Register of planning applications etc

Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:30 pm ar 25 Hydref 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution) 3:30, 25 Hydref 2016

I beg to move amendment 28, in clause 8, page 7, line 21, at end insert—

“(e) information on the number of permitted demolition of offices for residential use to a similar scale including—

(a) the impact on a local plan;

(b) an estimate as to how many homes the development will deliver and

(c) a consultation with the local authority regarding the effect of the change of use on any urban regeneration plans.”

This amendment would ensure monitoring of the impact of permitted right of demolition on offices, on urban regeneration that requires office space and on the provision of housing.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 29, in clause 8, page 8, line 10, at end insert—

“(9) The cost of compiling a register and gathering the information to underpin it should be met by the Secretary of State.”

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

I have been brought off the subs bench to do this. I am quite excited about the debate we have had and the evidence we have heard, because I am a localist; I believe that communities should have a say and be able to direct their futures in the most appropriate way. Neighbourhood planning gives them the ability to do that, framed in the context of a national plan and the land supply. That means national Government can achieve what they want to achieve, local authorities can take a view of the wider area and, integral to that, the community has a strong voice. That is why I am slightly at odds with permitted development.

A number of representations have been made over the years that are at odds with the “community first” approach that we have been talking about. The Local Government Association’s evidence frames that quite well. In the survey it carried out of its members, to which 93 local authorities responded, 82% were making a loss on maintaining that process. It is important we get some comfort from the Minister today and accept that local authorities are taking on an additional burden that they should be compensated for.

Moreover, that flies in the face of what we might assume would happen. Let us take light industrial and office accommodation as an example. The view surely is, “Well, there’s all this accommodation that isn’t being taken because the market demand for it isn’t there, so it’s far better to put that to good use as residential accommodation.” However, that is not what we have seen. Areas often have low office demand and low residential demand going hand in hand. I could take Members to Oldham town centre and show them empty office blocks, and alongside those is an empty potential residential conversion that, because demand has not taken hold, is commercially unviable.

We have seen a displacement in areas where there is significant high demand. In some London boroughs, for example, we have not seen empty office blocks being converted into solely residential accommodation; we have seen profitable businesses and charities that are there for the community benefit and value being displaced by landlords, who recognise that it is more financially beneficial to get rid of a tenant who is not paying anywhere near enough. They convert the building for residential use and displace the local business or charity in favour of greater profits.

Don’t take my word for it. We have examples in Barnet, where 100 small businesses and charities were displaced with just four to six weeks’ notice. We have a situation in Islington where 71 office buildings have been converted to residential accommodation. More than 40,000 square feet of office accommodation has been taken in that one borough, where there is demand for that facility.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp Ceidwadwyr, Croydon South

Is not Islington, along with many other London boroughs, now subject to an article 4 direction, which will prevent the conversions that the hon. Gentleman describes from taking place in future?

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

That is a fair point about where things are today, but the damage has been done and we cannot change things back to what they were. The phrase “a sledgehammer to crack a nut” has been used probably once too often today, but article 4 is a good example of a very big sledgehammer being used to crack a very particular nut. Article 4 affects everybody in the vicinity or within the boundary and obliges them to comply with the directive. I am talking about a particular problem that has been brought about by the extension of permitted development.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does he agree that in policy-making terms it is nonsense to set up a scheme to relax permitted development rights, recognise that it causes a huge problem and then introduce another system to try to counteract the adverse consequences of the original policy? All the Government had to do was allow local authorities to grant planning permission in the first place, rather than introducing a relaxation of permitted development rights.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A lot of people are of the view that permitted developments of this type mean that an empty office is simply converted—from the outside there is very little difference, but it is what happens inside that changes, and that is surely up to the person who owns the building—but the rules actually allow for a building to be completely demolished and then rebuilt to a similar scale. That can change the street scene significantly, so it does go further.

Let us also consider the location of some of the buildings. Take an everyday town centre. It is easy to imagine two restaurants or bars operating with an office block in between. If the office block is converted under permitted development, the tenants who move in are forced to live with the noise nuisance of a pre-existing use in an acceptable location. What is not taken into consideration is how to create a vibrant community that has the requisite facilities, amenities and, importantly, quality of life. For a lot of people, permitted development as it stands does not have that balance in place.

