Homes for the future?

The UK has had a housing shortage for some time. Hywel Davies looks at proposals to increase provision and possible unintended consequences

The UK has a shortage of housing and significant numbers sleeping rough, especially in London. The current pandemic has prompted exceptional efforts by local government and the charitable sector, but sustained effort is needed to maintain that momentum. Part of that must be the provision of new homes, whether social or private tenure.

In July, the government announced significant changes to permitted development rights (PDRs) and a major consultation on planning law. The Affordable Housing Commission has also called for significant, post-pandemic investment in new social housing.

Measures introduced in July, and due to come into force by September, remove the requirement for full planning applications for demolition and rebuilding of ‘unused’ buildings as homes. They allow commercial and retail properties to ‘be quickly repurposed’ to ‘revive high streets and town centres’.

Homeowners will be allowed to add up to two storeys to a property through a fast-track approval process, which will ‘carefully consider’ the impact on neighbours and appearance of the proposed extension. This aims to reduce pressure to build on greenfield sites and provide more homes in keeping with the local area, ‘without the red tape’.

The government also set out plans to reform planning rules in England, ‘to deliver more high-quality, well-designed homes, and beautiful and greener communities for people to live in’. It said that the proposals would ‘cut out bureaucracy to get Britain building, while protecting high standards. Developers will still need to adhere to Building Regulations’.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: ‘We are reforming the planning system and cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy to give small business owners the freedom they need to adapt and evolve, and to renew our town centres with new enterprises and more housing.

‘[The changes] mean families can add up to two storeys to their home, providing much needed additional space for children or elderly relatives.’ However, pubs, takeaways, libraries, village shops and other buildings ‘essential to communities’ will not be covered because of the role these buildings and businesses play in local areas.

There is much criticism of the proposals, with RIBA claiming ‘a fundamental contradiction’ between the government’s professed commitment to quality and its plans to further expand permitted development’. RICS has noted the contradiction between the proposals and the net-zero carbon legal target, saying it is ‘bizarre’ that the government is proposing to make it easier to demolish existing buildings instead of retrofitting’.

Detailed research for the communities department by researchers from UCL and Liverpool University , published in July without announcement, notes little difference in energy performance or council tax banding of PDR-consented schemes and those granted planning permission (PP), and little difference in access to local services. Much more significant differences are evident internally, however.

Only 22% of PDR dwellings meet nationally described space standards, compared with 73% of PP units. Most PP units that fall short are only ‘slightly below the suggested standard’, whereas many PDR units fall significantly below. In addition, 72% of dwellings created through PDRs have single-aspect windows, as against 30% for PP, with only 27% having dual or triple-aspect windows, compared with 67% for PP. Ten PDR units (in 138 schemes studied) have no windows, while no PP unit was without access to external light. PDR units appear to have worse access to natural daylight and sunlight, and may be more difficult to ventilate, so are at greater risk of overheating.

It is a huge concern that ensuring access to daylight and good ventilation are seen as ‘red tape’. It is very likely that such units will need adaptation in future to remedy these failings – costing money and consuming resources and carbon – creating a further building-quality problem.

CIBSE is working with others to respond to these proposals; readers are invited to review the consultation and contribute views to

About the author

Dr Hywel Davies is technical director at CIBSE


1 New laws to extend homes upwards and revitalise town centres  and The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2020

2 Launch of ‘Planning for the future’ consultation to reform the planning system and Planning for the future