My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord German on his introduction to this debate. As always, he lays the case out extremely clearly. I also welcome and congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Sikka and Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, on their excellent maiden speeches. I feel certain that they will both make valuable contributions to our future debates.
We have had a canter around this issue previously and not reached a satisfactory conclusion. I declare my entry in the register of interests. Local councils know their communities, spending time and energy consulting them on both housing and services. Extending permitted development rights drives a coach and horses through this process; the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has illustrated this. I understand the Government’s wish to regenerate town centres but am having difficulty seeing just how these measures will achieve that. Over 13,500 affordable homes have been lost in four years through permitted development rights by homes converted from offices, leading to worse living conditions, lacking basic infrastructure requirements.
Order 755, for the upward extension to blocks of flats and buildings without planning permission, is fraught. There will be up to two additional storeys on terraced houses, limited to 3.5 meters above the next-door house in the terrace. I can just imagine what a terrace of 10 houses will look like with three houses extended upwards but not adjacent to each other, the carefully crafted original design thrown completely out of the window. The Explanatory Memorandum to this SI says:
“additional storeys must be of similar appearance” and construction. Who will check this if there is no planning approval? My noble friend Lord Greaves referred to this.
Paragraph 7.12 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“the local planning authority … will consider certain matters relating to the … construction”,
design, elevation et cetera and notify adjoining properties. Surely, this is what a planning application would cover? There are also issues of parking. If more dwellings are added upwards on the same site, where will the parking required be provided? Poor housing as a result of PDR has been raised by other Peers, including the noble Lord, Lord Crisp.
The demolition of an existing dwelling and construction of new one in its place could be welcomed, especially if the existing dwelling had fallen into disrepair. In this context, the word “old” keeps coming up in the Explanatory Memorandum. There are exceptions that apply to conservation areas. Can the Minister clarify whether this would also apply to grade 2 listed buildings not in conservation areas that had fallen into disrepair? Would it be sufficient if they had been empty for six months prior to demolition and redevelopment? I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, on HMOs and look forward to the Minister’s response.
I also note under order 755 that building on agricultural land requires the express permission of the landlord and tenant. Can the Minister say what will happen if the landlord gives permission but the tenant, who has been working the land, does not?
The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/757) revoke the use classes order. They could include cinemas, dance halls and food takeaways. In future, a change of use will not be needed. With cinemas currently shut, I can see some trouble ahead on this front. Local authorities and their elected councillors take care in the licensing of hot food takeaways, especially in residential areas. They are much better situated in a small row of retail shops serving the residential area than in the middle of a street of dwellings. Considerable neighbour annoyance can be caused by late-night takeaways.
The PDR to support high streets involves a range of changes of use without an application process, for instance from financial services to a betting or pay-day loan shop. Do we really want this to go unregulated at this time, when suicides caused by gambling are at an all-time high? Drinking establishments can change to residential use. Can the Minister give clarity on what class drinking establishments will now fall into? Local pubs were already under severe threat before the Covid lockdown. Some are shut and may not reopen. Their communities will certainly miss them in rural areas.
There are also changes to the community infrastructure levy, which will allegedly avoid confusion. They will also affect local authority budgets.
Lastly, the Town and Country Panning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/895) alter the words “280 metres square” to “280 square metres”, a minor but significant interpretation. What can we expect when regulations are introduced at such short notice? Four weeks later, we are having to amend them.
Much has been said previously about local authorities delaying the planning process. This is not true. As my noble friend Lady Thornhill said, more than 90% of applications are approved in a timely manner. The problem is that more than 1 million applications granted are waiting to be built. A handful of developers hold all the land and are sitting on it until it suits them to build out. What is needed is a legal timeframe for completing a development from the date the planning application approval was granted.
The zoning measures in the planning White Paper diverge from carefully crafted local plans. They undermine elected councillors who know their areas. It would have been far better to wait until the end of the consultation period on the planning White Paper before laying these permitted development rights instruments. The White Paper responses and these measures could have been properly analysed together. I fully support my noble friend Lord German.