Written evidence submitted by Crawley Borough Council [PDR 062]

 

 

1.              Summary

1.1               This submission is provided by Crawley Borough Council (CBC) in response to the call for evidence issued by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee for its Inquiry on Permitted Development Rights (PDR).  It responds to the questions raised by the Committee.  Should you require further information or wish to clarify any matters set out within this statement, please do contact the council via the details provided.

 

1.2               Crawley has been particularly affected by permitted development rights, which have resulted in a significant loss of business floor space across the Borough, particularly through Class B1a office to residential conversions. To date, just under 60,000sqm office floorspace has been lost within the Borough through permitted development. The loss has been so significant that Crawley was identified as a case study for the Government commissioned study ‘Research into the quality standard of homes delivered through change of use permitted development rights’, recently undertaken by University College London and University of Liverpool.  This Submission therefore focusses primarily on the PDR to create new residential units. 

 

1.3               The council has strong concerns with regards to the negative impacts of PDR on the sustainable planning of the area. These relate principally to:

i)        loss of employment land supply in what is a highly land constrained borough;

ii)       the undermining effect of residential use in employment areas, creating significant uncertainty for businesses and undermining confidence for inward investment at a time of economic crisis in Crawley;

iii)     residential use through PDR coming forward in isolated, completely inappropriate and unsustainable locations, contrary to the planned nature of Crawley as a New Town and principles of sustainable development;

iv)     a poor standard of accommodation and quality of life for residents resulting from permitted development;

v)       inability for transport noise to be considered in the Prior Approval process;

vi)     the impacts of PDR undermining  the delivery of much needed affordable housing

vii)   the impacts of PDR undermining the ability to secure new infrastructure through developer contributions to support the increasing population;

viii) the impact of PDR on town centre diversity and vitality;

ix)     insufficient fees and time for LPAs to properly assess proposals for new homes, which should be fully scrutinised through the planning process.

 

1.4              As a result of this combination of impacts, the council is of the strong view that PDR undermines the principles of the sustainable planning of places, and critically undermines the strategic approach and objectives of national and local policy, including the National Planning Policy Framework, the Planning White Paper and the adopted Crawley Borough Local Plan. This negative situation is likely to be exacerbated through the more wide ranging permitted development powers to be introduced through Class MA, which would seem to undercut the intended principle of flexibility within the commercial Use Class E, instead facilitating the loss of more commercial uses to residential, an approach that will have far-reaching implications both for town centres and designated Main Employment Areas (MEAs), significantly reducing job densities and in town centres running the risk by default of creating commuter dormitories, which offer very little to economic output generation locally.

 

1.5              To assist the HCLG Committee, we answer below the questions you have raised.

 

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

2.1              CBC wish to make clear that it does not object to the overarching objective of permitted development rights where these allow change of use between similar uses, or relatively minor extensions to buildings, neither of which would have a significant impact on the area within which they are located.  However, the significant increase and much wider range of PD rights which have been introduced recently is of concern as it takes away the ability of Local Planning Authorities to properly plan their areas in line with the objectives of national policy, for example, maintaining vibrant town centres. The Council is particularly concerned about the commercial to residential conversion PDR.

 

2.2              Some change of use from commercial to residential is appropriate in sustainable locations such as Crawley Town Centre. However, this could and should be properly controlled and consented through a planning application which will ensure in future that an appropriate balance between residential and other uses in the Town Centre can be maintained, and which avoids the blanket PDR which currently allows for change of use to residential in inappropriate locations. In sustainable and appropriate locations such as Crawley Town Centre, new dwellings, including in some cases those created through PDR, can have a positive impact in providing new homes and generating footfall and activity. The NPPF and Local Plan support the delivery of residential units in the Town Centre, which is (through prior approvals and planning permissions) contributing significantly to meeting Crawley’s housing need, with over 800 town centre dwellings completed since 2014/15 and a further 1,200 dwellings having planning permission.

