Permitted Development Rights and the revised NPPF: Article 4 directions

22 Jul 2021

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Government’s national planning policies and how they are expected to be applied by planning authorities. On 20 July 2021, the Government released a revision of the NPPF (last updated in February 2019).
On 15 July 2021 the Government released its Build Back Better Streets Strategy, setting out its proposals for revitalising the High Street.  One of the main proposals were increased permitted development rights (PDRs).
Permitted development rights, Article 4 directions and changes made in the revised NPPF
Permitted development rights are a grant of legislative planning permission which allows certain development to be carried out without having to make a planning application. They are subject to conditions and limitations such as height, size or location and some still require a light touch planning application known as ‘prior approval’.  The Government has recently introduced a new set of PDRs which allow for the extension of existing buildings through the addition of 1-2 storeys and the demolition and reconstructing of unused or derelict buildings.
From the 1 August 2021, the Government is also introducing a PDR for a change of use from Class E to residential (where it meets various conditions).  Class E is the new Commercial, Business and Service Use Class which incorporates many of the previous A and B Class uses, but comprises the types of uses we would expect to see on the High Street.
This new PDR would apply to a significant number of High Street properties, leading the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee to release a report (22 July 2021) asking the Government to pause this PDR.  Whilst the creation of new residences would increase footfall across the High Street, the Committee is concerned about the long-term loss of commercial properties, and particularly ground floor units.
Local authorities themselves may be concerned about the impact of this PDR on their High Streets and town centres.  However, PDRs can be removed by limited means:
  1. A condition on a planning permission,
  2. A s106 agreement, or
  3. An Article 4 direction.
Planning conditions and s106 agreements would only apply where there is an existing planning permission incorporating these; they cannot be applied without an application in play.  The main method of removing or limiting PDRs is by Article 4 direction.
Article 4 directions
Under Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order the local planning authority (or the Secretary of State) can withdraw specified PDRs. Article 4 directions can restrict the scope of PDRs in relation to a particular area and in relation to a particular PDR. Where an Article 4 direction is in place, a planning application will be required where otherwise the development would fall within PDRs.
The test for the use of Article 4 directions has been amended by the revised NPPF. Previously it was stated that the use of Article 4 directions should be limited to situations where it ‘is necessary to protect local amenity or the wellbeing of the area’.
The revised NPPF has imposed a much more stringent test where the development relates to a change from non-residential to residential (paragraph 53 of the NPPF). In this scenario the use of Article 4 directions should be limited to situations where it ‘is necessary to avoid wholly unacceptable adverse impacts’. Additionally, in all cases, Article 4 directions should be ‘based on robust evidence and apply to the smallest geographical area possible’.
These amendments to the NPPF limit the ability for local planning authorities to use Article 4 directions unless they have real justification and evidence for it; certainly the extent of land will now be under more scrutiny.
We wait to see whether the Government will pause or make amendments to the new PDR in light of the Committee’s findings, but would suggest that any developers looking to rely on the PDR apply for prior approval as soon as possible.  Local authorities should be considering making new Article 4 directions should start the process early to ensure their justifications are robust.

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