(6 days, 15 hours ago)Lords Chamber
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 6 July be approved.
Relevant document: 23rd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
My Lords, the regulations we are considering today were laid in draft before this House on 6 July. If approved and made, they will introduce a fee for applications for prior approval for a new category of permitted development right for the construction of new dwelling houses. This new category of permitted development is delivered across a package of new measures recently made and laid, which I set out below.
The Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 introduce a new permitted development right, which allows for the construction of new dwelling houses on detached, purpose-built blocks of flats, by allowing an upward extension. These regulations were laid on 24 June and come into force on 1 August.
Additionally, and since these regulations being considered today were considered in the other place on 21 July, we laid the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020. These regulations introduce new permitted development rights for the construction of up to two additional storeys on freestanding and terraced buildings in certain commercial uses and a mix of uses, including with an element of housing to create new homes.
Although not relevant to the fee introduced by these regulations being considered today, existing homes, whether detached, semi-detached or in a terrace, will also be able to extend upwards to create new homes or additional living space. On 21 July, we also laid the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2020. These regulations introduced a new permitted development right for the demolition of redundant and vacant commercial and residential buildings and their replacement with housing. Both of the regulations laid on 21 July will come into force on 31 August.
All these permitted development rights would not require an application for planning permission but would be subject instead to obtaining prior approval from the local planning authority. This allows for a more streamlined planning process while maintaining local consideration of key planning matters. With the exception of the upward extension of existing homes, all these prior approval applications for the new permitted development rights for new dwelling houses would attract the fee introduced by these regulations being considered today.
Given that the prior approval process in relation to these development rights is for the construction of new dwelling houses, rather than other more minor development, the matters for consideration, consultation and scrutiny by local authorities are greater than for other existing permitted development prior approval applications, but less than what would have otherwise been required on a full planning application. This has resource implications for local authorities; it is therefore right that a higher fee should be paid compared with other prior approval applications, but less than for a full planning application.
I turn to the details of the regulations that apply to this fee. The regulations introduce a new fee for a new category of permitted development rights—the construction of new dwelling houses. The fee is £334 per dwelling house for development proposals of 50 or fewer new dwelling houses, and for development proposals of more than 50 new dwelling houses, £16,525, plus an additional £100 for each dwelling house in excess of 50, subject to a maximum fee of £300,000. The £334 fee represents a modest midway point between the £206 fee for an application for prior approval for the change of use of a building to residential and the fee for a full planning application of £462 per new dwelling house.
We consulted on the introduction of the fee for this new permitted development right in October 2018 —Planning Reform: Supporting the High Street and Increasing the Delivery of New Homes. Responses to this consultation recognised that the changes proposed would require significant local planning authority resources and should therefore be subject to an appropriate fee. If there is no application fee, the cost would have to be funded by the taxpayer.
Planning application fees are crucial for a well-resourced, effective and efficient planning system. They provide local planning authorities with much-needed income to consider planning applications, which in turn provide new homes and deliver economic growth for our country. This will be fundamental to our recovery following the pandemic. In July 2018, we raised planning application fees by 20%—the first uplift since 2012. This has increased income for the planning system and has enabled local planning authorities to improve their performance.
We have announced ambitious reform of the planning system to deliver key transport and infrastructure projects and build more homes. This would include new approaches for local authorities to meet the costs of their planning service and deliver improved performance. The draft regulations we are debating today underline our commitment to ensuring that local authorities have adequate resources to deliver a high-quality planning service. I commend this instrument to the House.
My Lords, all these proposals are fraught with controversy, and the way in which the Government are bringing them in simply by announcement, with no proper consultation and within two months, is an absolute disgrace. I fear it will come back and bite them where it hurts.