 

2.3              However, as a matter of sound planning, residential development is not appropriate in all locations. For reasons of economic, social and environmental sustainability (summarised at 1.3 above) several of Crawley’s Main Employment Areas are not appropriate locations for residential development, particularly where this is coming forward in an unplanned manner through prior approval. There is need to achieve balanced growth in both residential and commercial space to ensure a sustainable future for the town, particularly in a borough where land supply is so constrained. The progressive broadening of PDR undermines the ability of the planning system to manage this balance, and CBC strongly argues that the recent introduction of expanded permitted development rights, particularly those justified by the single-minded focus on housing numbers irrespective of quality, completely contradicts the objectives of the NPPF for sustainable development that balances environmental, economic and social objectives, as well as undermining the current focus on “building beautiful.”

 

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

3.1              For Crawley, the need for affordable housing is a critical concern. Local Plan Policy H4 seeks 40% affordable housing on all new residential development within the borough, though even if this figure were to be achieved on all residential developments (which for reasons of viability may not always provide the full 40%), it would meet only 18% of Crawley’s overall affordable housing needs required over the coming Plan period[1].

 

 

3.2              The table above shows delivery of gross and net affordable housing 2015-19 (the first four years of the adopted Local Plan) against the average annual/quarterly figures from Policy H4. The significant proportion of new completions benefitting from prior approval has affected the proportion of new units which are affordable. Including prior approvals, the affordable units delivered comprise only 28% over the four years in question, whereas if they are excluded (providing a fairer view of the implementation of Policy H4) the four-year total sits at 41%, exceeding the 40% target. Therefore, it can be seen that PDR is significantly undermining the delivery of affordable housing in Crawley.

 

3.3              Turning to the standard of homes delivered through PDR, strong concerns relate to the quality of homes provided and in turn the quality of life for occupiers given the location of many PDR schemes in industrial locations. There is significant concern that the MEAs, as operational business districts, are simply not appropriate locations for residential use. The nature of employment operations at the MEAs means that these locations, during the daytime and at night, are subject to business noise, fumes, vibrations, and vehicular movements, including from heavy goods vehicles which can create significant safety risks for pedestrians. However, unless there is a specific business noise issue as a reason for refusal, the inappropriateness of an operational MEA as a residential location is not able to be used as a reason for refusal under the PDR system.  These locations generally have no facilities for residents, and are often at considerable distance, severed by major roads, from supporting community facilities, shops etc., and some have only limited public transport connectivity. The adverse impacts on future residents of traffic and, a key issue for Crawley, aircraft noise is also unable to be taken into account as a reason to refuse a PDR scheme.  This has resulted in new homes being created in Crawley in locations where the noise levels are far higher than the acceptable levels (see paras 9.2 – 9.6 below).

 

3.4              Further, in many cases the quality of development coming forward through office to residential conversions has been poor. Research undertaken by University College London and University of Liverpool has found that of 620 residential units created through prior approval in Crawley, just 9% meet national space standards, with the smallest unit measuring just 16sqm. Raising further concern about the poor living standards, the research finds ‘This small size is compounded by just 2% having access to private amenity space, and 75% of the units having only single aspect windows’. The study has found that it is not just the unacceptable size of units that is an issue, but also their poor layout, with examples of dog-leg shaped units restricting the usability of space and daylight. Access to natural light and amenity space also represent key concerns.

 

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

4.1              Further to concerns relating to the delivery of affordable housing and also the quality of residential units coming forward, there is a broader point that PDR is creating and exacerbating pressures on infrastructure, which is not being offset through developer contributions. S106 contributions to infrastructure cannot be sought from PDR schemes. In addition the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) is not chargeable where the building has been at least partially occupied by a lawful use for a continuous 6 month period during the 3-years preceding implementation, since in such circumstances the scheme is not counted as new floorspace. In practice this has meant that most PDR conversion schemes have not had to pay any CIL. This has resulted in over 1,000 new homes coming forward in Crawley without making a commensurate financial contribution to school places, open space provision, health care, sustainable transport, biodiversity, and other community and social infrastructure. 

