Labour has called on Tory MPs to vote down government reforms to the planning system as the changes would help “create a new generation of slum housing” and “kill off our high streets”.
The proposals set to be debated in parliament today include removing the need for planning permission when adding two new storeys to blocks of flats and houses, or when demolishing high street buildings to build residential units.
Branded a “developers’ charter” by the opposition, the changes would form the first part of broader reforms to the planning system that would see Section 106 agreements and the community infrastructure levy (CIL) scrapped.
Shadow minister for housing and planning Mike Amesbury said: “This is the first stage of an atrocious new developers’ charter, which will wrench power away from local people and into the hands of the developers that bankroll the Tories.
“Passing this legislation will kill off our high streets, hobble leaseholders and create a new generation of slum housing – and there will be nothing local people can do to stop it.
“If Tory MPs vote through this legislation, they will permanently silence local voices and show their communities that it’s not just Robert Jenrick who is in the pockets of developers.”
The Housing Secretary was recently embroiled in a scandal in June after he fast-tracked a planning application from billionaire property developer and Tory donor Richard Desmond, against the wishes of the local council and residents.
His actions meant that Desmond, the former owner of the Daily Express and The Daily Telegraph, avoided paying increases in CIL payments set to come into force 24 hours later. Jenrick’s intervention saved Desmond £45m.
The changes to be debated today are an expansion of ‘permitted development rights’. These rights mean that it’s possible for a developer to undertake certain works without having to apply for planning consent.
They derive from a general permission granted by parliament rather than a specific one from the local authority, and as such allow developers to bypass the local planning process.
By removing the need for a developer to file planning permission, residents are effectively stripped of the ability to object to developments, and councils are unable to impose any conditions such as affordable housing contributions.
The proposals have seen widespread criticism, including from backbench Tory MPs. Former Conservative minister and Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers said the proposals would allow a “free-for-all” that “would do serious damage”.
Leaseholder groups have also criticised the plans put forward by Housing Secretary Jenrick to incentivise two-storey additions, saying it would make it more expensive for leaseholders to buy their freehold.
The proposals to be debated in the Commons were initially forced through as statutory instruments by the government – and therefore not subject to a vote – but Labour has since managed to secure a vote on the changes.