These regulations are just about the fees and, at least in the case of upward extensions to flats, which in many parts of the country, such as my own, where I declare my interest as a councillor, will not be used very much, although they may be in big cities. Nevertheless, it is welcome that local authorities can make a charge, although whether it will cover the costs is a matter of opinion. But the idea that people can, without having to get planning permission, convert properties in town centres into housing, is fundamentally wrong. It flies in the face of local planning in many cases, and the assumption is that all town centres are collapsing. Well, not all town centres are collapsing, and this will mean that people will allow properties to become empty in town centres that are not collapsing, such as in Colne, for example, where I live. Where we have empty properties, we are making huge efforts to bring them back as shops. This will fly in the face of that.
Upper extension of ordinary houses, which is not in this particular order but was referred to by the Minister, because it is part and parcel of the thing, is okay for big detached houses separated from the community, but for ordinary semis and terraces, it is alarming that this can take place without proper planning permission or residents having the right to complain and protest and put their views forward in the normal way in the planning system. It is driving a coach and horses through local planning, and it is a disgrace. I hope that the Government will have some serious second thoughts about it.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who always stands up for his community. I thank my noble friend the Minister for setting out with great lucidity the benefit of this provision. It clearly opens up the welcome possibility of much additional housing. However, I have some concerns that I hope the Minister will be able to answer.
I certainly agree about the fees. They will be a welcome injection of added finance for planning departments, which are still hard pushed in terms of resourcing.
Space standards were raised in the other place. I might have misunderstood what the Minister said there, but he seemed to suggest that appropriate space standards can be bypassed in the case of permitted developments. Therefore, new properties may be approved that do not come up to the minimum standards. That would concern me. Maybe I have misunderstood, but I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that issue. If they can be bypassed, what are we proposing to do to plug that gap?
My second concern relates to consideration of the interests of leaseholders in a block, particularly where there is building upwards. Given that this is not full planning permission, which I quite understand and approve of, how are we to give proper thought and attention to leaseholders’ interests? This provision gives a windfall profit, as it were, to the freeholders in added value, but for leaseholders, who might seek to purchase their leasehold interest from the landlord, it will inflate the price. It also means that any appropriate windfall profit for a particular property will not help the leaseholder, only the freeholder. Has consideration been given to that issue? It seems something we should perhaps consider. There will also necessarily be disruption from any building work being done where conversion is to happen.
I welcome the injection of additional properties. We should all welcome that. We have to look at imaginative ways to increase supply, which is a problem in our country and has been for a considerable time. I have the reservations that I outlined, but subject to those I am in favour of the regulations.
I declare my property-related interests as set out in the register. The principle of the SI—to speed up planning—is good, but in this case it is much too quick. While speeding up the normal planning process is a good thing the process itself serves an important purpose. In addition to the frustrating minutiae involved, important safeguards are included: fire safety, materials, design suitability, daylighting—things that affect people’s lives. The character of neighbourhoods can be protected. We have seen the unfortunate result of the post-war concrete urban jungles that were created, with the resulting mental health consequences. This is not the same, but risks moving in the same direction.
At a property level, we have seen the consequences of the ill thought-out PDR rules of very few years ago to allow conversion of redundant offices into residential property. While some 60,000 flats might have been created out of PDR, many have tiny rooms, lack daylighting and have other constraints allowed as a result of bypassing the normal planning process.
There are more practical matters. Adding floors to an existing three storey-plus building creates an engineering challenge. Developers built these buildings to efficient and economical building cost. Architects and engineers did not waste money overengineering the required brief. Will we see shortcuts attempted, such as floors added to buildings that cannot bear the weight and load, risking tragedy?
I do not have a problem with the proposed fees. However, I must object to the ill-considered detail. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, pointed out the necessary protection for existing occupiers. It will depend on the terms of their lease. Many leasers might not enjoy the necessary protections. It is likely to create a tidal wave of protest and complaint against the Government. The leasehold ground rent scandal is an example.
I conclude by saying that, since we cannot amend this—we can only object—if there was to be a vote, I would vote against this PDR proposal. While there is a great deal of good in it, I do not think it has been fully and carefully thought out enough.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. I completely agree with his remarks. I thank the Minister for his introduction to the statutory instrument. After 12 years on a district council, I am familiar with permitted development rights and planning fees. However, I am somewhat concerned at the proposals before us. I have no problem with the 20% increase in fees across the board for all types of development, from small extensions, alterations and renewable energy, now set at £96, to fees for planning officer checks, which are up from £250,00 to £300,000 for a development of more than 2,000 homes. I am concerned that this development could take place without full planning permission.