 

4.2.                In terms of the impact on local planning authorities, whilst the recent changes to the PDR, such as requiring new residential units to have natural light and to meet the national space standards, are welcomed because they overcome some of the concerns about poor quality accommodation being provided, these really demonstrate how important the planning application process is to ensure that new development is appropriate.  The eight weeks given to an LPA to consider a Prior Approval scheme, and the limited fee provided, is inadequate for a proper assessment to be made and simply increases the pressures on already stretched council planning departments. The creation of new residential units should be subject to full assessment through a planning application, through which other important matters such as accessibility, energy efficiency and even bin storage could be taken into account

 

4.3              Finally, in relation to new Class MA PDR, there are a range of issues related to design which would seem to be difficult to separate from the issues which are proposed for consideration. For example, how is the question of access to adequate natural light to be assessed? In particular, where a property currently has a glazed modern shop front which, while being suitable for retail use, would clearly be inappropriate for residential use and where the assumption would therefore be that the property will need to be re-fronted – both in order to ensure privacy to the residents and to reduce their exposure to noise from surrounding commercial premises? Consideration of these issues would seem to require approval for a replacement frontage, notwithstanding the fact that the proposed right does not seem to embrace physical works, and only relates to the actual use. If, on the other hand, physical works (including replacement frontages) are to be considered as part of the prior approval process, the potential visual impact of these and the potential sensitivity of the location should require that design is also given consideration.

 

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

5.1              The Council has raised significant concerns relating to the ‘one size fits all’ approach set out in the Planning White Paper, particularly as this would seem to remove local scrutiny and consideration of local circumstances from planning decisions. Notwithstanding these concerns, similar to its relationship with the NPPF, PDR would seem to dilute and at worst fundamentally undermine key objectives and aspects of the vision set out in the Planning White Paper.

 

5.2              A key focus of the White Paper is its intention to address what it describes as a public mistrust of the planning system, seeking to increase public participation in the planning process. It is unclear how the continued expansion of PDR helps to address this, effectively enabling significant development outside of planning control, and removing further the ability of local voices to steer and scrutinise development proposals. Given the White Paper’s focus on public participation during Local Plan preparation (rather than at the planning application stage) as the key opportunity for public involvement, it would again seem counter-intuitive to then effectively by-pass Local Plans through PDR.

 

5.3              The White Paper is clear in its view that there is not sufficient focus on design, and little incentive for high quality new homes and places, stating that the current planning system ‘means that quality can be negotiated away too readily and the lived experience of the consumer ignored too readily’. The expanded roll out of PDR, which is often resulting in poor quality, isolated and unsustainable residential development, fundamentally ignores the place-making objective of the White Paper and allows no consideration to be given to the “lived experience of the consumer”.  The White Paper has an objective to ‘build beautiful places’, when in reality the outcomes of PDR are frequently quite the opposite.

 

5.4              There have been some less than satisfactory permitted development office conversions due to the changes in permitted development rights which has removed the Local Planning Authority’s ability to consider design and which have caused amenity problems. Recent permitted development changes such as upward extensions are going to have a detrimental impact upon the townscape, the impacts of these recent changes should be more carefully evaluated before further changes are considered. Most planning professionals accept that permitted development rights do not lead to good design; rather they are a way of achieving the maximum amount of additional space on the dwelling with very limited consideration on the visual appearance of the resultant structure. The expansion of permitted development rights will not lead to good design. Excessively deep rear extensions are now detracting from neighbours’ amenity and the character and appearance of our townscape, and residential prior approvals have resulted in sub-standard accommodation and problems in the public realm though, for example, lack of space for refuse provision. 

 

5.5              The White Paper advocates that development should be supported by the infrastructure it requires. This is key to sustainable place-making. Charging the Community Infrastructure Levy on PDR (irrespective of the use-history of the building) will help, there is no reason in principle why permitted development should escape these charges, and if the levy is intended to be based on development value (i.e. rather than an assessment of infrastructure need arising from a development), it is consistent that PDR changes of use should be subject to it. However, other planning obligations can still not be secured.

