Quality warning for office-to-resi conversions
A lack of regulation of Permitted Development Rights (PDR) is leading to the construction of poor quality housing, particularly in office-to-residential conversions.
That’s the warning from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), which has examined the benefits, implications and losses for public authorities by extending permitted developments in a new report.
There have been significant extensions of Permitted Development Rights in 2005, 2010, 2013 and 2015.
However, building conversions are proceeding without full formal planning in England, impacting planning control, RICS warned.
It looked at five local authorities with high rates of permitted development schemes in Camden, Croydon, Leeds, Leicester and Reading.
RICS conducted site visits to 568 buildings and found an inconsistency in the quality of developments, with only 30% of units delivering through permitted development meeting national space standards.
It said that while it found high-quality housing conversions, there were also examples that had no amenity space, low quality design and were in poor locations for residential amenities.
The research also found that office-to-residential conversions under permitted development had produced a higher number of poor quality housing than those governed through full planning permission.
In Glasgow, where the conversions require full planning permission, the report found higher quality residential schemes maintained with better space standards.
Meanwhile, the report also found that since the schemes were not making Section 106 contributions, local authorities were subject to further losses of £4.1m due to reduced planning fees and a potential loss of £10.8m (as well as 1,667 affordable housing units).
Developers and agents from the 30 stakeholders did point to benefits, including delivering more housing units, regeneration of town and city centres, and quicker implementation.
However, there were also concerns that local authorities lost the opportunity to weigh up the costs and benefits of a specific development, and that the quality of housing was sometimes impacted.
Another worry was that rural residential developments could be created that are not sustainable due to added road traffic. In the past local authorities could block agricultural-residential conversions.
The report, commissioned by RICS and written by teams from UCL and the University of Sheffield makes a number of recommendations recommended amending Community Infrastructure Legislation (CIL) regulations so that all developments creating new residential units are liable.
It also suggested that developers give careful consideration to the wider implications of their schemes on communities and people’s everyday quality of life.
Abdul Choudhury, RICS policy manager said: “Permitted development rights have potential to ease the UK housing crisis and speed up delivery of developments by reducing regulatory burdens. However, regulatory safeguards are necessary to mitigate negative aspects of development and to uphold minimum standards. By bypassing regulations, the policy may create more problems than it solves.
“Particularly with office or agricultural to residential, government needs to balance the competing priorities of housing, infrastructure and need for commercial spaces. In some areas, over-conversion has produced a shortage of office units which has pushed up their costs. Central government policies can dilute local planning authority powers, which seems contradictory to the localism agenda government have championed in the past.
“Government needs re-examine the policy and ask itself, how useful are different iterations of permitted development to local communities as a whole, rather than blindly focusing on numbers.”
Dr Ben Clifford, senior lecturer at the UCL Bartlett School of Planning, said: “The idea of reusing vacant office space as housing is a good one. The way this is currently governed as ‘permitted development’ in England is, however, highly problematic. Whilst we saw some high quality conversions of office buildings to residential use during our detailed case study research, we also saw many other examples of very poor quality housing.”