Land throughout the country was to be allocated one of three designations, namely:
- You can’t build anything.
- You need planning permission.
- Knock yourself out and build what you like.
It certainly epitomised Boris’s ‘build, build, build’ mantra, but was about as welcome with council planners and nimbyists as a tabloid photographer at a Downing Street Christmas party. The problem is that major planning overhauls require a scalpel rather than a cleaver (or a sledgehammer in Jenrick’s case). Council planning officers don’t like power being taken away from them and so talk loudly about the new rules allowing rogue developers to build whatever they want to the detriment of the local population. The local media scream ‘foul’, and voters get both scared and hot-under-the-collar before exercising their displeasure at the local election ballot box. This results in a Tory backbench backlash and another housing minister thrown under a JCB.
Interestingly, we now have that redoubtable heavyweight, Michael Gove, in charge of housing and planning reform. That said, he does have quite a lot else within his rather hefty portfolio and, so far, he’s not been heavy on the details when it comes to what the revised planning reforms will look like. But what we DO know is that he’s passionate about building on brownfield and that he likes the idea of locals influencing planning decisions. So, we can probably expect a compromise then, one that’s going to offer something to (hopefully) better-resourced local planning departments, appeasing the nimbyists while allowing the country’s potential million-plus brownfield units to be built. It seems reasonable to expect that Gove will furnish us with more details in the first quarter of 2022. He’ll also stick with the modernisation mantra (the current planning system is in many respects a child of the 1950s).
Linked to this, there’s the weighty matter of Permitted Development Rights (PDRs). These were significantly reinvented in 2015 and are supposed to provide a much-needed shortcut through our woeful planning system. They enable developers to, among other things, change the use of a building without the need to apply for full planning permission. A good thing, then? Well, yes, in principle, but it’s fair to say that PDRs had some problematic teenage years, which have led to a bad rep in some quarters. More specifically, since national space standards never used to apply to permitted development schemes, it allowed a small minority of unscrupulous individuals to build tiny flats with no windows. The result was low-quality housing built by low-quality developers, and certainly a low point in the history of permitted development. But then along came rehab, and since April 2021, all permitted development schemes have had to comply with national space standards and the provision of adequate natural light. So, no more dark rabbit hutches, yet numerous commentators continue to bad-mouth PDRs as a source of poor-quality housing. But if they now have adequate natural light and comply with national space standards, how bad can they really be? Answers on a postcard, please.