The LGA, which is the voice of local government, has said that. It consults its members, who have been clear in numbers that the problems with permitted development should be looked at. It is odd that a Government who say that they are all about community voice and control—about people being empowered, for once, to have some control over what their communities look and feel like—are not tackling permitted development in the right way.

If we take ourselves out of the town centre, we could go to an industrial estate where small industrial units can be converted for residential use. It is perhaps okay if a unit is converted, but what about the existing users who suddenly have a barrage of complaints from the local authority about the noise nuisance from their pre-existing use, which might have been going on for decades? There might be early-morning or late-night deliveries at what is a predominantly industrial location that has suddenly changed into a residential neighbourhood, without the required facilities or amenities. It is a really big issue.

We have talked a lot about bricks and how important their colour and texture are. We have discussed whether they are important in pre-commencement or could be dealt with later. At least we are talking about them. If someone goes for a change of use under permitted development, very little attention is given to the quality of finish, design and detail. An entire shopfront has been removed in my town. Imagine how a shopfront block looks: there is a hole on the ground floor where a full shopfront used to be, with a sign on top. I know of several examples where the shopfront has been taken away, leaving an exposed girder where the sign used to be, and a completely inappropriate insert has been added that has no relationship to the wider street scene. In a normal planning application, such issues would be negotiated with a developer to ensure that they were dealt with appropriately.

We must recognise that permitted development flies in the face of the community voice and empowerment that we have been talking about.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp Ceidwadwyr, Croydon South

On the question of shopfronts, class A1 retail use, to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, is not subject to permitted development rights, which apply only to class B1 office use.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution) 3:45, 25 Hydref 2016

Of course, what I am talking about is the physical appearance of a shopfront, not necessarily the fact that a building was previously a shop. A building may be in use as an office but have the external appearance of a shop. It is that conversion that I am talking about. I am thinking in particular of professional services businesses that are based in accommodation with a shopfront façade but where there is office-type use behind that. That is the point that I was getting to.

Whatever our view about the finish, we need to accept that when we are talking about a policy of empowering communities and giving them a voice and a say, it is important to manage expectations to ensure that they are not let down after the fact. Permitted development flies in the face of that empowerment, because it takes power and control away from them. If nothing else, we should at least accept that permitted development rights are a significant burden for local authorities, and when we talk about capacity being an issue, we should at least ensure that local authorities are given the finances to administer that policy in the right way.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Llafur, Dulwich and West Norwood

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. The gathering of data on homes delivered through permitted development rights is a small beneficial step. It is long overdue; it should have been introduced when permitted development rights were extended. It remains a significant problem that although the negative impacts of the extension of permitted development rights are widely reported, there are no consistent data to monitor those impacts, and we therefore cannot have the debate that we need in the House and elsewhere about this significant problem.

Concerns have been raised with me consistently, ever since the permitted development rights policy was introduced, about the size and type of new homes that are being delivered under those rights; the quality of those homes; the lack of section 106 contributions to provide properly for the physical facilities and public services that an expanding residential population needs; the lack of affordable homes; and, particularly in London, the loss of much-valued employment space for small and medium-sized businesses. We cannot quantify the scale of the problem, because the policy was flawed from the start.

Although the small measure in the clause will help with the monitoring of data, I am concerned by the fact that the Government are extending permitted development rights to include the demolition and rebuilding of office accommodation for residential purposes. That brings with it exactly the same concerns that I have about the previous extension of permitted development rights—but more than that, it will result in local authorities’ total loss of control over the quality and aesthetics of new development. As we debated earlier, those are often among the issues that matter most to local communities and make the difference between something being acceptable and not being acceptable.

The Minister argued on Second Reading that permitted development rights are helping to accelerate the delivery of new homes. The delivery of new homes at speed and at scale is of course of utmost importance, but the housing crisis is more complicated than that.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Ceidwadwyr, Thirsk and Malton

The hon. Lady refers to the Minister’s comments about speeding up delivery. Does she accept that permitted development rights have in many cases done exactly that? She talks about the negative consequences of that policy but has not spoken about the positive consequences. Does she accept that there have been positive consequences, including the delivery of more residential units?