Living, as I do, in a rural area, I am aware that planning, however modest, can generate a huge amount of public interest, which is rarely supportive. For this to take place without the need for planning permission is highly inflammatory to say the least. Permitted development rights have tended to be small in the past. The Government, looking to address the extreme shortage of homes required, brought in legislation that allowed offices to be converted into homes without the required planning permission to be obtained, as the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, referred to. This led to some very unfortunate circumstances, whereby landowners gave the businesses occupying their buildings notice to quit, so that they could cash in with cheap conversions to flats, without the need to bother with planning.
The instrument, among other categories, puts shops, restaurants, nurseries, gyms and light industrial use into the same use category. This means that one type of activity can be changed for another without any need for additional planning, so a women’s clothing shop on the high street can be changed into a restaurant with no recourse to local council input. A child’s nursery, operating safely in an area, could suddenly find that the gym next door has become light industrial use, with the consequent noise and heavy pollution associated with it.
This will not be popular. It is only through the transparent process of planning and regulation meetings that the public can make their concerns heard. It is only through this process that elected councillors can make recommendations and insert conditions that ensure the safety of those affected. This is not the way to regenerate the economy. Councils take their role in developing local plans for their areas very seriously. Can the Minister say what feedback he has received from councils that now find their local plans overridden by the Government?
My Lords, I support my noble friend on the introduction of this useful SI, but we really should be developing on brownfield sites. There are plenty throughout the countryside. Instead of wasting decent greenfield sites, we should concentrate on brownfields and tidy them up.
I will make a short observation on a separate but not totally unrelated point regarding listed buildings. I neither own nor live in a listed property, but in the past I have owned two, one a grade 2* property, the other a simple grade 2. They are both family houses. I was born in the then family house, which was grade 2 listed and designed by Nash. I am patron of the living of a grade 1 church in Staffordshire, the architect of which was Christopher Wren, with a carved screen, and flying pulpit and sounder by Grinling Gibbons. That is the advertisement for today. I suggest your Lordships visit it. It is stunning.
I therefore know a little about the complexities regarding listed buildings and the expense of maintaining them. Can my noble friend tell me—I would be most grateful if he could write to me rather than answer during the debate, because it is not totally related—whether concessions on planning fees are made for listed buildings? If not, might Her Majesty’s Government design a simple scheme of concession to help the owners of these historic buildings, including bodies such as the National Trust, so that they can manage their expensive future works, which will be necessary? That will help to benefit listed building consents. Could my noble friend please drop me a note on that?
My Lords, I declare an interest. I own and live in a grade 2* listed building. I come at this from a different perspective from that of the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. I welcome the Minister’s direction of travel on this SI, which I will come back to in a minute, but it would be helpful if non-controversial changes to listed buildings were permitted developments. I cannot paint my front door tomorrow because I have to get planning permission, even if it is in the same style that it has been in for the past 300 or 400 years. That is bureaucratic nonsense. Where people are attempting to maintain heritage, if they were to have a heritage plan accepted by a local council, a whole series of works could be done without the bureaucracy of individual planning applications, which technically have to be done for every replacement window. I will leave that for the Minister’s consideration.
In relation to the specific proposal today, at last we are building up. It is about time we were incentivising building up. It is far better for the environment, the planet and people if we have higher buildings, particularly in our cities, rather than a spread outward. Increasingly in towns, that ought to be a theme. Pushing up a little rather than pushing outward is in all our interests, and this proposal rightly encourages it.
I trust that the Minister and the Government will not take their eye off the issue of major infrastructure. I recall that Elkesley bridge in Nottinghamshire was campaigned for by local residents for 30 years. In a past life, I twisted arms and the money was provided. Everyone was in total agreement. It could go in only one place and be designed in only one way. There were no options. There were minutiae over trees and screening, which were important, but it took more than three years in the planning process, with the money allocated and the local residents desperate for it, not least on road safety grounds. It was clearly a nonsense.
