Planning System Reform

Housing, communities and local government – in the House of Commons on 19th July 2021.

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Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

What steps his Department is taking to reform the planning system.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

We are transforming the planning system through not only the recently announced changes but our proposals for ambitious long-term reforms. The planning Bill announced in the Gracious Speech will modernise our planning system, with simpler processes and a digital transformation. We have also published changes to the way local housing need is calculated, to enable more homes to come forward in our largest cities, where we need them most, and a national model design code, which will drive up the quality of new development.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

I have just heard the Secretary of State talk about building beautiful homes. However, the Government’s new permitted development rights will see more commercial buildings converted into small cramped flats in inappropriate locations, such as Unity House in Luton South, which, although sited on a four-lane ring road, bypassed important air quality regulations as it was converted under PDR. The Government must wake up to the reality that they are creating the slums of the future. Will the Minister adopt measures set out in my ten-minute rule Bill last week that would allow local planning authorities to impose design standards on PDR applications to protect communities’ health and wellbeing?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am obliged to the hon. Lady, but design codes will apply, including to PDRs. She might note that 72,000 additional homes have been created in the past several years thanks to PDR. That is about double the number of homes that the Mayor of London has managed to build in an equivalent time. We have stipulated that those homes going forward must be of a good design quality, must be of a reasonable space standard and must have light in all habitable rooms. We are building homes for people who need them on the brownfield sites where they need to be built, and she should support our reforms, not oppose them

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

Councillor Martin Tett, the Conservative leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, said that planned changes to permitted development will create

“open season for developers to break up”— the high street. He has said that article 4 directions are vital in enabling local planning authorities to protect town centres such as the medieval streets of High Wycombe and that councils need time to implement article 4 directions to protect their high streets. Therefore, will the Minister agree to Councillor Tett’s request to pause these changes? What does he have to say to Councillor Tett and any other council leaders of all parties who oppose these highly unpopular planning reforms?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am afraid that the hon. Lady is a little behind the times, because we have already announced our proposals for article 4 directions. We are keeping article 4s as a tool in the armoury of local authorities should they wish to use them. We have also made it very clear that, with permitted development rights, there must be prior approvals in place that local authorities can use to determine whether a planning application should go forward with a PDR, looking, for example, at the height of a building, the aspect of it, and whether there is an aerodrome within 2 kms of a taller-rise building. We made appropriate changes to ensure that we can build brownfield development where it needs to be developed in order to bring forward the homes of the future that people need.