The government has announced that it will be overhauling the planning laws to make it easier to convert shops, takeaways, and betting shops into homes in England. There will also be a relaxation of the rules around extensions and loft conversions.
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove said that they were introducing the changes in an effort to address the housing shortage, and also to make the best use of existing buildings.
Many town centres across the UK are plagued by vacant retail units, as the rapid rise of e-commerce over the last few years has reduced the need for bricks and mortar stores. The Covid lockdowns were the tipping point for many smaller high street retailers, as well as a number of big names, such as Top Shop, Debenhams, and Laura Ashley.
Planners now see the solution to the housing crisis in redeveloping town centres as community hubs, rather than eating into greenbelt land. This will create homes in areas where people want and need to live, that are convenient for jobs and local services and near to transport hubs.
Mr Gove commented: “Most people agree that we need to build more homes – the question is how we go about it. Rather than concreting over the countryside, we have set out a plan today to build the right homes in the right places where there is community support – and we’re putting the resources behind it to help make this vision a reality.”
“At the heart of this is making sure that we build beautiful and empower communities to have a say in the development in their area.”
The government has faced criticism for watering down its pledge to build 300,000 new homes each year, by making the target advisory rather than mandatory.
However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “ […] I can confirm that we will meet our manifesto commitment to build 1 million homes over this Parliament. That’s a beautiful new home for a million individual families in every corner of our country. We need to keep going because we want more people to realise the dream of owning their own home.”
“We won’t do that by concreting over the countryside – our plan is to build the right homes where there is the most need and where there is local support, in the heart of Britain’s great cities.”
He added: “Our reforms today will help make that a reality, by regenerating disused brownfield land, streamlining planning process and helping homeowners to renovate and extend their houses outwards and upwards.”
The permitted development rights will be reviewed to make it easier for homeowners to extend upwards and outwards, although the government insists that it will also protect the rights of the neighbours.
As part of the reforms, the government has announced that a body called Office for Place will be launched. This is intended to ensure that the voices of local people are heard during the planning and decision making process.
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