Thursday, 31 March 2016

Parliamentary challenge to GPDO changes

Michael Bach has kindly drawn my attention to two early day motions that have been put down in the Commons following the recent amendment order to the GPDO (which is due to take effect on 6 April). The first of these seeks to annul the Statutory Instrument by which these changes to the GPDO are made.

Before anyone gets too excited about this, I should make it clear that I don’t seriously think this attempt to resist the current changes to the GPDO stands any realistic chance of getting the amending order rescinded. At best, it may get the Opposition a debate on the subject in the Commons but, on recent performance, I doubt whether they will make anything of it, and on this occasion it is extremely unlikely that they would have the support of the Scottish Nationalists (who are entirely unaffected by English planning law), even if a few discontented Tory back-benchers could be persuaded to join in opposing these changes to the GPDO.

I can’t help feeling that this early day motion is simply tilting at windmills, as the time to oppose the liberalisation of permitted development would have been when these provisions were first introduced, and then successively widened, in 2013, 2014 and 2015. As explained in my recent post on the current GPDO changes, the effect of the amendment order is a good deal less dramatic than was expected, due to the omission of permitted development rights for the demolition and reconstruction of office buildings. Making the permitted development right for the residential conversion of offices permanent after it has already been in force for three years hardly seems sufficiently controversial to justify an attempt to overturn it. LPAs in the exempted areas have been given a further three years in which to get Article 4 Directions in place to prevent the loss of office space in the most vulnerable locations, and other LPAs can do likewise, although in those cases a year’s delay would be necessary in order to avoid compensation claims.

The other early day motion notes that launderettes continue to be a vital part of our communities as well as being an important safety net for many people, especially those on low-incomes or living in privately-rented housing; regrets the Government's decision to remove planning protections that currently prevent launderettes from being changed to other types of shop or housing without the owners obtaining planning permission; and calls on the Government to remove launderettes from the scope of the GPDO.

Whilst I am not entirely unsympathetic to this argument, the previous omission of launderettes from the permitted development right for residential conversion under Class M was purely the consequence of their having been made a sui generis use by the Use Classes Order, not because they are in need of special protection, but because a change of use from A1 (shop) to launderette was thought to give rise to possible problems for neighbours. Their exclusion from the UCO simply made it necessary to apply for planning permission for any change of use to or from use as a launderette.

All other ‘town centre uses’ i.e. A1 (shops) and A2 (‘retail services’, i.e. offices open to the public, such as banks, building societies, etc.), as well as amusement arcades and casinos, are already open to residential conversion under the GPDO, and in light of this it does seem anomalous to continue to exclude launderettes from this PD right. This second early day motion really serves no useful purpose, other than to allow the Opposition to make a political point, and it remains to be seen if any parliamentary time can be found to debate it on the floor of the house.


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