Don’t turn commercial premises into homes say planners, builders and architect bodies

Cirencester an aerial shot

Some of the UK’s biggest built environmental bodies have joined forces to call on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reverse controversial new planning regulations that will enable unused commercial buildings to be changed into homes.

In a joint letter, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), together with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), The Chartered Institute of Builders (CIOB) and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) press the prime minster to ‘urgently reconsider the measures’.

The RTPI has said the new Permitted Development (PD) right that would allow change of use from commercial, business and service uses (Class E) to residential use (C3) in England, risks tearing at the fabric of local communities and jeopardising the vibrancy of high streets.

The Institute has also expressed grave concern that the announcement was ‘sneaked out’ via the press during recess and before responses to the Planning for the Future white paper, or the consultation on the new regulations themselves, had been published.

The joint letter says: “Nobody can deny there is a looming crisis facing our high streets, but yesterday’s pronouncement will do nothing to help. In fact, these measures will pull the rug out from under high street businesses that you have supported throughout unprecedented circumstances. Just as they prepare to reopen with our great unlocking, their future is put in peril.

“It is counterproductive for the government to commit to reviewing business rates— with the express goal of keeping more businesses on our high streets—while simultaneously incentivising property owners to push them out.”

Previously, the RTPI has sets out a series of additional prior approval matters that must be considered if the proposals go ahead. These include the impact on the provision of essential services, access to amenities such as parks for outdoor fitness and exercise, the provision of fresh air through ventilation and the quality of design.

The RTPI also sets out two ‘red lines’ to prevent the creation of large areas of residential development in existing warehousing and supermarkets in highly unsuitable locations. These stipulate that there must be a size limit of 250 square metres on such change of use and the land must have been in retail or office use in December 2020.

This is to prevent the exploitation of a loophole which could see warehouses and supermarkets ending up in residential use. The RTPI supports extensions of hospitals and other premises which provide health services to the public during the Covid crisis.