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Llafur, Dulwich and West Norwood

I was just about to say that in addition to the numbers, which I do not dispute are important, the size and type of homes that we are delivering matters. It matters whether we are delivering homes that families can live in and have a good quality of life in, or only homes that are too small even to fit adequate furniture into. Minimum space standards matter, and the Government have failed to address that issue. The provision of amenities matters. It matters whether there is a local park that is properly funded through the planning process. It matters whether the roads and pavements are of an appropriate standard, whether there is lighting and whether our neighbourhoods are attractive to live in. It matters whether there are places in schools and GP practices for an expanding population to access.

Above all else, affordability matters to my constituents. It is simply not fair and not appropriate that new homes are allowed to be delivered with no contribution at all to the affordable housing that we need more than any other type of housing in London. As a Member of Parliament for a London constituency, the Minister should, quite frankly, know that.

The extension of permitted development rights is a disaster for the delivery of the high-quality neighbourhoods with good facilities and services that we all want to see. We want to see the right numbers of homes being delivered, but we also want to build attractive and successful communities for the future, not tomorrow’s regeneration projects. I am deeply disappointed that, through the Bill, the Government are trying to patch up a broken policy, rather than accepting that it is not working in the way it needs to and reforming it to make it more fit for purpose, so that we can deliver not only the number, but the type and quality, of new homes needed within the successful neighbourhoods that we all want to see.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

My hon. Friends the Members for Oldham West and Royton and for Dulwich and West Norwood have done an effective demolition job on the Government’s case for promoting permitted development. The Opposition are on record, on a number of occasions, as being totally against the relaxation of permitted development rights for all the reasons that my hon. Friends outlined, including the very poor-quality development that often ensues from developers taking a permitted development route.

It is not that we are against a change of use from offices or agricultural buildings to residential; we just think that it is critical that local people have a say on whether those changes of use take place. The process should take place through the planning system, not through permitted development. We are living with some of the huge consequences, such as poorly planned developments and neighbourhoods, emerging from too much permitted development.

On amendment 28, we are not in favour of permitted development, but if the Government are in favour of it, it makes some sense that they might actually want to know what is going on with it. To date, they are probably not that aware. The compilation of the planning register would elicit further information from local authorities about what is happening with regard to permitted development. The circumstances set out in clause 8 are too restrictive and will not capture some of the information that local authorities have told all members of the Committee is very important to them.

How many additional homes have been created through permitted development? What is the impact on any local council regeneration plans, and on the local plan? Those questions are important. Let us begin with the local plan. If a lot of windfall sites have emerged through permitted development, and a lot of homes—even of relatively poor quality—have been created that contribute towards meeting the housing need, there might be an impact on local plan provisions. The local authority might like an opportunity to tell the Minister and everyone else about the impact of permitted development on the local plan. It will also want to be able to give information not only on the type of housing delivered but on the number of homes, who they are for, whether they are affordable, their quality and a whole lot of other issues.

My most significant point about the amendment is what it would mean for regeneration, and I am really interested to hear what the Minister says about that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton touched on earlier, a number of cities and towns have areas with empty shops, pubs or offices, but they are empty for a reason: the local authority has or is developing a plan to regenerate the area. Local authorities have told us that a developer will now be able to come along, get the office block and say, “I can make a quick buck here by converting this block into housing through the prior approval route”—and bang goes the council’s ability to regenerate the whole area in line with a local plan that has emerged through the neighbourhood planning system or consultations with the community. That does not seem a very sensible way forward.

If I were the Minister, I would want to know whether a policy of mine was actually impeding local authorities from regenerating their areas because permitted development was getting in the way. I would want to do something to put that right and to help the local authority with that process. The Minister will know that the prior approval system in place for permitted development simply does not give a local authority the tools to turn down a permitted development, either for regeneration reasons or because it severely, or even mildly, affects the authority’s local plan.

Indeed, the prior approval system is very complicated. The Government make much of the fact that they have simplified the planning system; I could not help but smile when I saw the statutory instrument that they passed last year, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, which is 162 pages long—such have been their extensions to permitted development. Each class of permitted development has different prior approval conditions, but none of them allows consideration of the issues addressed by our amendment. For instance, for a change from offices to dwelling houses, the local planning authority has to consider

“whether the prior approval of the authority will be required as to…transport and highways impacts…contamination risks…and…flooding risks”,

but it cannot take account of anything else. If the development will impede a regeneration scheme, the authority cannot even consider that. If there are huge energy conservation issues because the office block has poor energy efficiency, the authority cannot do anything about that either. If it thinks the materials are wrong, it cannot do anything about that. If it absolutely needs affordable housing in the area, it cannot do anything about that. There is really a very small list of things that it can do anything about, and that list certainly does not cover the issues in the amendment.

