Review of permitted development rights

Neighbourhood Planning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:15 pm ar 27 Hydref 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

(1) Before exercising his powers under section 35(1) the Secretary of State must review the provisions of all General Development Orders made under the powers conferred to the Secretary of State by sections 59, 60, 61, 74 and 333(7) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 granting permitted development rights since 1 January 2013.—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to review the permitted development rights granted since 2013.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 14 intends to finally hold the Government to account on the extension of permitted development rights. We have heard a lot about our aspirations for quality, decent neighbourhoods and places where people aspire to live and are proud to live. Extension of permitted development rights flies in the face of that, because it allows a free-for-all for developers without checks and balances, local control and long-term stability and quality in mind.

It was evident that the reason that this was introduced was to kick-start the number of units being brought to the market. Most people anticipated that it would be a temporary move until more permanent features were introduced that took a longer term view. Many people were therefore surprised when it became permanent. They say, and I agree, that it flies in the face of what the Government are trying to do on a range of other issues. That is the purpose behind the new clause.

It is worth putting the new clause into some context. The Library has provided data—I know that, like me, the Minister has a passion for data. Figures from his own Department highlight the reduction in the number of units being converted from commercial to residential use—a figure that dropped significantly, unsurprisingly, in the 2008 crash, because demand fell. Up to that point, many decent-quality conversions took place. Many of our major cities and towns were revitalised, with mills being converted into decent properties that people wanted to live in, creating brand-new communities in areas that were previously derelict. Those conversions were welcomed by many people, but since the financial crash we have seen a year-on-year reduction in the number of conversions. In 2006-07, 20,000 units were converted, but the number fell 12% in the following year, and by 6%, 18% and 15% in subsequent years. With the introduction of the temporary extension to permitted development, the figure increased in 2014-15 back to 20,000 units.

If the intention was to kick-start such development and get it back to where it was before the crash, it achieved that, but developers and communities were waiting for the long-term plan that would put quality and affordability back into the system. It is depressing that that has not been forthcoming. Although 20,000 units were brought to the market in 2014-15, it only takes us back to the pre-crash situation. That is good news, but there is a world of difference in the quality of what was being developed before the financial crash and what is currently being developed under extended permitted development rights—and I am not the only one saying that.

We heard several representations in our oral evidence sessions. We have shared our own views on the issue. I also sought out the views of Shelter, which has a keen interest in ensuring that we provide decent-quality housing. It has a living home standard because it wants to ensure that affordability and quality are key in people being able to access their own home, but when it applied the test, four out of 10 households failed it on affordability. Many of the developments being converted from commercial to residential use are in some of the most expensive parts of the country. Developers are making a lot of money off the back of such schemes, without providing the quality.

Julia Park is the head of housing research at Levitt Bernstein and she spent seven months advising DCLG on its housing strategy towards the Housing and Planning Bill. She was advising Government and she was aware of the discussions that were taking place, and her assessment is stark. Her view is that the office to residential free-for-all has resulted in terrible homes, including some flats of only 14 square metres. “Terrible” was the term that she used, as someone actually involved in the housing and planning review. That was not a political point, but a professional view of the quality of those homes. In another pointed remark, she said:

“Bypassing all standards except basic building regulations is short-sighted and desperate”.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Ceidwadwyr, Thirsk and Malton 4:30, 27 Hydref 2016

I draw the Committee’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which I should have done earlier.

Is the hon. Gentleman implying that every single development that is commercial to residential is not done well? In my life prior to entering politics, I dealt with many schemes that developers brought forward because of permitted development rights. They resulted in excellent developments that met market demand, which is key. I do not deny that there will be problems on some occasions, but is he trying to argue that every single development is an inappropriate home not built to the right standards?

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

I suppose the hon. Gentleman could listen to me, or he could listen to the architect who said of the Housing and Planning Bill:

“This new Bill only addresses speed of delivery: short-sighted political gain at the cost of long-term quality.”

The professionals are saying that quality is an issue. I can point to conversions in Greater Manchester, which I know well. Some have used the extended permitted development rights to produce a quality development. That will almost certainly be true, but we can all point to one and try to hold it up as an example of many, when of course that is rarely the case. However, as we are seeing, the Government just do not know. It is okay to shine a light on the evidence provided by professionals, but the Government do not know the answer. If a more regulated planning system were brought back in, council planning departments would definitely be able to get a grip on quality and see it through.

That is all we are asking for. It is not about passing judgment on whether premises should or should not be converted from commercial to residential; it is about ensuring quality, affordability and long-term sustainability and starting to plan communities and neighbourhoods, instead of letting developers get away without paying their fair share. I cannot see why anybody would argue against that. It would highlight the best developers who contribute to community and society. Fair play—they make a profit doing so, and there is nothing wrong with that, but there are some people who do not play the game fairly and who extract as much cash from it as possible, with absolutely no interest in quality or community. Bringing measures back in to take firmer control of that has got to be in the long-term interests of this country and of our towns and cities.

