17 January 2019
Baroness Thornhill has expressed her disappointment on how permitted development rules remain an example of top down planning.
She argued that elected councillors and officers are better judges than ministers or civil servants on balancing the need for employment space with providing new homes.
The Liberal Democrat peer referenced her own time as mayor of Watford, when she saw the number of office-to-residential conversions rising, despite the quality of these homes being below acceptable standards and her council’s “ability to scrutinise outcomes of these conversions […] at best limited, at worst non-existent.”
The National Federation of Builders (NFB) welcomes efforts to deliver good quality homes, but believes that Baroness Thornhill’s assessment of how we get there is inconsistent.
The Government introduced permitted development because it was dissatisfied with the decisions taken by councillors and officers when planning their communities. Too few homes are planned for, site allocations are politically motivated and building up is seen as more acceptable than building out.
For NFB members, local house builders who typically build houses and not conversions, the move to permitted development is not that surprising.
The desperately slow planning process and the focus on large and slow-to-deliver housing sites has caused demand to overtake supply. The Government therefore had to step in and encourage more homes, more quickly, because local government was failing in its duty. Rico Wojtulewicz, head of housing and planning policy at the NFB, said:
“Permitted development is a product of housing under-delivery. While we need greater scrutiny of permitted development, too many of those who scrutinise it also get to decide how many homes get built and where. Permitted development will continue to be needed unless we speed up the planning process, allocate deliverable sites for housing, and support house builders who win work for the quality of their work.”