So what about the change of storage or distribution centres to dwelling houses? Given where storage or distribution centres are likely to be based—they could be on an industrial estate or at the edge of it, or on the edge of town—one would think there might a slightly longer list, because of the need to protect future residents and occupants. A few more prior approval criteria are listed, which is good. Air quality is included, because the development could be located within a business area; that is good to see. The list also includes transport and highways, contamination risks, flooding risks, noise impact and cases in which the authority thinks that the mix is not appropriate. That list is good but does not include any of the issues we have raised in the amendment.

We then have changes from agricultural buildings to dwelling houses. That is interesting, because in that case we have a slightly longer list that includes transport and highways, noise impact, contamination risks, flooding risks, whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to a class C use, and the “design or external appearance” of the building. It is interesting we have that for an agricultural building but not for any of the other categories of change of use. One can only ponder why the Government think external appearance is important if the development is in a rural area, but in an urban or suburban area the appearance of what materialises at the end of the permitted development process is of no interest at all.

I hope the Minister will be able to enlighten us as to why such a limited set of circumstances can be taken into account by local authorities when deciding whether to grant permission or whether an application needs to go through a prior approval process. I for one would like the Minister to look at that. We know—we will talk about this in a moment—that the quality of what is delivered through permitted development is often very poor indeed. A lot of properties quickly end up not being fit for purpose, and there are huge conflicts of interest. The Minister will know that, because his predecessor had to look at a lot of complaints from residents who perhaps unknowingly had a music venue next door to them that had a licence to 2 am, 3 am or 4 am. Once the office was converted into residential accommodation, residents wanted the music venue to be closed down. Understandably, the people who used the music venue said, “Excuse me, we were here first.” The music venue might have been going for 30, 40 or 50 years. Should those people be denied their music venue simply because the Minister’s scheme for prior approval did not think about noise?

The list we have given in the amendment is not a comprehensive or exhaustive one. I am sure we could add lots of other things to the information that local authorities might be required to give that would help the permitted development system work better. I hope the Minister will be grateful for that, but he might not want that information added to what is, again, a new burden. He will say, “Ah, the hon. Lady is being inconsistent again because she is adding to the considerable additional burden by asking local authorities to give information in a whole variety of circumstances that are not on the Government’s list.” However, I have a way of dealing with that—amendment 29.

Amendment 29 accepts that, with the register, the clause is putting additional burdens on local authorities, but it also recognises that there is a whole lot of other information that the Minister should gather if his Department really wants to understand what is going on. Amendment 29 therefore says that if the Minister thinks that local authorities should compile the register, then he ought to pay for it and not—once again—put an additional financial burden on to local authorities.

This morning, I was worried that the Minister was back-tracking a bit on his understanding of the huge resource problems being experienced by local authorities, so I thought that I would bolster the case that the Opposition are making about what a huge issue the lack of resourcing of local planning departments is and refer to the National Audit Office report produced at the end of 2014. For planning departments, it makes sobering reading, because 46% of their budget was cut between 2010 and 2014. Just when the Government are asking local authorities to step up to the mark, to get more planning permissions, to do more and to get the planning system moving, the budgets are being cut by half.

From the report, it is clear that the largest spending reductions in councils have been in planning and development services, in both single-tier and county councils. The average reduction, as I said, is 46%. That is a huge amount of money for planning departments, and extremely difficult for them to make up, whether in the short or the long term.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution) 4:00, 25 Hydref 2016

The resources of local government are a critical issue. Many are looking at the next three to four years and wondering how on earth they will make ends meet or cover the costs of adult social care and children’s services. When faced with such choices, clearly the councils go to the back office—or what people consider the back office until they are an applicant who needs to use the planning system when, all of a sudden, it becomes a front-line service. If the Minister is determined to make everything work, it is important that the proper resource is given. We have been given some hint about a White Paper that is due and about conversations that might or might not be taking place, and we are intrigued, but a bit more certainty would go a long way.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He more than any of us in Committee understands the day-to-day, lived experience of people in local authorities and just how difficult it is to keep managing, in particular, the huge portfolios that some of our local planning officers have to on such limited resources and—this is pertinent—with no end in sight. We do not know what is to come in the Minister’s White Paper, but there is no clarity at all about when the contraction of budgets in local planning departments will stop. At the moment, we have contraction figures right up to 2020. If the Minister is to reverse that and put in additional resources, that would be a good thing, but at this point in time we do not know whether that is the case.

