Civic Voice strongly objects to Government consultation to allow inappropriate changes to High St

Civic Voice – the national charity for the civic movement with 75,000 members – has submitted a consultation response urging the Government to think harder about the plans it has to allow developers to change buildings on our high streets without requiring full planning permission. 

Ian Harvey, Executive Director of Civic Voice, said:

“Civic Voice strongly objects to the proposal in principle because of the harm that it could do to our high streets, town and city centres; the creation of poor-quality homes; and the loss of historic character of our conservation areas. We accept that our high streets, town and city centres are currently facing acute challenges and they will need to adjust and, in some cases, contract in response to changes in shopping and leisure habits. However, Civic Voice believes this needs to be done in a planned and curated way by local communities through their local planning policies, not by allowing the market to decide in a random and potentially counterproductive manner”.

The proposals introduced in the consultation ‘Planning Reform – Supporting housing delivery and public services infrastructure’ would allow the change of use from any use to residential use with the need for a full planning application.

Harvey finished by saying: “The danger with deregulation is that it can often lead to unscrupulous developers/ landowners exploiting loopholes, as we have seen with previous widening of PDR, which the Government’s own commissioned report concluded that permitted development rights create “worse-quality residential environments. We are also extremely concerned that unlike some of the recent changes to permitted development, this consultation proposes that the new right would apply in conservation areas. We cannot support this policy and believe the ‘protected status’ that is being offered to conservation areas in the Planning White Paper is meaningless, if the suggestions in this consultation goes ahead”.

Civic Voice key concerns – see here for the full consultation response.

New permitted development right to change use from Commercial, Business and Service (Class E) to residential (C3)

 Civic Voice and its members are acutely aware of the challenges facing the high street, but we question claims that these proposals will breathe new life into our high streets, town, and city centres. We fear further deregulation of planning through permitted development will prevent the proactive and positive management that our centres desperately need and simply enable change of use to more profitable uses, often residential, rather than enabling a greater range of uses to diversify and support our high streets and centres. In particular, we are concerned that the proposals to widen permitted development could:

 • Be harmful to to the diversity of our high streets, town, and city centres.

• Enable the creation of poor quality homes and living environments.

• Lead to the loss of historic character within our conservation areas through inappropriate development and unsympathetic alterations.

For these reasons Civic Voice cannot support this policy and we have encouraged all Civic Societies to respond to this consultation.

New public service application process

 We also strongly object to the proposed reduction in the statutory public consultation period for major public service infrastructure development to 14 days. Whilst an efficient and effective process is important to deliver critical infrastructure, we do not believe reducing the consultation period to 2 weeks is the right way to achieve this.

We understand the thinking behind the proposal and welcome greater emphasis on pre-application engagement in the consultation. However, this is guidance and Civic Voice’s experience is that effective pre-application engagement with communities is not happening in practice. We cannot support the change to the statutory consultation period unless there are standards for effective, genuine, and meaningful engagement with the local community on major developments.