Written evidence submitted by Sevenoaks District Council [PDR 076]
Inquiry into PD rights - call for evidence
These comments are submitted on behalf of Sevenoaks District Council, a local authority to the south east of London. Sevenoaks District is located in West Kent, with the edge of Greater London to the north west. Surrey is to the west and East Sussex to the south. The District covers almost 143 square miles and 93% is designated Green Belt. The towns are Sevenoaks, Swanley, Edenbridge and Westerham, where about half of the 118,409 residents live. There are over 30 villages and smaller settlements, of which the largest is New Ash Green.
The Council has a number of concerns regarding the expansion of permitted development rights, which are outlined in this response.
PDR should allow for changes of use or development, where the proposal would have limited impact on amenity, the environment or economy. This reduces bureaucracy for smaller-scale proposals without significant impacts. However, there are concerns that PDR have now gone beyond this remit, in that they cover larger-scale development with a whole host of associated impacts.
Housing units created via prior approval do not provide affordable housing or contribute towards local infrastructure (via CIL). In terms of a snapshot of our authority, in 2018/19, 3,200sqm of office floor space was given Prior Approval to convert to residential, amounting to 52 units. In 2019/20, 5 office to residential schemes were allowed. None of these schemes would have been required to provide affordable housing or CIL contributions, leading to an increasing shortfall in affordable housing provision and a lack of strategic infrastructure.
As above – whereas a ‘standard’ planning application will be required to mitigate its impacts and contribute to local services and facilities (such as health, education and transport), units created via PDR will not contribute towards infrastructure and will not ‘wash their own face’. Therefore, this shortfall will need to be met from some other source, whether that is a higher tariff on other development or government funding.
The desire for more flexibility and organic growth and renewal is understood, but there appear to be many unintended consequences, which have not been fully explored.
There are serious concerns that the increased flexibility through the revised PDR will erode local authorities’ ability to plan effectively. Most local authorities will have identified strategic employment sites, which are central to the economy of the local area. The restrictions on our ability to safeguard this land will have serious repercussions, particularly in areas of high housing demand in the SE, where there is a concern that this will promote dormitory districts, devoid of suitable employment opportunities.
Similarly, there is concern that the increased PDR flexibility has the potential to have wide-ranging negative impacts on high streets. In high value areas, with high housing demand, there is a serious concern that primary retail frontages will be eroded by residential conversions, which will impact upon the vitality and viability of the high street. It is fully understood that many of the current trends (e.g. more flexible working / potentially less office space requirement / more online shopping / less retail space requirement) were in existence pre-pandemic and these trends have now just sped up. However, even if the high street as a concept is shrinking and changing, the core area should be protected and the PDR should be restricted to secondary, more marginal areas.
Please see above. Although PDR offer increased flexibility to businesses on an individual scale, the changes do not necessarily support business and the economy on a collective wider-scale. For example, the conversion of key employment sites or prime retail frontage to residential may benefit an individual, but would have serious negative benefits for the local economy or high street.
In many ways, PDR disenfranchise local stakeholders from the planning process, as they are not able to express their views on a ‘planning application’. They will experience the burdens of new development (be that construction disruption, increased pressure on existing facilities and services and potential amenity impacts), but will receive no benefits in terms of social or community infrastructure.
Yes, further thought needs to be given to PDR, particularly in relation to office/retail conversion to residential and the associated impact on local economies and high streets. There is the potential to limit PDR, so that they do not apply in specific areas, such as prime retail frontages or strategic employment sites.
Consequences of all the PDR proposals need to be carefully considered. As an example, the new PDR from Class E to residential requires the building to be vacant for at least three continuous months. This no doubt well-intended requirement will actually mean that tenants are likely to be removed from properties to establish the new use, whereas previously they would have remained in situ whist an application was considered. In addition, three months vacancy does appear to be very limited in comparison to usual assessments, which are typically for a minimum of six months to a year. This example of one element of PDR is used to highlight the urgent need to interrogate the potential consequences of the PDR amendments.