The quality of housing
The research indicated that office-to-residential under permitted development had produced a higher number of poor quality housing than those governed through full planning permission. In Glasgow, where the conversions require full planning permission, the report found higher quality residential schemes maintained with better space standards.
The potential impact on local publicly-funded infrastructure was also assessed. As the schemes were not making Section 106 contributions, local authorities were subject to further losses of £4.1 million due to reduced planning fees and a potential loss of £10.8 million (as well as 1,667 affordable housing units).
Developers and agents from the 30 stakeholders cited many policy benefits including delivering more housing units, regeneration of town and city centres, and quicker implementation.
What were the concerns?
With the benefits of speed and efficiency, brought concerns including:
- removing opportunity for local authorities to weigh up costs/benefits of a specific development and refuse permission if necessary
- the impact on the quality of housing and evidence of the reduction of affordable housing contributions in the case of office-to-residential conversions
- rural residential developments not being sustainable due to added road traffic – in the past local authorities could block agricultural-residential conversions
- impacts that are not immediately apparent: eg. PD rights diminishing ability of local government to promote long-term economic development through planning adequate office space.
The report, commissioned by RICS and written by teams from UCL and the University of Sheffield makes a number of recommendations, including:
- amending CIL regulations so that all development creating new residential units are liable
- government reregulation, or introducing safeguards to the prior approvals process: eg. adding minimum space standards
- developers giving careful consideration to the wider implications of their schemes on communities and people’s everyday quality of life.
“The idea of reusing vacant office space as housing is a good one. The way this is currently governed as ‘permitted development’ in England is, however, highly problematic. Whilst we saw some high quality conversions of office buildings to residential use during our detailed case study research, we also saw many other examples of very poor quality housing.
“These issues included problems over external design, location, residential amenity and the size of the housing units leading to strong concerns about the quality of life for residents. Furthermore, there were examples of adverse impacts for local businesses from the conversion of occupied office space to housing, and none of these conversions were contributing properly towards local affordable housing need, the costs of public infrastructure associated with the additional housing units, or the costs of local authority monitoring of these schemes. We believe there is a need for a better regulatory approach to the change of use of office space to housing,” said Dr Ben Clifford, Senior Lecturer, UCL Bartlett School of Planning.