On town centres, I envisage a double hit, which is already occurring. We have the rental sector in crisis, and something of a mini-recession. Speeding up town centre developments may be the saviour of small towns. I think the Government are heading in the right direction. I congratulate them.
My Lords, the amendments to the permitted development order with which these fees are connected have the potential to change the look and nature of whole communities. I understand the Government’s desire to ensure that new homes are built, but these changes go way beyond earlier efforts to ease the processes for change of use. For the first time this will allow the construction of new dwellings without a requirement for full planning permission. The Government are thus reducing the powers of local authorities to protect their communities and to shape local services to fit local needs.
Like many noble Lords, I was a councillor for many years and a long-term member of the planning committee. Planning issues divide opinion like nothing else a councillor deals with. Let us not underestimate how controversial this will be, and councillors and local planners will have to deal with the fallout. It will certainly lead to complex decisions which local authorities will have to consider as part of prior approval. Therefore, in contrast to other noble Lords, I believe this is a surprisingly low proposed scale of fees, with £340 per dwelling as a starter. Given that the value of the flats being built will be in the hundreds of thousands, it seems an unrealistically low figure to enable local authorities to carry out a difficult and highly technical set of checks.
Let us just think for a moment about what that will entail. It is much more difficult than just building a new block of flats. You are building on top of existing units, disrupting the lives of residents. The local authority has to ensure that the stability of existing structures is taken into account and updated where necessary, presumably via the building regulations, as well as load-bearing walls, design criteria, updating sewerage systems and electricity supply, and lots more. It is a spider’s web of problems. There will be ownership issues galore, and the local authority will have to cope with the impact of an enlarged population on local bus, education and allied services without having any control.
I read the consultation and was surprised to find that in one paragraph the Government propose a new deemed consent for building above existing dwellings, potentially to five storeys, and in the very next paragraph they propose removing the deemed consent to advertise in phone boxes. Where is the logic and strategic vision there?
Finally, I note that there were 326 responses to the proposal to build above existing structures and more than half did not think that permitted development rights were a suitable approach, so why are the Government ignoring the people?
My Lords, housing for low-income and first-time buyers, mainly young people, has been a problem for many years. While the pandemic continues, it is possible for the building industry to continue to build new homes or to build on top of existing structures. Planning fees have to be paid by the builder, and local authorities must receive appropriate planning fees and monitor the development to ensure that the building regulations are observed and that, wherever possible, the latest material for insulation is used to save occupiers’ energy costs. Each development must have a fair quantity of social housing to enable young and low-income groups to find suitable houses, particularly in urban areas such as London and other big cities. Each building or flat should have a minimum of 37 square metres.
On 20 July the Minister said that
“the Government’s moral mission is to build the homes we need, and that is more critical than ever. It is fundamental to our economic recovery following the pandemic to get Britain building back better, faster and greener, and uniting and levelling up our entire country.”—[Official Report, Commons, Delegated Legislation Committee, 20/07/20; col. 1.]
I say amen to that. I trust the Government will live up to that statement. What is the timeframe and the number of such dwellings so that the needs of the communities are met?
My Lords, what I find strange about these regulations is that they are subject to the affirmative procedure and that we get a chance to debate them, but the associated legislation, which describes the matters on which these charges are to be levied, is not. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee felt that the latter was important enough to bring it to the attention of the House. I think the conclusion I draw from this debate is that you cannot debate these regulations without examining the other regulations.
The first thing to note is that the adding-two-storeys-to-a-block-of-flats legislation was introduced as a coronavirus measure. Alongside the uncontentious temporary use of open spaces until the end of the year for such things as restaurants and cafés, this significant piece of housing legislation—first consulted on in 2018—was slipped in. Perhaps the Government were mindful of the fact that the majority of respondents to their consultation did not like the policy.
