London Assembly finds rare consensus over threat to high streets from ‘permitted development’

London Assembly finds rare consensus over threat to high streets from ‘permitted development’

Consensus may be increasingly rare at City Hall as the elections for Mayor and London Assembly draw nearer, but government plans to extend the scope of “permitted development” rights prompted unanimous opposition at today’s meeting of the Assembly’s planning and regeneration committee.

The original change to planning law, introduced in 2013, controversially allowed offices and light industrial units to be converted to housing without going through the planning process or meeting minimum space standards, prompting concerns around loss of office space and the creation of the “slums of the future”.

And new government proposals, which would also allow shops, restaurants, gyms, creches, financial, professional and medical premises to convert to housing without securing planning permission came under sustained fire as the committee probed plans to support the capital’s high streets.

The proposals amounted to a “free-for-all” which could “spell the death of local shopping centres”, Michael Bach from the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies told the meeting.

Allowing the “pepper-potting” of housing in the high street would be an irreversible move, making local shopping centres less attractive while creating only a limited amount of new homes, he said, winning support from all sides of the virtual chamber.

This is something I don’t agree with my government on,” said Tory AM Tony Devenish, while veteran Labour member Nicky Gavron (pictured) described the proposals as “bringing a sledgehammer to the high street”.

Sadiq Khan’s planning deputy Jules Pipe pointed out that property industry trade body the British Property Federation (BPF) had itself opposed the plans, and Simon Quin, director of the government-funded High Street Task Force, addressing the committee on the work of the agency, joined the opposition.

Quin confirmed that he had joined the BPF call for communities secretary Robert Jenrick to “re-evaluate” the proposals, which they described as putting “the future of our town centres at serious risk”. The government proposals were “madness”, he said.

Pipe meanwhile confirmed that a suite of City Hall policies designed to support the Mayor’s “High Streets for All” recovery plans would be unveiled this month, ahead of the election on 6 May.

The launch of the High Streets for All challenge fund, offering councils a share of £3 million to develop “exemplar” schemes for at least one high street in each borough, would be accompanied by a “possibilities playbook” setting out innovative options for renewal, announcements of mayoral support for the latest round of community-led high street improvement projects, and a new data service bringing together footfall and retail statistics city-wide, Pipe said.

The deputy mayor ended on an optimistic note. While the loss of shops was a “tragedy”, he said, a new crop of young London entrepreneurs would come forward to meet “pent-up” demand across the city, while Central London would be “reimagined, as a centre for enterprise, collaboration and imagination”.

Watch the webcast of the planning and regeneration committee meeting here.

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