             

 

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

6.1              As a New Town, Crawley has been planned and developed on the basis of the neighbourhood principle, which seeks to ensure that communities have, within walking distance, access to a neighbourhood parade that provides a variety of local shops, and facilities and services to support the day-to-day needs of residents. The neighbourhood centres serve as sustainable locations for local retail, leisure and religious activities and act as hubs for day-to-day community life. Employment areas were deliberately planned to be separate from residential area to avoid the potential conflict and disturbance that can result. In this sense, the urban fabric of Crawley is significantly different to other towns which have grown in a more organic way with interspersed residential and commercial uses.

 

6.2              Where residential development is coming forward inside MEAs, it is doing so in locations that are set away from local amenities, and remote from services provided in the neighbourhood centres around Crawley or within the Town Centre, including medical facilities and shopping parades. This has the effect of isolating the residents that have to live within the MEAs, and in turn, increases the need for these people to travel by private vehicle in order to access services and facilities that would otherwise be available had the development been appropriately located through the planning system. As such, the sustainable approach of Crawley’s neighbourhood principle, which is fundamental to the structure, urban fabric and character of the borough, is being undermined significantly by PDR.

 

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

7.1              CBC strongly disagree with the government’s assertion that PDR supports business and economic growth. From experience, the reality is quite the opposite, and it is the view of the council, supported by local business groups, that PDR is actively undermining measures to plan for economic growth. Indeed, clear conflict exists between the approach of PDR and the overarching economic objective NPPF paragraph 8a to help build a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right types is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth, innovation and improved productivity; and by identifying and coordinating the provision of infrastructure’.

 

7.2              Crawley is the leading economic driver in the Gatwick Diamond, identified by Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership as forming the economic heart of the Coast to Capital area, and recognised by Gatwick Diamond Initiative as a main focus for future economic development. There is strong demand from businesses wishing to locate in Crawley. The scope to accommodate identified business needs is though severely limited by the constrained land supply position in Crawley Borough, which itself is significantly affected by the ongoing requirement to safeguard land in the north of the borough for a possible additional runway at Gatwick Airport.

 

7.3              The Local Plan plans positively for sustainable economic growth within the context of the Borough’s constrained land supply, seeking to protect and intensify the use of existing designated Main Employment Areas, and supporting minor extensions to Manor Royal, the principal business location in Crawley, to facilitate business-led economic growth. Despite this, the borough’s constrained land supply means there is a substantial unmet need of 35ha additional business land in Crawley for the adopted Plan period to 2030. This places significant importance on the need to protect the available land supply, particularly within the designated Main Employment Areas, for business and economic development generating uses. Whilst the Local Plan seeks to safeguard the employment function of Crawley, its effectiveness is being undermined as PDR eats away at the employment land supply.

 

7.4              The NPPF is clear that planning policies and decisions should help create the conditions in which businesses can invest, expand and adapt (Paragraph 80), and should seek to address barriers to investment (Paragraph 81(c)). PDR represents a conflict with these objectives, and there are known examples in Crawley of operational businesses having been evicted from premises or not having leases renewed in order to ‘free up’ buildings so that PDR conversion to residential can take place. The proposed new Class MA PDR is likely to have the same effect; incentivising the loss of commercial premises to residential, particularly given that residential uses achieve much higher values than commercial, resulting in significant uncertainty for town centre and other businesses, and eroding diversity in town centres rather than supporting regeneration.

 

7.5              A further concern is that the permitted development rights are enabling the inappropriate introduction of amenity-sensitive residential uses in the MEAs. With residential use comes a subsequent need to protect the amenity of future residents, and this is undermining the long term function of designated main employment areas, creating uncertainty for current and future occupiers, deterring investment and stymieing the scope for future employment uses.