I believe I have an interest in this matter, which I declare, in that I rent a flat in London in a block that could have two storeys added—but the one I live in has ACM cladding like the Grenfell Tower block, and it has not yet been removed. While the Government explain that the two or three extra storeys will meet building and fire safety requirements, they do not provide for the same requirements to apply to the existing building. The block in which I rent a flat clearly does not meet building and fire safety requirements, but any extra storeys would have to. Will the local authority have the power to reject permitted development rights on the grounds that the existing building does not meet fire and safety requirements? If not, what would be the mechanism for consideration of this important matter?
The Government currently restrict what issues the local planning authority can use in determining the application to the amenity of the existing block and neighbouring properties and the external appearance of the property. I note that “external appearance” are the words used, not “external construction”—a feature that is so important for health and safety but also because of the load-bearing and engineering aspects that the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, and others have talked about.
The consultation process leaves much to be desired as well. While notice is to be served on owners and tenants, all comments received are to be considered only if they relate to the amenity and external appearance issues. I appreciate that the word “amenity” can be stretched, but will the Government consider the means of egress from the building, for example? Is the lift core of a sufficient size? Can the Minister tell us whether there will be further guidance to explain the issues that could be treated as amenity matters and therefore used by the local planning authority in determining the prior approval application?
I would be very surprised if developers using this legislation did not meet substantial local opposition, and that means more work for the local planning authority. It would probably have been better to charge the same fee for a full planning application, because it will not be adequately funded for the work it will have to do.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing these regulations to the House. I have a few questions. How are the proposals in these regulations—and indeed in the regulations the noble Lord, Lord German, referred to—consistent with the position the Government rightly adopted when it came to super-basements and the negative impact that those developments have had on several neighbourhoods? Several Ministers have rightly spoken against them from the Dispatch Box, not least my noble friend Lord Bourne on a number of occasions. It seems we have taken a particular view on super-basements and turned it on its head. The fees asked seem a very small price to pay for potentially trashing an area and pocketing the profit.
How are these regulations consistent and coherent with the approach the Government are taking to the high street? The high street is the beating heart of a neighbourhood and we need to put life into it, particularly in post-Covid Britain.
Finally, how are these regulations consistent with all the debates and discussions we had on the Business and Planning Bill? The Minister rightly spoke about the importance of the planning and licensing processes and how, in one example, breweries would not be permitted a temporary licence just to sell a few beers to keep them in business during this crisis period. They had to go through the full licensing process—that is a government decision—but something as significant as potentially putting a whole heap of floors on top of buildings, ruining the character and having significant structural and health and safety considerations, seems somewhat more than small beer.
I am painfully aware that we have a housing crisis in our nation. We have a significant homelessness crisis, which has been well addressed during Covid. We need to deploy several solutions to solve our housing and homelessness crisis. This is not one of them.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my relevant interests in the register as a councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
This statutory instrument is one of a series that gives effect to the Government’s desire, in their words, to:
“Speed up the planning system.”
Of course, there is no body of evidence to support the contention that local planning decisions are unduly delayed. The way in which the Government have chosen to speed up the planning system is not the obvious one, which would be to provide additional funding to the local planning authorities to employ more planners. Rather, they have taken a libertarian approach of allowing development to take place without much in the way of restrictions by the expansion of permitted development rights. This will enable two further storeys to be added to small blocks of flats, redevelopment for residential use of a currently disused commercial site and changing the use classes.
The consequence of this approach is that residents’ rights have been tossed aside. The careful balance that the planning process enables, between development and the existing built and natural environment, is being ditched for these developments. My noble friend Lord Greaves has already pointed to some of the downsides of this approach. These planning changes may even encourage businesses to create empty properties and thus further damage town centres.