We do not know whether there will be any means by which local authorities can fund the putting together of the register. Several people who gave evidence to the Committee were at pains to stress to the Minister that responsibility for an operation of this type will fall on planning policy officers. Some district councils have only one planning policy officer to do all their local plan-making work, to support all neighbourhood planning and to do all the work required for a register. That just does not seem possible, or possible to deliver.

We have made the case that the planning register as proposed under clause 8 is wholly inadequate. If the Government did not rely so heavily on permitted development, it would not be necessary anyway. If the Minister wants to stick to his thoroughly discredited permitted development scheme and ask local authorities to produce a register, he should also pay for it. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

It is a pleasure to welcome the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton to the Front Bench as a substitute, as he described himself. I am a keen fan of the beautiful game, and I observe that substitutions happen in one of two circumstances: either a team are winning and coasting, so give some fresh talent a chance, or they are struggling and bring on someone different. I shall leave it to Committee members to decide which of those sets of circumstances applies now.

I thank Opposition Members for tabling amendments 28 and 29 on changes to the planning register. Before I address them specifically, perhaps I can say a few general words about clause 8, which, as we have heard, aims to ensure that both local and central Government further understand the contribution that permitted development rights make to increasing the housing supply, while also increasing transparency about development proposals in an area.

The Government have introduced a series of permitted development rights for change of use to residential use since January 2013, and they are playing an important role in supporting the delivery of the homes that our country so desperately needs. We do not know exactly how many homes they have delivered, which is part of the purpose of the clause, but we have two bits of data that I shall share with the Committee.

First, since April 2014 there have been more than 6,500 applications for prior approval for changing from office to residential. We do not know how many housing units have been created, but we do know that. Secondly, the Estates Gazette reported that more than 5,300 new homes have been started in London as a result of permitted development, although I cannot tell the Committee the source of the data. I shall return to the remarks made by the hon. Member for City of Durham later in my speech, but it is worth putting clearly on the record now that 5,300 families in London have had the opportunity of a home as a result of the policy. Whatever other critiques may be made of it, that important fact should not be lost in the balance.

Clause 8 enables the Secretary of State to require local planning authorities to place information about prior approval applications or notifications for permitted development rights on the planning register. For the first time there will be consistent public-access data on the number of homes being created through permitted development rights in England. Details of which prior approval applications or notifications should be placed on the register, and specific information relating to them, will be provided in subsequent regulations, which we expect to be made available during the passage of the Bill.

Before I discuss the amendments in detail, I make a general observation: good-quality data are important in assessing public policy. My officials know me well enough by now to understand that I am interested in data and in understanding figures properly, so that Ministers can take good decisions based on clear evidence. The data collected under the clause will be important with respect to the main way we measure the success of the Government’s housing policies—the net additions measure of housing supply. I shall not detain the Committee too long on one of my pet subjects, but Members might be aware that data on starts and completions are published quarterly, and we then get annual data on net additions, which takes in not only starts but changes of use and permitted developments. That way, we get a total picture in terms of the net change in the number of homes.

Interestingly, even the starts figure in the net additions data is not consistent. If one adds up the net starts for the previous four quarters, one will not get the same total because they are measured differently. That often creates room for people to have political fun by using different figures. Even for those who oppose permitted development, clause 8 is good because it will provide data on the effect of the policy, which can inform our political discussions of it.

Amendment 28 seeks the inclusion on the register of specified information relating to applications under a permitted development right for the demolition of offices and replacement build as residential use. The Government announced in October 2015 that we would introduce such a right. In shaping it, we will consider what matters should be included in a prior approval application. Clause 8 will not require local planning authorities to collect or record any additional information beyond what is already submitted by the developer with their prior approval application or notification, such as information relating to flooding where that is a matter for prior approval.

