Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020 - Motion to Regret

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:33 pm on 27th October 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Wheatcroft Baroness Wheatcroft Non-affiliated 2:33 pm, 27th October 2020

My Lords, I pay tribute to the two maiden speeches we have heard today. What excellent contributions they were and what very welcome additions to the House they are. In the noble Lords, Lord Sikka and Lord Lancaster, we now have an expert on accountancy and an expert on bomb disposal. Both of them will be useful attributes in a House that is already well stocked with a variety of expertise.

While sharing the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord German, about the manner in which these regulations have been brought into play, concerns that many of us have voiced today, I have to say that unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, I welcome these amendments. The planning system has long been in need of simplification and these amount to a largely positive step towards that simplification. It has long seemed to me that the generally flat roofs of supermarkets are crying out to have residential accommodation built on top. The GPDO No. 2 amendment order makes that easier.

We also need to see rapid changes to our high streets, which these regulations will enable. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, talked about bringing changes to our high streets to a standstill, but everywhere I look there are shops that have closed down because of Covid and they will not open again. Bringing life back into those areas by being as flexible as possible about the uses to which premises can be put seems a sensible step.

However, the Government still seem to struggle with standing back and allowing builders to get on with it. I have some specific questions for the Minister. First, can he tell me why, if a new storey is put on top of an existing block of flats, there is a stipulation that the internal room height may not exceed 3 metres? I love the idea of building penthouses on top of blocks of flats and making them light and airy with ceilings as high as the Victorians used to enjoy. That may not make economic sense, but why do the Government have to put a stipulation on what the internal room height may be?

Why do the Government have to limit the building right to buildings constructed before 5 March 2018, as the GDPO does? Why should a building which was constructed and finished only last year not have the right to potentially have two storeys put on top? I would be grateful if the Minister could address that point. Further, as others have pointed out, we should acknowledge the fact that planning permission is not what is leading to such a shortage of housing in this country. It is the fact that those planning permissions are not developed. We need to find a way to speed up how development takes place. Why, then, do these regulations stipulate that planning permission will last for three years if a new development to be put on top of an existing development? Why is it not limited to just one year, thus providing an incentive for the work to be done? It seems ludicrous that we should continue to allow developers and builders to have the right to build but not an obligation to pursue that and deliver the housing that we so badly need?

In connection with that, can the Minister say whether he will find a means of favouring prefabricated housing, which will make these developments happen much faster?