Crawley Borough Council has taken steps to protect business properties from developers, while branding permitted development rights ‘a scam’.
The rights allow developers to convert office space to flats without submitting a planning application.
While some see this as a positive thing, given the ongoing shortage of housing in many areas, others have pointed out a number of flaws and loopholes which have hit local authorities hard.
At a meeting of the cabinet last week, Peter Smith (Lab, Ifield) pointed out that Crawley already had a shortage of business space – a fact highlighted in the borough’s Local Plan – and called for Article 4 directions to be applied to four areas in the town.
The directions, which were agreed by the cabinet, have essentially removed permitted development rights from employment areas at Lowfield Heath,
Maidenbower Business Park, Tilgate Forest Business Centre and the majority of the Three Bridges Corridor.
A similar application was made to Manor Royal in 2014.
Mr Smith and others shared their frustrations that, under permitted development rights, developers did not have to ensure flats were of a specific size, and also did not have to pay Section 106 contributions or a Community Infrastructure Levy.
Both of these schemes were set up to help pay for infrastructure such as roads, affordable housing and play areas wherever a large development is built.
Andrew Skudder (Lab, Langley Green) said: “We’re getting all of the extra demands on our services and absolutely no contribution to it.”
Describing Crawley’s experience with permitted development rights as ‘a mixed bag’, Mr Smith said: “The thing it’s trying to do, which is honourable, is to provide more homes for people, and I know some people have taken the view that it’s a good thing.
“I would argue that, in the main, we’ve seen that it provides substandard homes – and where it provides decent homes, they would almost certainly have got planning permission in the first place.
“It’s basically a gift to developers to make more money, often at the expense of the Crawley council taxpayer, as well as consuming land that is desperately needed for our town.”
Geraint Thomas (Lab, Northgate) added: “It’s not just the social contributions that are not made, they also don’t have to provide any affordable housing either.
“It’s a scam for developers.”
The final word went to Peter Lamb (Lab, Northgate), who said: “Units that are reduced to the minimum possible size are usually let to the public sector in terms of claiming housing benefit and are charged at the maximum price for the unit.
“It’s effectively a means of deducting the maximum pay-out from the taxpayer for the poorest possible living conditions, and everyone ought to be incredibly angry.”