We agree that it is important to know how many homes are being delivered through permitted development rights. The hon. Member for City of Durham has already referred to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. That order, as amended, already requires that applications for change of use to residential provide information on the number of homes to be delivered. The same will be true of the permitted development right for demolition and replacement as residential use when it is introduced. Clause 8 will require that information to be placed on the register. However, the hon. Lady’s amendment would go much further. As she correctly predicted, it would add an unnecessary burden and costs to local planning authorities because it would require additional information beyond what is required by the right, and it would require local planning authorities to undertake much wider assessments relating to matters not covered by the prior approval application.

With regard to amendment 29, there is already a requirement, imposed by section 69 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, for local authorities to collect and place on the register information on planning applications. Let me be clear that we are not proposing that local authorities compile or create a new register. We know that many local planning authorities—including Durham and Oldham, which are in the constituencies of the hon. Members who tabled the amendment, as well as my own borough of Croydon—already voluntarily capture some types of prior approval applications for the change of use on their register.

We do not anticipate that clause 8 will impose a burden on local planning authorities, because it relates only to information that they will already have received as part of the prior approval application. It will help the Government and communities to further understand the contribution that these rights are making to delivering new homes. I hope that hon. Members agree that recording information, in particular on housing numbers, is a good thing.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing) 4:15, 25 Hydref 2016

I want to return to the Minister’s point about planning permissions being put on the register. Planning permissions do not completely cover the cost of determining a planning application, but more money certainly goes to the local authority than under the prior approval system. Although there might be a case for additional resources to allow local authorities to put planning permissions on the register, does he accept that requiring them to put prior approvals on the register when they receive so little money from them is really a burden of a different order?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I tried to answer that question in my remarks: we do not believe that there is any additional cost in requiring local authorities to place these applications on the register. The register is not new; it already exists and holds information on individual planning applications. We do not think that the requirement will place a new burden on planning authorities. However, the Department will carry out an assessment to confirm that before introducing regulations. I hope that reassures the hon. Lady.

Let me turn to some more generic points about permitted development. The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton spoke passionately about his views as a localist and suggested that this area of policy points in the opposite direction. I understand his point, but I think it all depends on how we look at things. Our planning system is built on the understanding that people do not have the right to do whatever they want with their land; they need to seek permission from the state because what they do might affect the amenity of adjoining landowners or people who live on adjoining sites.

However, there has always been an understanding that, for certain kinds of applications that fall below a particular de minimis threshold, it is possible to proceed without having to make a planning application. A good example is that some of the smallest, single-storey extensions to domestic properties can proceed as permitted developments. That has been in our planning system for a long time. As the Government wish to drive up supply, they have extended that right to others.

There is no denying that permitted development removes from councils the right to consider a full planning application. It limits the freedom they have to the matters specified in any prior approval. However, it also gives the owner of a building the freedom to do what they will with their land because we have judged that the issue is unlikely to have a significant impact on adjoining owners.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

Does the Minister accept, in this context, that the council is a community? The elected members of the council derive from the local community and are elected by it to represent it and sit on planning committees that make decisions based on the community interest.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I would not accept that a council is a community, but I certainly accept that it comprises the elected representatives of that community and speaks with the authority of the community, if that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.

Stepping aside from the controversial topic of office-to-residential conversion, the question that we should ask ourselves when deciding whether something should be a permitted development right or require a full planning application is whether the change being made to a property is sufficiently significant that it is likely to have implications for adjoining owners. If it does have implications, there are clearly arguments that it should go through the planning application process. I was trying to make the point that the Government did not invent permitted development—it has existed for a period of time—but have chosen to extend it to particular classes of conversion.

The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood, who represents a constituency not too far from mine, spoke passionately, as she did on Second Reading, of her concerns about the permitted development process. It is entirely legitimate to say that, compared with the full planning application, the authority does not receive a section 106 contribution for local infrastructure or for affordable housing, and neither do the space standard rules apply. She raises legitimate concerns.

Weighed against that, we must look at the contribution of the policy to housing supply. I believe that in Croydon—my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South, also sits on this Committee—the policy has certainly brought back into use buildings that would otherwise not have come back into use. Therefore, it has contributed to supply. The debate on space standards is particularly interesting. We certainly need to ensure that at least a proportion of our housing stock is sufficiently large, providing the space to accommodate families with particular needs. There is a much more difficult balance to strike on whether we should say that all homes must meet a minimum standard, or whether we should allow flexibility. Strong arguments can be made both ways.