As my noble friends Lady Bakewell and Lady Randerson have explained from their own experience, local people care about their area and want to be able to influence what happens to it. As a local councillor, one of my biggest case loads concerns planning applications. Existing residents are understandably concerned about a new development on their doorstep. The issues they raise often concern increased traffic volumes, pressure on already oversubscribed school places, air quality and loss of green space and natural environments. These are the issues that can be raised directly at the planning committee or via me and other local councillors. Residents want the power to have their say and want their voices to be heard, and adjustments are often made in the application as a result. That is how good planning proceeds.
That process is being tossed aside. It will not bode well when these changes come into effect. Of course, the Minister told us in response to a question yesterday that residents can make comments about a plan under these permitted development rights proposals, but these comments can have no effect. Naturally, it makes matters worse for people if that is the case.
I turn to some of the specifics in this SI. It proposes a fee structure for residential developments. The maximum fee cannot exceed £300,000. Perhaps the Minister can let us know whether this means a site for more than 600 properties can be developed without a full planning process that allows for detailed scrutiny of the proposal. It also means, of course, that developers’ contributions through the community infrastructure levy will be avoided—as will, for instance, consideration of pressures on school places.
The extension of permitted development rights is yet another example of Conservative ideology triumphing over expert advice. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published its own report on an assessment of the earlier extension of PDRs. It was damning. How is it possible that a Government are deliberately enabling the creation of homes that, in some cases, lack bedroom windows? I appreciate that the Government prevented that particular atrocity in this SI but they fail to understand that space standards, for example, may be bypassed and other such loopholes will be found to cut corners and costs for developers while leaving homes that will rapidly become the slums of the future.
We on these Benches know that good development for our built and natural environment depends absolutely on detailed scrutiny by planning experts, those directly affected and their local democratic representatives to achieve a considered and acceptable outcome for all concerned. Sustainable economic development is best done with people, not against them. Running roughshod over local people, as this SI and others do, is simply not acceptable.
My Lords, first, I declare my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
The regulations are obviously most disappointing. They are, I am afraid, another example of the Government’s obsession—and it is an obsession—with the planning system. It is all built on a false premise that economic growth, housebuilding and building communities are all the worse for the planning system that seeks to develop places and build stable communities with people at the heart of the decision-making process.
Of course, we get no answer from the Government—perhaps we will get an answer today from the Minister in his response—to the scandal of the hundreds of thousands of planning permissions that have been approved but where not a single brick has been laid, there is no sign of a shovel and absolutely nothing is happening. Then there is the land banking scandal, which sees land with planning permissions held by companies hoping that it will increase in value, without a brick laid or a shovel put into the ground.
The planning permissions for a million homes that have been built in the past decade are what should be addressed here, but no, we are going to allow, through permitted development rights, additional floors to be added to blocks of three storeys or more and an increase in the fees that can be charged. Taking further planning powers away from local communities and local authorities deprives local people and communities of the ability to define and shape their own area. That is bad news. I think that almost every speaker has made similar points.
The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, highlighted some of the problems we saw in previous permitted development changes. He also referred to the construction of blocks whereby you ensure that a block is built safely but you also build it with the intention of adding many more floors on top at a later date. I hope that the Minister will answer those points.
I note that, in the information on who we may have to consult, there is no mention of the fire brigade. The Minister might say, “Of course we will consult the fire brigade”, but it is regrettable that it is not mentioned in the Explanatory Notes. That is important; in fact, it is a dreadful omission on the part of the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was right when he said that these proposals are a disgrace. I agree. The problem we have, which the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, alluded to, is that in policy areas such as planning and housing, the Government are under huge influence from the Policy Exchange, a right-wing think tank and registered charity with all the tax benefits that come with being a UK charity. When you look at who funds it, it has a rating of E; it is completely opaque. We have no idea who funds this organisation, and no idea which companies and individuals provide it with money. These are the people behind the dreaded Housing and Planning Act. Of course, one of Theresa May’s first acts when she became Prime Minister was to confine that Act to the dustbin. Well done to her for that.
As I say, these regulations are most regrettable. Clearly we can build up, but it has to be well designed with proper consultation. These regulations do not allow that. I grew up on a council estate in south London. I know the importance of ensuring that places are well designed. We all know that poorly designed and developed places affect the health and outcomes of the families and people living in them. It is important that we get this right; regulations such as these do not help in any way at all.