 

7.6              This would seem to be in clear conflict with NPPF Paragraph 80 and Paragraph 81(c), and is particularly unfortunate at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the economy, critically so in Crawley. The HCLG Commission will be aware that Crawley is classified among the most vulnerable areas to the major adverse economic impact of Covid-19, having the highest share of employees in the aviation and aircraft manufacturing sectors. Since the pandemic hit Crawley has suffered a major economic crisis due to the collapse in the aviation and travel industry with the unemployment Universal Credit claimant count more than trebling to nearly 9% and Crawley now in the worst 8% of local authority areas in the country for the volume of such claimants, contrasting starkly with the Town’s situation pre-pandemic when the claimant count rate was below the South East average.  Moreover there remain almost 12,000 Crawley workers furloughed and at risk of redundancy, and with the end of the Job Retention Scheme, further economic implications are likely to occur. The confidence for business to invest will be paramount as Crawley seeks to recover from these unprecedented economic impacts. There is clear risk that PDR (including the proposed Class MA) will significantly undermine economic recovery with residential conversion permanently depriving the Borough of key commercial space sites, which can attract business investment to unlock vitally needed new jobs for Crawley’s residents and boost the recovery of Crawley’s economic output.

 

7.7              NPPF Paragraph 180 requires planning policies and decisions to avoid noise giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life. New development must be appropriate to its location taking into account the likely effects (including cumulative effects) of pollution on health, living conditions and the natural environment. Potential adverse effects should be mitigated and reduced to a minimum. Paragraph 182 of the NPPF (2019) goes on to state that ‘planning decisions should ensure that new development can be integrated effectively with existing businesses and community facilities. Existing businesses and facilities should not have unreasonable restrictions placed on them as a result of development permitted after they were established. Again, the approach of PDR runs counter to these objectives, undermining economic growth, creating barriers and deterring investment.

 

7.8              Turning specifically to the proposed new Class MA, there is strong concern that this new form of PDR undermines the commercial flexibility introduced through the new Use Class E and, rather than supporting town centres, will actively undermine them, eroding the identity, vitality and interest that makes for a successful town centre. Of equal concern, the proposed new right, in applying to the extended Class E, focuses not just on retail uses where there may be a justification for some flexibility, but also a wider range of uses that now includes restaurants, indoor sports, and creches. With the change in shopping habits, town centre vitality and viability is generated by ‘experience’ uses such as those now included within Class E, which actively encourage people to visit the town centre. These uses (and others in the leisure and hospitality industry) which have been subject to unprecedented hardship as a result of the global pandemic, will now face further challenge through the new right, making businesses more vulnerable than ever to the threat of eviction to make way for high value residential use.

 

7.9              The proposed new Class MA, whilst apparently intended to support the diversity of town centres, conversely is likely to remove diversity in favour of residential. The council fully appreciates that town centres are facing unprecedented challenge, and recognise the role of residential use, particularly given the national need for new homes, in contributing to a vital and viable town centre. However, this is a delicate balance, and residential must be carefully planned for alongside other main town centre uses to support businesses and town centre recovery. As it stands, the new PDR Class MA is likely to erode the identity, vitality and interest that makes for a successful town centre.

 

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

8.1              By introducing into industrial locations an amenity sensitive use such as residential, PDR is exposing people to an unacceptable living environment and poor quality of life. It is resulting in residents being exposed to the impacts of pollution, particularly noise, with a generally poor standard of accommodation and lack of amenity space compounding this situation. In doing so, the current permitted development rights, where applied within the MEAs, are in significant conflict with the NPPF. They are not, as required by NPPF paragraph 127f creating places ‘that are safe, inclusive and accessible and which promote health and well-being, with a high standard of amenity for existing and future users’. Nor do the permitted development rights avoid pollution from giving rise to significant adverse effects on health and quality of life through ensuring that development is appropriate to its location, as required by paragraph 180. It is only through making Article 4 Directions at the identified MEAs that the Council can ensure that the sustainability objectives of the NPPF are achieved.

