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Extending permitted development rights is not the answer

PUBLISHED: 12:02 28 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:22 28 July 2020

The extension of permitted development rights (PDR) announced last week is a flawed idea, according to Guy Gowing   Picture: Getty Images

The extension of permitted development rights (PDR) announced last week is a flawed idea, according to Guy Gowing Picture: Getty Images

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Managing partner at Arnolds Keys Guy Gowing discusses why extending permitted development rights (PDR) is not enough – and suggests that we need a joined-up approach to planning.

Guy Gowing is managing partner at Arnolds Keys estate agents         Picture: Arnolds KeysGuy Gowing is managing partner at Arnolds Keys estate agents Picture: Arnolds Keys

It seems certain that our towns and cities are soon going to have (if they don’t already) a surfeit of commercial buildings – retail premises in particular. And many would argue that we need to create more homes for people to live in, especially in urban areas.

So, at first glance the extension of permitted development rights (PDR) announced last week looks like a sensible way forward.

But in fact, it’s a flawed idea which will at best bring about a patchy and unsatisfactory outcome.

When PDR was first introduced, it was a sensible vehicle to encourage the regeneration of often derelict, low-grade commercial buildings such as offices by simplifying the planning process involved in converting them to residential use. While there is some debate about the quality of some of the homes which resulted, it largely served its purpose – bringing sub-standard offices back into beneficial use and creating affordable housing for a sector which was poorly served.

Trying to replicate this on the high street is another matter altogether. Retail areas only really work as a destination with an unbroken parade of shops – and random mixed-use streets of homes and shops simply won’t cut it.

Consider three shopping streets, each with one third of their units vacant. Unfettered PDR will mean that many of those units will be converted to residential use, leaving three streets which are neither one thing nor the other. 
An alternative, joined-up approach to planning would concentrate the remaining shops in two of those streets – giving viable, focused retail areas – and then convert the third street to residential use, creating an attractive residential environment.

Of course, implementing this is a challenge. It will require collaboration between planners (whom are largely cut out of the PDR process), investors, developers and retailers. But it could deliver a win-win situation for everyone.

We need to get out of the mindset that planners and developers are sometimes unhappy bedfellows. A joined-up approach is certainly more difficult to achieve, but it is likely to deliver a much better result for everyone concerned.

It is striking that many of the leading professional real estate bodies have already come out against extending PDR in this way, including the Royal Town Planning Institute, RIBA, RICS and the Chartered Institute of Building. There is a consensus that PDR is not the answer, and that a cohesive, joined-up attitude is needed. It’s time for those in power to start listening to the experts.

For more information please visit www.arnoldskeys.com


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