I visited a site just south of Nottingham at the end of last week, where I saw a good mixed tenure development with some owner-occupied housing. The housing association also provided some shared ownership properties and some affordable rent. When the Homes and Communities Agency master-planned that site before selling it on to the developer, it insisted that all the homes built on it meet the national space standard. Perhaps predictably, the developer argued to me that it would have preferred to have that requirement only for some properties, because it would have been able to build more homes, which is clearly in its commercial interests.

Interestingly, the housing association made the same argument. It needed some stock with sufficient space to accommodate families who perhaps needed a carer, or included somebody in a wheelchair. However, the association believed that housing need in the area was sufficiently acute that it would rather have had a compromise whereby some of the homes had that space standard but it could have got a larger number of homes overall out of the site. I am not expressing a view one way or the other; I am simply saying that there is a choice to be made between overall supply and space standards.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Llafur, Dulwich and West Norwood

I simply do not accept that, in seeking to meet the need for new homes, we aspire to rabbit-hutch Britain. There are of course families who have exceptional needs for space, but every family deserves a home into which they can fit the right amount of furniture and within which their waste and recycling storage commitments can be met and there is appropriate storage for cycling equipment and all the other stuff that people accumulate in the course of family life. We should not accept that families being asked to live in homes that are too mean in space terms so they can afford an adequate and appropriate standard of life is a fair compromise anywhere in the country.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

The hon. Lady makes her point passionately. Let me be clear that I do not think anyone wants people to live in rabbit hutches. Her own local authority—her constituency crosses local authority boundaries, so I should be clear that I am talking about the London Borough of Lambeth—has given planning permission to a scheme in the north of the borough by Pocket Living, which I had the opportunity to visit. As part of a deal with the GLA, that developer has been given the flexibility to develop homes below the minimum space standard, and those homes have proved popular with young professional people.

A journalist gave a rather slanted representation of a presentation I gave at party conference in which I talked about housing for young people. I ran through a whole load of things that we could consider as part of that, and I referenced that Pocket Living scheme. The journalist wrote an article saying that I wanted people to live in rabbit hutches. Interestingly, that night I was speaking to students at a university and one of them had read the article in question and said, “I’d just like to say that, given the choice of being able to buy a small home of my own or there being bigger homes that I can’t afford, I’d be interested in looking at that flexibility.” Every single student in the audience agreed.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Llafur, Dulwich and West Norwood

To be clear, developments of the type produced by Pocket Living are a specific type of housing—they are a niche in the market. There is certainly a place for that type of accommodation in the market, and Pocket balances space standards and quality particularly well for that niche, but we are talking about the much broader issue of national space standards for all types of homes, and particularly family homes. I have too often seen examples of schemes up and down the country that are not built to the national space standard, whose quality is too mean and that do not provide the best possible basis for successful communities or places that people want to live in.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

Well, it may be that the hon. Lady and I are not as far apart as I thought we were, because I agree with that. People have different requirements at different ages, and it is certainly important that adequate space is provided for family housing. She may agree with the point that I am going to make. I was going to close by giving an example of a permitted development conversion that I had the opportunity to see in Croydon. She may want to go and have a look at it herself.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Ceidwadwyr, Thirsk and Malton

I quite agree with the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood about family homes, but where the opportunity exists to innovate and create homes for young people and first-time buyers, particularly in areas of high house prices, should we discourage that purely on the basis of space standards?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I suppose the story I told that prompted the hon. Lady’s intervention interested me because one might to a degree expect private developers to look to maximise the units that they can build on a site and their commercial return, but what was striking about that conversation was that the chief executive of a housing association also wanted that flexibility. He saw clearly that there was a trade-off between having homes that were fully accessible and fulfilled the space standard and maximising the number of homes for vulnerable people that he could have on the site. There is a debate to be had, but I do not think that the hon. Lady and I are as far apart on this as I thought we were.

