Written evidence submitted by Tesco Stores Limited [PDR 084]
Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee – Permitted Development Rights
1. About Tesco Stores Limited
Tesco has over 3,700 stores and retail operations across the UK and in almost every parliamentary constituency. These stores range from small high-street convenience stores to larger supermarket formats. Across our business, we support over 340,000 jobs and a recent report found that Tesco in a typical constituency supports over 1,000 jobs and 9 critical community facilities (recycling centres, opticians, pharmacies etc).
We are a significant user of the planning system - submitting hundreds of planning applications each year ranging from minor applications to major mixed use developments. We are first and foremost a retail business, however, in recent years we have been helping to deliver the Government’s target of increasing housing by building homes above our stores or through the development of homes on surplus land. Many Tesco stores are located in town centres and we are strong supporters of investment in town centres.
Tesco broadly welcomes changes to increase the scope of permitted development rights. In this response we confine our comments to our specific views of the benefits and potential unintended consequences of Class E permitted development rights.
2. Tesco views on Class E (Commercial, Business and Service)
The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 established the new Class E (Commercial, Business and Service). Class E enables buildings to change between a wide range of uses including shops, financial & professional services, restaurants, cafes, gyms, nurseries, offices and business units (as set out in sub-classes E(a)-(E(g) of the Regulations) without the need for planning permission, which provides greater flexibility and speeds up development processes.
The changes have been introduced to support town centres (as is clear from the Explanatory Memorandum that accompanies the Regulations and the updated Planning Practice Guidance) However, Class E is not legally confined to town centres and instead is applicable across all geographical areas in England. A possible unintended consequence of this change is that some units in out of town locations for example business units (formerly in Class B1) or gyms (formerly in Class D2) can now be changed to retail use without the need for planning permission. This could have a significant adverse impact on town centres as retail uses can be established in out of town locations without the need to consider town centre impacts and the sequential assessment as required by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
To ensure town centres are protected we suggest that the Government considers further amending the Use Classes Order to ensure that planning permission is required for changes from business units or gyms to retail use if they are located outside ‘town centres’ as defined by the NPPF. This will provide planning authorities with the opportunity to take into account all material planning considerations before reaching a decision. Full flexibility would be maintained for businesses in town centres allowing them to adapt and diversify to meet changing demands.
Some business units or gyms have restrictive conditions on floorspace that prevent or restrict retail use. In these situations a developer may submit a Section 73 application to vary the condition and have the restriction removed. In determining Section 73 applications the updated Government’s Planning Practice Guidance on ‘When is permission required’ (paragraph 12(b)) provides that planning authorities should have regard to the new Regulations and the advice in the Planning Practice Guidance when considering such applications.
The new Regulations that established Class E could in some cases justify a departure from established town centre first policy as contained in the NPPF and relevant local plans. To protect town centres and ensure the new Regulations are not misapplied during the consideration of such applications or given undue weight we recommend that the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance is further updated to make it clear that the new Regulations do not override retail policies contained in local plans and the NPPF and that it is for the decision maker to decide what weight is to be given to the new Regulations in each case.
Many town centres are in a fragile condition and face significant challenges in a period of unprecedented change. The suggestions outlined above maintain the needed flexibility of uses within town centres to simplify planning processes for the much needed investment, while closing what seems to be an unintended consequence that makes it easier for buildings in out of centre location to be used for retail.