Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A Budget for...., er, planning?

Rather naively, I had always thought that the Budget presented to parliament each year by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was intended to deal primarily with fiscal matters, including the raising of the necessary taxation to finance the government’s spending plans. Nowadays, however, the Budget seems to be regarded as an opportunity to announce (or, in quite a few cases, to re-announce) all sorts of other policy initiatives, provided only that they can be said to have some sort of relevance to the economy.

One certainly would not have expected the Budget to be the vehicle in the past for announcing changes to the planning system, but that is nevertheless what we got today. At the time of writing, I have not yet got to grips with any of the detail, which will have to be teased out in the next few days from the plethora of press releases, policy statements and sundry supporting documentation which are now a traditional accompaniment to the Budget.

The two most significant changes had been pre-announced in the past few days – another modern practice. (There was a time when the Chancellor went into purdah before the budget; the details of the budget were a closely-guarded state secret, and even the Cabinet only got a last-minute briefing from the Chancellor.) These changes relate to the creation of a number of new enterprise zones and a proposal to allow a change of use of commercial premises to housing, presumably under a revised and expanded Part 3 in the Second Schedule to the GPDO.

It is the details of the latter proposal which we are all eager to discover. There are bound to be quite a few ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, and it will be interesting to see how this change will work in practice. I am particularly interested to know whether the new permitted development rights will apply only to premises currently within Use Class B1, or whether B8 and possibly even B2 might also be included. I shall come back to this topic when the details emerge.



  1. Absolutely. And will there be a size limit? If not, what about affordable housing and other infrastructure contributions? It could also mean residential enclaves in non-residential areas with no or few relevant facilities. So what about sustainable development?

  2. The pronouncements on the changes to the Use Classes Order are very confusing. The DCLG briefing note says that "plenty of empty office blocks, warehouses and business parks are lying needlessly empty, waiting to be turned into much needed new housing. Ministers are proposing to scrap the requirement to get permission for this change of use", suggesting that all B1, B2 and B8 uses will be up for grabs. Yet the 'Plan for Growth' talks about the ability to change "from residential to commercial use", i.e. the other way round!

    I cannot believe that these options are anything other than non-starters. Four serious objections immediately come to mind to the proposal that changes from commercial to residential use should be permitted development:

    1. It would render meaningless all attempts at planning for additional housing in LDFs and in carrying out Housing Land Availability assessments - how can one possibly take account of an almost unlimited supply of commercial property that could become residential? I am sure that the housebuilding industry will be very concerned about such plans, and what it could do to their prospects of permission for development sites.

    2. It could stifle whole sections of industry - if a commercial premises surrounded by B2 uses was to become residential, then as present Environmental Health laws are applied, any complaints by residents of the new residential area about the surrounding businesses could force the closure of these businesses.

    3. It would render meaningless all attempts to control standards of residential amenity - overlooking, availability of open space etc. How can local authorities seriously control such issues in other areas of residential development when these standards go by the board in areas where residential units can be created as permitted development?

    4. Conservation areas - what effect will there be on the character of a conservation area if wholescale changes to the uses within that area are permitted development? No doubt that could be addressed by excluding conservation areas from the operation of any changes to the permitted development regime, but these are often the areas (e.g. town centres) with most potential for changes from office to residential use.

    No doubt some of these objections might be partly addressed by careful drafting, but I cannot but think that this is a kite being flown by the Government that will never get off the ground.

  3. I entirely share these concerns. These proposals will be subject to 'consultation', which means that ministers have not yet decided how these changes will work or, indeed, precisely what form they will take. I am willing to bet that there is some furious head-scratching going on in DeCLoG at the moment.

  4. As readers should be aware by now, DCLG published a consultation paper on 8 April on proposed PD for changes of use from commercial to C3. The primary proposal relates to c/u from B1 to C3, but the government is clearly prepared to consider changes from B8 and even B2 to C3. I will cover this in a post on the blog shortly.