TCPA Projects and policy manager Henry Smith explains the hidden costs of permitted development rights (PDR).


By deregulating the planning system up to 100,000 homes have been created across England. But this has come at a cost.

Our work shows that permitted development, which allows developers to bypass planning permission to convert offices into housing, is having negative consequences on people's health, the delivery of affordable homes and the economy.

What are permitted development rights?

Permitted development rights are a national grant of planning permission which allows certain building works and changes of use to be carried out without having to make a planning application.

In May 2013, permitted development rights were temporarily extended to allow for a building to be changed from commercial to residential use. The change was made permanent in autumn 2015.

Why is this a problem?

Commercial buildings being converted into residential use is not necessarily a bad thing. Done to a good standard and properly planned, empty office spaces can be transformed into good quality, much-needed homes.

The problem is the route that the government has taken to achieving new housing through permitted development rights has created damaging outcomes. A prior approval process exists which is very limited and does not require the council to secure basic housing standards or contributions to affordable housing.

This system has led to a series of problems with this re-development as highlighted by the TCPA’s Raynsford Review and Planning for Affordable Housing projects, which include:

  • poor quality housing, in some instances as small as 13sqm and without any windows;
  • uncontrolled development with tower blocks being converted into 50% more homes than permitted at prior approval stage;
  • a significant loss of affordable housing
  • homes built on isolated industrial estates with no access to basic services
  • a lack of basic infrastructure including play space for children
  • no contributions to new schools, public transport or green spaces for families living in new homes; and
  • a loss of economic investment in places due to a shortage of employment space.

Further extension to permitted development

The government recently undertook a consultation on plans to further extend permitted development rights to allow for commercial buildings to be demolished and rebuilt for residential use. To inform our response, the TCPA undertook a series of interviews with councils as part of our Planning for Affordable Housing project, supported by the Nationwide Foundation. The TCPA’s response to the government’s consultation can be found here.

What is the TCPA doing about this?

The evidence gathered from the TCPA has led to us establishing the Room to Breathe campaign.

This campaign has collected several examples of poor-quality development through permitted development and is using this evidence to deter further expansions of the policy.

2019 marks the centenary of the 1919 Planning and Housing Act. The act introduced the Tudor Walters design standards which shaped the quality of hundreds of thousands of council homes built between the wars, marking a seismic step change in space and quality.

Through ‘Room to Breathe’, we will be campaigning for a set of national design standards which builds on this tradition but is updated for our present-day needs.

How can I be involved?

The TCPA is creating an informal coalition across the sector to scope out these standards and to work towards creating positive outcomes for people from the planning process.

For more information about the campaign and its activities, and how you can be involved, click here.