Permitted Development - A policy written by fools and delivered by greed.

Blog — 24 Jul 2020
Terminus House, Harlow

The same Conservative government that published and declared “Building Better Building Beautiful” (BBBB) is legislating to further extend permitted development rights (PDR).

The authors of the BBBB report expressed concern that in an effort to build more much needed housing, extended permitted development rights would lead to the slums of the future. They have been proved right, there are countless examples, business parks turned into flats with no outside space, apartments as small as 13sqm and homes without windows. Now building owners will be given even more license to extend, convert and rebuild without reference to guidelines and regulations that ensure minimum space standards.

Thanks to Dominic Cummings, communication from this government has been reduced to three word sound bites. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to envision what monstrosities will emerge from this new “knock ‘em down” and “build them up” policy. Two floors on top of a two storey house that is not in a conservation area. Or empty a building and six months later demolish it and replace it with sub-standard flats. This is policy written by fools and delivered by greed.

Planning in our communities and cities is the result of complex and sophisticated processes, balancing heritage and design quality with housing shortfall must be the starting point. Without doubt the planning system needs a shake up, it is over complex, it takes too long, and it is extremely costly. In central London it often delivers consents that are marginal which end up being shelved. The biggest problem is that the planning system is always behind the curve. The policies being implemented today were written in a very different political and economic climate. Trying to fix that by quickly by passing laws that allow empty buildings to be converted to residential without consent is a knee jerk reaction. It highlights the gulf that exists between politicians and the real world.

On this issue, we as professionals understand the complexities that our elected representatives debate. It exposes how little they and their advisors comprehend the planning and development process. If this is the case in housing and planning, I suspect that a similar common sense gulf exists in the worlds of education, health and economics.

Architects must resist. We are ethically bound to serve and better society, unless minimum space standards are considered none of us should have anything to do with PDR. Of course, these developments will still happen, most of the opportunistic developers who will pursue this route would never pay our fees anyway.

Its well worth watching this short film on Harlow and the effect PDR has had on this once well-planned town.