPAs themselves should plan for and manage growth to be able to address local circumstances and plan effectively to ensure the supply of commercial floorspace and housing best meets identified local needs. Otherwise LPAs ability to undertake positive and proactive forward planning will be severely curtailed.

Numerous previous studies and reports have concluded that the planning system is not the most significant obstacle to economic and business growth and development. The securing of planning permission is a relatively short window within the longer project timetable of securing land, funding and construction and delivery of developments on site. The most controversial housing developments are usually outside of town and city centres on greenfield sites where PDR would not have an influence. Within urban areas on brownfield sites, the principle of redevelopment can be quickly established and indeed may be welcomed if it results in the loss of an ageing, unattractive and unloved building.  PDR will encourage the retention of such buildings and lead to expensive long-term maintenance issues for new occupiers and owners and lost opportunity to regenerate a site or neighbourhood with a high-quality designed building with enhanced public realm. 

The council has been successfully managing change of use of offices to residential since its Article 4 Direction was introduced in 2013 for certain defined areas of the city – the need for this underpinned by specific evidence commissioned regarding employment land supply in the city. There are serious concerns about the further erosion of the council’s ability to maintain a supply of needed employment land; the detrimental impact on established business/ industrial units up to 1500m2 and consequently the local economy.

Reducing the LPA’s ability to maintain a needed supply of industrial space risks harming activities which form an important part of the city’s functioning economy. This would be contrary to aspirations for the Greater Brighton City Region where a stated priority is to create attractive employment space for businesses to grow and thrive. There is likely to be a loss of affordable workspace which is important to support spin-off, start up and smaller businesses as well as businesses that support the city’s service-based economy. This risks undermining the council’s ambitions to maintain sustainable communities with an appropriate balance of residential, employment and leisure uses.

What is the impact of PDR on the involvement of local communities in the planning process?

Communities are currently able to influence how the areas in which they live evolve through engagement in the local plan and development management processes. Similarly elected local members represent their communities in decision making on planning applications and development plans and are able to take an evidence-based approach to decision-making in these areas. The increasing scope of permitted development rights will erode local democracy in planning, as significant changes to the character and future evolution of areas will be able to occur with far less input from local residents and those who represent them. Prior approvals cannot be referred for consideration by elected members at Planning Committee.

Should the government reform PDR? If so, how?

This council believes the government should return to a more cautious approach to PDR and have more trust in local planning authorities to plan positively for the development and evolution of their area. Recognise there are already checks on LPAs’ approaches through the Examination process for Local Plans and appeals process for planning applications.

Should the government wish to continue to expand the influence of PDR to change land uses in an unmanaged way, planning authorities should still retain the powers to be able to manage the quality of accommodation such as outlook and daylighting and the impacts on neighbours as well as the quality of landscaping and public realm and safety to ensure a high quality design and high quality living accommodation.

The proposed requirement for premises to have been vacant for a 3-month period is insufficient to prevent gaming of the system and this should be substantially increased.

As noted above, Article 4 Directions (A4Ds) are a tool that has been effectively used by Brighton & Hove and other authorities nationwide to override permitted development rights where they have a negative impact on the well-being of an area. The government, through proposed revision to the National Planning Policy Framework, is seeking to curtail the ability of authorities to take this approach through new wording that requires the potential impact of PDRs to be “wholly unacceptable”. Brighton & Hove objected to this proposed change and believe it should not be taken forward. The existing wording in the NPPF relating to A4Ds is well-established, effective and sets an appropriate test for the use of A4Ds. The Secretary of State already has the power to intervene to modify or cancel an A4D where it is not justified, and it is therefore questioned why amendments to this aspect of the NPPF are necessary. The proposed wording will not allow the use of A4Ds to protect the “well-being” of an area which risks avoidable, long-term harm to communities.

It is assumed that the revised wording has been drafted to prevent the widespread use of A4Ds in relation to override the new PDR for changes of use from Class E to residential. The publication of proposed changes to the NPPF were published in advance of full consideration of the responses to the consultation on the new PDR which raises concerns that the content of representations made will not be fully considered. The setting of the higher bar for the use of A4Ds mean that councils will be greatly limited in their ability to mitigate against local impacts of the PDR in their areas.

 

April 2021