As many noble Lords have said, we may have lots of problems in local areas when local people find out that the block of flats down their street or where they live will have three or more floors added on and they have a limited ability to affect that. It is just wrong. Local councils and local people should be able to influence those decisions but that influence has been taken away from them.
The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, made some interesting points when he compared the Government’s attitude to the Business and Planning Act—where nothing could be done and the measures were temporary and minimal—to their attitude here, where we can make all these changes and, again, the views of local people are not deemed important enough to be listened to.
I will leave it there. I look forward to the Minister’s response on those points and many others. I am sure that we will return to this issue again many times.
My Lords, we have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate on these regulations. I thank noble Lords for their contributions.
We have discussed an essential amendment to the 2012 fees regulations to introduce a new prior approval fee for a new category of permitted development rights for the construction of new homes. This permitted development right supports our ambition to get Britain building again, as the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, mentioned, and to deliver more homes, support our construction industry and help the economy to bounce back.
The fee introduced by these regulations reflects the level of assessment required for this type of prior approval for permitted development. This will ensure that local authorities have the resources to consider such applications and deliver a high-quality planning service. I reiterate that the £334 fee was chosen as a mid-point between the £206 change of use fee and the £462 full planning application fee. We believe that it is the right fee level.
Many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord German, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Bourne mentioned the importance of having a well-resourced and effective planning department. I am grateful for the points made by noble Lords. I want to respond to as many of them as I can. The noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned the impact on communities being disregarded. As I did yesterday in this House, I reiterate that local communities are able to comment on prior approval applications under the consultation requirements set out in the 2015 general permitted development order. In relation to matters for prior approval, the local authority is required to consider any representations made to it as a result of any consultation when making its decision on whether to grant prior approval, so there is a degree of consultation with communities despite the prior approval approach.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, mentioned the impact on leaseholders. This issue was raised in the other place by Sir Peter Bottomley, who was concerned about the impact of new permitted development rights on leaseholders’ ability to exercise their legal right to enhance their leasehold interests by buying the freehold. This is because, when purchasing the freehold, one of the valuation components is something called a hope value or development value. It is indeed true that some leaseholders may be affected by any increase in the value of those blocks of flats but it is certainly not the windfall described by some noble Lords today. It is not a windfall for freeholders but it may affect the valuation.
My noble friends Lord Holmes of Richmond and Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, and the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Thurlow, all raise concerns about quality of homes. All homes built under permitted development rights are required to meet building regulations. In addition, such developments must conform with any conditions required by the prior approval. For space standards, it is a priority that we see new homes brought forward. We think developers are best placed to assess the type and size of homes best suited to the local market. Regulations cover what we deem as the right space standard, but we have intervened so that under these rights you cannot build anything without adequate natural light in all habitable rooms.
For fire and building safety requirements, all homes built under permitted development rights are required to meet building regulations that make it clear that combustible cladding such as the ACM mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord German, needs to be remediated. I hope this will be as quickly as possible. At this point, well over 333 of the 457 buildings have started or completed remediation. I hope that his building follows shortly. My department—the MHCLG—will write a letter to all building control bodies, making clear all the building safety and fire safety requirements when new storeys are added. Fire safety and building safety are of paramount importance.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Bakewell, raised concerns about the inability of local communities to shape their local areas and local plans. These rights make effective use of existing buildings and boost density. As the noble Lord, Lord Mann, raised, we are looking to build up rather than build outwards. We aim to avoid building on greenfield land and make maximum use of brownfield sites. This is gentle densification. It will respect the appearance of existing streetscape while ensuring the amenity of neighbours is considered through the prior approval considerations.
Planning fees are an important source of income of a well-resourced, effective, efficient planning system that underpins housing delivery and economic growth. I firmly believe that these regulations will support local authorities to have the capacity to consider new applications and play their part in building the new homes that our country needs. I commend these regulations to the House.