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

Would my hon. Friend like to point out to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton that on the internet, one can find the 10 worst permitted development loopholes, and they are truly shocking? I am happy to let the hon. Gentleman see the examples after the Committee has ceased this sitting. They point to some serious breaches of good planning policy that emerge from an overzealous use of permitted development.

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

That is a fair point. The topography of a town like Oldham, in the beds of the Pennine hills, is a good example. Under the current permitted development rights, height restrictions apply only at the start of a development. If someone who lives on a slope builds out to the maximum height allowed, by the time they get to the bottom of the hill, the property could be 10 m high. Under permitted development, they would be allowed to do so, with no thought for the consequence to the people living below. There are issues, not just about conversion from commercial to residential but about the character and nature of our communities and where people live, and the impact that neighbouring properties can have on each other.

We have heard a lot about quality, and about how neighbourhood planning would go a long way towards giving community a voice. The Bill does not do that. It takes away that voice, it takes away control and it takes away the quality that we all aspire to. We think that new clause 14 is important. It is not a probing amendment; we are absolutely committed to seeing it to a vote, and I hope that we get some support on it, because it is in line with the debate that we have been having.

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

To a degree, we had a debate on the principle of this earlier when we debated clause 8, so I will not rehearse all those arguments. However, I will pick out three or four points from what the hon. Gentleman said and then make one substantive point about the wording of the amendment, which I think is relevant.

I think that I am quoting the hon. Gentleman correctly—he was quoting somebody else; they were not his words—in saying that the allegation is that this is all about speed and political benefit at the expense of quality. I think I captured the quote correctly. There is no political benefit at all; the benefit is providing homes to thousands of people who otherwise would not have them. There absolutely is a debate to be had about quantity versus quality. I suspect that that is an ongoing debate in housing policy, but it is worth putting it on the record that there is no political benefit to the policy. The Government are trying to drive up the supply of housing in this country to meet the urgent pressing need for extra homes. That is what the policy is about.

The hon. Member for City of Durham gave some terrible examples she had seen of how the policy had been misused. As constituency MPs, we all see examples of where people have gone ahead and done things without getting planning, and the enforcement system has not picked it up, and we also see examples of developments that planners have approved that are of appalling quality. Even if we lived in a world where every single change to any building, however de minimis, had to go through a formal planning process and acquire planning permission, that would not be a guarantee of quality, and we should not pretend that it would be.

Ultimately, the argument is about the extent to which members of the Committee believe there is an urgent need to build more homes in this country. I have touched on this before, but several issues have been raised in this debate on planning conditions and permitted development. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw was speaking on Second Reading on the duty to co-operate, but despite the Opposition’s rhetoric, saying that they recognise the urgent need for more homes in this country, they oppose policies that help deliver those crucial homes.

Rather than re-run the argument of principle, I make one point on the wording of the new clause. When we came to clause 8, despite our differences on the principle of permitted development, there was agreement that it was a good clause because it would ensure that data were available not only to the Government but to all of us, to enable us to assess whether the policy was a good policy. The new clause would require a review of the policy before the Government could commence the provisions of the legislation—before we have the data we all agreed were crucial. The hon. Member for City of Durham was nodding gently as I made that point.

The Opposition may well want to press the new clause to a vote as a vote on the principle of permitted development, but its wording is not sensible as it would require that review to happen before we had the crucial data that we all agreed were needed to make a judgment on the policy.

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

I think the Minister has just made the argument for dismissing the driving test. Why not just let everyone get in a car, van or truck and take to the road? Some might crash and some might kill people, but it is fine, because some will not and there is no evidence base. That is a nonsense, of course. We all have examples of good-quality development and bad-quality development, and we can always use a single example to make a point, but the issue is that the controls are not in place.

The Government do not know the answer to the question, which is why we had the debate on putting measures in the Bill to enable us to understand the quantum of the developments, but it is beyond that now. If the argument was that the measure was about kick-starting development to get the economy going and put roofs over people’s heads, because that is what was required at the time, and it was a short-term measure, then there can be a debate about that. There cannot, however, be a compromise on the long-term sustainability and viability of communities, and the affordability or quality of housing.

The measure goes against a lot of what we have been discussing, and it beggars belief that the Government seem happy to continue walking down this road with a blindfold on and no idea of what is in front of them. That is a dangerous way to draw up housing policy, and that is why a vote is important. If we get to a stage at which the Government have better wording, they should bring it forward, and we can have a debate about it. Provided that the wording resolved the issue, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham would support it. However, it is important that the issue is tackled and that the Government show a sense of urgency.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 4, Noes 8.

Rhif adran 3 Christmas Tree Industry — Review of permitted development rights

Ie: 4 MPs

Na: 8 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 15