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WR-AP response to consultation on increasing the delivery of new homes

Following on from our first ever WR-AP blog where we discussed the governments upcoming NPPF and proposed changes to the planning framework here we offer our commentary on another planning related matter that potentially could be good news for architects, building owners and those trying to get on the housing ladder – It’s the government’s current consultation on adding extra storeys to existing buildings to create new homes.

In essence the consultation reignites the debate over the further extension of permitted development rights and if it results in poor quality homes that many (including us) believe has been the effect of the office to residential permitted development rights it will be a missed opportunity and evidence that lessons haven't been learnt.

There has been mood music that something along these lines was being considered by the government and it was also highlighted as an area for consideration in the NPPF consultations earlier in the year but following the Chancellors announcement in the 2018 budget there appears to be growing momentum for this type of permitted development right to be implemented.

Entitled ‘Planning Reform: Supporting the High Street and Increasing the Delivery of New Homes’, the consultation was released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government at the same time as the Treasury’s Budget documents. In principal it proposes new PD rights for converting shops and retail outlets (use class A1) and financial services premises such as banks and estate agents (A2) to business use (B1).

But none of those have anything to do with residential conversions.

What interests us about the consultation are proposals to introduce a PD right to add extra storeys to commercial, residential and some other building types in order to create new homes. We believe that if this is implemented correctly it has the potential to not only increase housing numbers but also rejuvenate many high streets across the country. It’s well documented that the ‘high street’ is under pressure and the sight across many UK locations is one of unlet retail units in depressed high streets – this dereliction has the potential to lead to anti-social behaviour and then the high streets spiral out of relevance.

In truth our high streets have been in decline since the doughnut effect was created by the out of town shopping centres and retail parks of the 1980’s and 90s and the potential to bring people back into the high street with increased housing density should be applauded (as long as they are designed in a considered manner).

Having reviewed the consultation document two alternative approaches are put forward in it:

1) allowing a building in a terrace (defined as two or more joined properties) to be raised to the level of the highest building; or

2) allowing buildings to be raised to the ‘prevailing roof height’ in the locality, with this height to be set by the local planning authority.

WR-AP upward retail project

Critically for the architects amongst us the consultation suggests that design codes could be used to encourage take-up of these PD rights and to improve the design quality and acceptability of upward extensions, something that we at WR-AP feel is critical to ensure design quality and to avoid some of the architectural travesties seen with other PD rights.

The government is also using the consultation as a carrot to the industry to ‘explore the feasibility’ of more radical PD rights that would allow the demolition of existing commercial buildings and their redevelopment as residential ones. In areas of high residential values this could become a future source of sites for developers, so watch this space.

At WR-AP we are already investigating the potential to build new homes above retail accommodation for a number of our clients via the established planning process. In essence our approach is in line with the consultations proposals to respect adjacent roof heights and we see the opportunity in this type of housing provision as an interesting housing typology that needs to be defined.

We also interested in how this could be delivered whilst at the same time contribute to a high streets character by preserving and even enhancing its intrinsic richness in terms of façade variation, materials and roofscape.

If you’re a building owner or asset manager we’d suggest you review your portfolio to see if you have any stock that might be suitable for this type of PD and get yourselves prepared. If you’re an architect – start looking up in your high street, you’re next project might be closer than you think.


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