The eagerly anticipated response of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (“MHCLG”) was published on 3 May to the consultation on “Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes” together with the Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development, Advertisement and Compensation Amendments) (England) Regulations 2019. MHCLG’s response to the consultation contains a number of measures to “provide greater planning certainty to support the high street and housing delivery.”  We have summarised some of the key proposed planning reforms below: 

New permitted development

In its continued efforts to support the high street and the delivery of homes, MHCLG proposes new permitted development rights for changes of use from:

1. Shops (A1), financial and professional services (A2), hot food takeaways (A5), betting shops, pay day loan shops and launderettes to offices (B1); and

2. Hot food takeaways (A5) to homes (C3).

Despite the changes being supported and opposed in equal measure, both permitted development rights are expected to come into force on 25 May 2019.

Temporary change of use

MHCLG intends to amend the existing permitted development right for temporary change of use to include:

> Class D1(a) (the provision of any medical or health services except the use of premises attached to the residence of the consultant or practitioner);

> Class D1(d) (the display of works of art (otherwise than for sale or hire));

> Class D1(e) (museum);

> Class D1(f) (public library or public reading room); and

> Class D1(g) (public hall or exhibition hall).

The period of temporary use will be extended from two years to three years in the hope that this will be sufficient for businesses and community uses to test the market. Whilst this is welcome news in the fight against the decline of the high street, concern has been expressed that out of town shopping centres could also benefit from these changes resulting in direct competition to high streets and further decline.

Changes to the Use Classes Order

It has long been recognised that the current Use Classes Order fails to reflect the changing nature of the high street. As a result, MHCLG proposes simplifying the A1 use class to accommodate new and emerging retail models either with an expanded A1 use class or the merger of use classes A1, A2 and A3. Whilst most respondents agreed that the proposed change is necessary, it was suggested that the merger of use classes may enable restaurants to change use without any local planning consideration and that this could result in longer opening hours and increased noise and odour. At present, no amendments have been proposed and it is likely that this will be incorporated into a wider review of the Use Classes Order, which has been on the cards for a while.

Upwards extensions

In its sustained efforts to tackle the housing crisis, MHCLG is continuing to explore the role building upwards must play in the delivery of new homes using airspace above existing buildings. Whilst respondents recognise that this approach is already supported by national policy, many are against allowing these to be delivered through a new permitted development right with concerns focused on quality, access and safety, impact on the existing occupiers and neighbours together with technical objections relating to existing telecommunications infrastructure. Notwithstanding these concerns, MHCLG has re-stated its intention to introduce a new permitted development right to extend upwards, albeit that it will continue to consult on the technical aspects of such a right. 

Public call boxes

Following the recent judgment of Westminster City Council v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government CO/3111/2018 in which the High Court quashed a planning inspector’s consent for a new telephone kiosk in central London ruling that such structures served a “dual purpose” of both communications and advertising and therefore should not benefit from permitted development rights, 90% of respondents support removing the permitted development right for public call boxes suggesting that further public call boxes will result in street clutter. As a result, MHCLG intends to bring forward regulations to remove the permitted development rights to install, alter or replace additional public call boxes and the associated deemed consent for advertisements. MHCLG proposes that existing public call boxes will retain the permitted development right for alteration or replacement and where a public call box has previously been used to display an advertisement it can continue to be used for that purpose.

Not all respondents called for the removal of the permitted development right with mixed views expressed from the electronic communications code operators who generally see the right as useful in helping to roll out new public call boxes that include the small cell systems that will be required for 5G networks, which is being championed by Government in its bid to connect the entire country through the 5G wireless network. Going forward We can expect MHCLG to take its time in considering how best to proceed. Whilst the existing permitted development rights have gone some way towards lessening the housing crisis and the decline of the traditional high street, it remains to be seen whether the introduction of greater freedom under permitted development rights will be the silver bullet that the Government is looking for.