 

8.2              More broadly, the ability to convert commercial uses to residential through PDR, where not carefully managed, is serving to create and reinforce inequalities and the effects of social exclusion. This has particularly been the case in Crawley, where some operators of PDR conversions are placing a concentration of vulnerable residents, often from outside of the borough, in a single converted block. This is frequently leaving vulnerable individuals without a support network, leaving them prone to, or indeed resulting in issues of crime and anti-social behaviour.

 

9.              Should the government reform PDR? If so, how?

9.1              The delivery of high quality, beautiful and sustainable new homes in sustainable places, so critical to ensuring a good quality of life for residents, should be properly scrutinised through a full planning process so that all issues can be assessed, and LPAs can be properly resourced. Such scrutiny is even more critical if new homes are to be successfully decarbonised to uphold the legally binding commitments the government has made to achieving net zero carbon by 2050.  However, if PDR for the creation of new dwellings is to remain, some fundamental reforms at least are required to help ensure that PDR can be achieved in a manner that is sustainable and consistent with national and local policies. The suggested reforms to PDR would help to ensure that its intended objective (to deliver new homes) can be achieved in a manner that provides a good quality of life for future occupiers, does not undermine economic recovery and growth, and is achieved in conformity with the NPPF and principles of sustainable development.

 

9.2              Allow consideration of noise impact from transport sources: As currently worded, the GPDO allows planning decisions to have regard only to impacts of noise from any commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the new dwelling houses. This approach does not however allow consideration of the impact of noise from transport sources, meaning that future residents can still be exposed to unacceptable noise impacts that can result in sleep disturbance and long-term health impacts. This is particularly relevant and hugely significant in Crawley, where in addition to noise and vibration from surface transport sources such as main roads and railways, aviation noise associated with Gatwick Airport is a key consideration in planning decisions.

 

9.3              Responding to the NPPF and Planning Practice Guidance: Noise, the Crawley Local Plan 2015 (Policy ENV11) sets out locally specific noise standards to ensure that development is acceptable in noise terms. It is clear that the Unacceptable Adverse Effect level, i.e. the level when noise impact become harmful to human health, occurs when noise exposure is greater than 66dB LAeq. The policy has been endorsed by the Inspector’s Report on the Local Plan, which set out: ‘Areas of Crawley suffer from high levels of noise from main roads, industrial activity and Gatwick airport. Policy ENV11 aims to control and, where possible, reduce people’s exposure to noise without restricting the ability of noise generating businesses to grow, in line with NPPF paragraph 123’ (paragraph 108).  The emerging draft Local Plan, reflecting advances in the understanding of long-term health impacts associated with noise exposure, is seeking to reduce this threshold further, identifying 60dB as the Unacceptable Adverse Effect level.

 

9.4              The omission of transport noise as a consideration has in Crawley resulted in instances (First Choice House, London Road) where occupiers are exposed to daytime noise from surface transport of 77dB LAeq ,and 73dB (façade level) at night, well beyond the limits that could be applied were planning permission to be required. For context, as of 2018, only 2000 people in the whole of England were exposed to noise exceeding 70 dB LAeq at night (DEFRA Noise Action Plan for Roads); the First Choice House PDR adds 94 x one and two bedroom units to this figure.

 

9.5              Turning to aviation noise, it is very unlikely that commercial building conversion to residential through prior approval would include the appropriate levels of noise insulation required for residential premises in such close proximity to an airport. Such dwellings would not be eligible for any noise insulation grant from Gatwick Airport as a result of a new southern runway, as the conversion will have taken place after the safeguarded area was created in 2003. Noise from aircraft would therefore have a significant impact on the health and quality of life of those residents. This would be in conflict with the Noise Policy Statement for England (DEFRA, 2010), which identifies the need to avoid significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life, mitigate and minimise these adverse impacts and where possible contribute to the improvement of health and quality of life. Despite strong concerns that the noise climate will not be appropriate, existing permitted development rights mean that it is outside of the council’s planning powers to require mitigation, or refuse proposals which cannot be mitigated.

