Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Sutton’s response to the Technical Consultation on Planning

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) issued a Technical Consultation on Planning in July this year.  The consultation seeks views on proposals to amend the process for Neighbourhood Planning, further extend Permitted Development Rights, changes to the way Planning Conditions are made, changes to engagement with Statutory Consultees,  raise the environmental impact assessment screening thresholds and amendments to Development Consent Orders.

I and my colleagues at Sutton have spoken out on a number of occasions against the extension of permitted development rights, both because it erodes the ability of local people to have their say on how development affects them, and because in practice it does not succeed in delivering its intended aspirations.

The letter accompanying our formal response to the consultation sets our position out clearly:
Date: 26 September 2014
The Rt Hon Mr Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Department of Communities and Local Government

Dear Mr Pickles
The London Borough of Sutton has submitted a schedule of responses to the above consultation from a technical standpoint but I would like to register the London Borough of Sutton’s and my disappointment at the overall policy direction of these proposed changes.

First, many of the proposed changes appear to run contrary to the Government’s own Core Planning Principles as set out in Paragraph 17 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). For example, the proposed changes to make prior approvals for larger extensions permanent and for larger arrays of solar panels will not “secure high quality design”, as stated in the fourth bullet point of Paragraph 17. The proposed permitted development rights for various commercial and retail uses to convert to residential uses will neither be “promoting the vitality of our main urban areas”, as stated in the fifth bullet point, nor will “promote mixed use development”, as stated in the ninth bullet point.

The London Borough of Sutton is concerned that these proposed changes to national planning policy, read in conjunction with the NPPF, are failing give a clear indication of the Government’s overall planning strategy. As a result, these mixed messages are producing uncertainty within the development industry and, consequently, hindering economic development.

Second, the council is concerned that the prior approval/permitted development right process is not producing the right sort of development for the borough and further prior approval/permitted development rights will have a similarly detrimental effect. In common with other south-western London boroughs, the permitted development right for offices to convert to residential uses is having a ruinous effect on the local economy. As of 1 August 2014, the council had granted prior approval for 52 conversions (a potential 64,096sq m loss of office floorspace) and 29 of the conversions were occupied or part-occupied offices.

Furthermore, approximately 70% of the housing units being created, many of which are sub-standard in terms of size and design, are one-bedroom market units when the greatest need locally is for one-bedroom affordable rented housing (starter houses) and 2-bed and 4-bed market housing. As I am sure our neighbouring boroughs (Richmond, Kingston, Merton and Croydon) will also attest, the policy may be suitable for some areas of the country but not for this part of outer London.

Third, the technical changes make no effort to deal with the housing affordability crisis. There are no incentives to provide affordable housing, which is so badly needed in London. Indeed, the proposed expansion of the prior approval/permitted development right regime will result in fewer affordable housing units being delivered than at present. Given the constraints of large existing housing estates and Green Belt, there is little available land in the borough for the Government to build its way out of the housing affordability crisis and so interventions in the housing market, rather than construction, are the most effective solutions.

However, the council does not wish to be totally negative and suggests that the Government could easily solve the issues outlined above with a greater devolution of powers to local authorities and allowing local issues to be solved at a local level. The council already has a pro-growth agenda but would like more powers to implement its agenda fully. Through the council’s economic renewal and regeneration programme, Opportunity Sutton, the council is providing an unambiguous signal that the borough is a place to start and grow businesses. The council’s Development Plan, adopted in 2009-2012, identifies the vacant offices as site allocations for mixed-use development and promotes the modernisation of other offices so that local companies can remain competitive and recruit staff. The council is also establishing a development company to provide affordable family housing – a product the free market seems unable to deliver. These actions show that local problems are better solved by local authorities and that local authorities, such as Sutton, could be more pro-active with even more powers.

Therefore, the council would like to suggest that the Government should stay true to its word regarding localism: stop issuing top-down diktats about planning minutiae, give local authorities the powers to address local issues and return powers to local residents so they have a say about how their area should develop. As we have seen with the office to residential conversion situation, what suits one part of the England may not suit another. What is suitable for Sunderland or Suffolk may not necessarily be successful in Sutton.
Yours sincerely,
Cllr Jayne McCoy
Chair of Housing, Economy and Business Committee


October 7, 2014 - Posted by | Information, Opinion | , , , , , , , , ,

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