Let me give an example. There is a building in Croydon called Green Dragon House, which was a fairly old office building that was not wholly vacant but had very limited use. It has been converted into 119 homes—a mixture of one and two-bed homes. It is a little like the Pocket housing schemes. It is very high-spec—the quality of the finish is very good—but the rooms are smaller than the national space standard. Interestingly, what is not taken into account is that there is a huge amount of communal space. Virtually the whole of the first floor of the building is given over to a high-standard communal lounge, and the whole of the roof is a terrace, which is communal space for residents. In a way, it is a different vision of how people might live, and it is targeted very much at young professional people.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Llafur, Dulwich and West Norwood

The Minister is being generous with his time. I will simply say that the scheme he describes sounds commendable. It also sounds like exactly the kind of scheme that a local authority would have given planning permission for. The point about permitted development rights is that we cannot leave to chance whether the development industry will deliver to that high standard. We have to secure that high standard through the planning system.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London) 4:30, 25 Hydref 2016

Clearly, part of the issue is that these schemes were not coming forward before. The cost of the conversion, if it goes through the full planning process, meant the schemes were often not viable, and permitted development rights have allowed some of these schemes to come forward that would not otherwise have done so.

I have had an interesting exchange of views with the hon. Lady. As I said, I understand her point of view, but these things have to be balanced against the urgent need to drive up supply of housing. She will know that there is no part of this country with a greater gap between what we are currently building and what we need to build than the city she and I represent. There are different views in the House about permitted development, but whatever one’s views on the issue, this is a good clause because it will give not only the Government but Members of the House and the wider world that is interested access to data, which we can then use as we debate this policy.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

I thank the Minister for that response. Like him, I am a geek when it comes to data. I love nothing more than spending time in the library on the Office for National Statistics website—that counts as entertainment for me. However, I am also aware that data can often be used as a crutch for a weak argument. Data have been thrown out in bucket-loads, but the substance of this argument has not been deployed in quite the same way. We talked a lot about numbers, which is great. We have not talked anywhere near enough about affordability, quality or even if these units are occupied. We know that in many towns and cities foreign investors are coming in and buying up units that local people could live in, ensuring that no one lives there.

When we talk about data collection and how councils have enough to do—that is a fair point—we must also accept that development control teams will be in those buildings, making sure they comply with development control rules. They will be signing those buildings off for occupation. At that point the buildings will come on to the council tax register, and any council worth its salt will then make applications for the new homes bonus. So councils are reporting units anyway, but via a different route. One thing that councils would appreciate is a single point of reporting. Rather than all these Government Departments coming to councils from all over the place asking for individual pieces of data, the Government should say with one voice, “This is what we need to know.” Collating the data in one place would helpfully save time and energy.

There is quite a lot of agreement on the principles we have been talking about. The combination being mooted here is of quite small living spaces with a lot of communal areas. A development is being built today in Oldham on that model, where the flats are quite small but there is a gym facility, communal areas and quality space that will attract a niche market of commuters who no doubt work or study in Manchester city centre. There is a place for that, but that is where the local authority has made a conscious decision that that would add value to the overall mix of accommodation within the town. It is not a free-for-all. Unfortunately, the permitted development route at the moment is a free-for-all for far too many people, without the right checks and balances in place.

I suspect that we will not be able to come much closer than agreeing that permitted development seems to have worked quite well in one or two locations. The evidence, in particular when we hear representations from local government, says that it is fraught with difficulties and removes the local control we know is very important. Perhaps we cannot get any closer than that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

I will not detain the Committee for long, because we have had quite a wide-ranging discussion. The Minister started his comments on amendment 28 by referring to Opposition Members’ subbing policy. I want to tell him exactly what our policy is, then perhaps he will explain his. The Opposition recognise the talents of all our Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, who is not currently present. We have an incredibly inclusive policy because we want to ensure that everybody participates and is able to use their talents to the full. I am not sure that that is the policy the Minister is employing with regard to Government Members, but I will let him answer for himself.

We will return to permitted development when we discuss new clause 14, but I should say to the Minister quickly that a number of people who gave evidence to the Committee pointed out that permitted development was weakening the planning system. In particular, his own councillor, Councillor Newman from the Local Government Association, pointed out the nonsense of what had happened in Croydon where they had to get an article 4 direction. Although we are not going to vote against the clause, permitted development is not working as well in practice as the Minister suggests, for all the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton. I hope the Minister will consider whether the register is really necessary. If he got rid of all the permitted development, it would be unnecessary.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I will keep my remarks brief because I think I already covered clause stand part in my earlier comments on the amendments. To rehearse those arguments, if we got rid of permitted development rights, we would be giving up the thousands of homes—we will find out exactly how many—that the policy has contributed in the nine quarters since it came into place. I repeat the point that I made earlier: if Opposition Members share our view that there is a desperate need to get this country building more homes, it seems strange to oppose a policy that is making a significant contribution to that aim. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9