 

9.6              The Local Plan approach to managing noise has been found sound and NPPF compliant, yet PDR continues to undermine a sound policy that is in place to ensure a good quality of life for residents. The omission of transport noise consideration therefore represents a significant flaw in the permitted development rights, as it stands enabling residential accommodation to be created in areas where transport noise is significantly above the unacceptable level, and which would not allowed were planning permission to be required. It is vital therefore that noise from transport sources is included as a safeguard in any review of PDR. 

 

9.7              Consider carefully the impact of the new Class MA on Town Centres: The council is concerned that the new Class MA PDR will result in changes taking place in a haphazard, unplanned manner, with potentially serious consequences for the survival of high streets, town centres and other types of commercial ‘areas’ as identifiable, coherent locations. While ‘consolidation’ of retail quarters and town centres may be a laudable aim, the proposal instead raises the prospect of their disintegration, through the loss of key premises or assets in core locations and the proliferation of ‘gaps’ marked by significant expanses of dead frontage with residents screening their windows for privacy. This creates the risk of a vicious circle whereby town centres and high streets (or particular areas within them) attract fewer visitors and less investment, reducing the viability of the remaining commercial/service facilities, and thereby incentivising further conversions to residential use. As discussed above, this is a particular concern at a time when many businesses are seeking to respond to unprecedented economic challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

9.8              The approach seems to reflect an assumption that residential conversions will increase footfall. Even on a micro-scale, this is a questionable assumption, only really valid in relation to commercial premises which are already empty. At a larger scale, meanwhile, the expectation of increased footfall relies on the idea of a commercial area retaining some basic viability and coherence as such, rather than as a mainly residential area. However, the proposals leave local planning authorities with no clear way of securing this necessary baseline level of commercial identity and character.

 

9.9              Use Class E to residential PDR (Class MA) should only apply within defined Town Centres:  Given the town centre focused justification for the proposed new permitted development right, it does not follow that the consultation intends the right to apply in all locations, including those outside of town centres. In applying this new right to all areas, rather than specifically to town centres, residential development is likely to be introduced in inappropriate locations, including established business parks, which are frequently isolated and lack the supporting facilities and services needed to support a residential population. These locations are intentionally separated from residential areas to enable business operations, which will often be noisy, and subject to odour, fumes and vibration, to take place in a manner that does not result in an inappropriate living environment for residential occupiers. The presence of residential in an employment area may prevent future businesses uses being introduced in main employment areas, as the business use would represent an ‘agent of change’, despite the designated employment role of the area. Such an approach cannot be seen as supporting economic recovery or growth.

 

9.10              Allowing this right to apply outside of town centres is likely to damage economic recovery, depriving local economies of employment space which can generate economic output and boost recovery, and undermining existing and future businesses at a time when certainty and support is needed to encourage investment and growth. Whilst it is recognised that town centres can be highly sustainable locations in which to live, the same cannot be said of employment locations which are planned away from residential areas to avoid conflict between amenity-sensitive uses and the ability of businesses to operate as intended. This is an opportunity to avoid the unforeseen impacts of previous prior approval rights which have led to residential accommodation being located in highly unsuitable locations, and given that the rationale of the proposed right is to support town centres, it follows that the right should apply only within town centre boundaries.

 

9.11              Do not dilute the ability of councils to make Article 4 Directions: To support sustainable development in Crawley, the council has made Article 4 Directions to remove business to residential PDR in a number of main employment areas. These are a vital tool, albeit one that should be applied carefully and selectively, to ensure that residential development does not come forward in inappropriate (and in some cases isolated) locations where future residents would be exposed to a poor quality of life. They are also a vital tool to ensure that much needed business space is not lost, and that existing businesses can operate and invest with confidence, without fear of statutory nuisance. This is now even more the case as local economies seek to adapt and recover from the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The council therefore objects strongly to proposals to amend wording in the NPPF[2] which would mean that Article 4 Directions are effectively removed as a planning tool, irrespective of how carefully they are applied.

 

 

April 2021

 


[1] Strategic Housing Market Assessment (2019).

[2] NPPF and National Model Design Code Consultation (February 2021)