The Governemnt has issued a consulation on Greater Flexibilities for Change of Use, as flagged by the Chancellor in the last budget statement. POS has made an initial response.
Nicky Linihan, the Society's Convenor for the Housing, Regeneration & Economic Development Topic Forum told Planning magazine "the ambition to make best use of vacant properties and deliver more housing is something that POS supports. However, the draft prior assessment criteria doesn't reflect the government's desire to bring empty properties back into use by setting out a minimum vacancy time period as a pre-condition, nor does it enable local planning authorities to assess the standard of accommodation being proposed, in order to protect the living conditions of future occupiers." Linihan added "the prior assessment will however reate a not dissimilar level of work for lpas, but with a smaller fee."
POS has strong reservations in relation to a number of matters:
- Paragraph 3 refers to bringing empty and redundant buildings back into use - which is a totally laudable objective. However, there is no pre-condition that a retail unit should have been vacant for a minimum period before the change of use to residential could come into effect. Therefore, it will be for the owner to decide, not necessarily that the retail unit is no longer economically viable, but that its conversion into residential will generate a greater return. Small retail units add a valuable contribution to the affordable retail stock - particularly for small independent outlets which contribute to the overall diversity of the retail offer in a centre. There is therefore the potential for such diversity to be lost in order to achieve greater financial gain, thus impacting on the attractiveness of the wider retail offer in a local area.
- The consultation also sets out that the relaxation would apply to conversions to a single dwelling house or up to four flats in buildings of less than 150 sqm. Many authorities have worked hard to develop policies and guidance which set out minimum standards for residential accommodation, to ensure that future occupiers have a reasonable quality of life in terms of living standards. It is a generally accepted rule of thumb (and is set out in many local plan policies) that buildings of less than 100 sqm are unlikely to be suitable for sub-division. There is no nothing within the proposed prior approval considerations that allows local planning authorities to assess the adequacy of the accommodation that would be provided with the potential for the creation of substandard residential accommodation the consequence.
Download the consultation paper