Reading move to block ‘undemocratic’ planning developments

Moves could be made in Reading to block an ‘undemocratic’ planning law that allows developers to build without consent from the council.

This law, called Permitted Development Rights (PDR), allows developers to make changes to a building without the need to apply for planning permission.

Permitted development has been used to convert offices into apartments and also allows developers to add residential storeys to commercial buildings, or the demolition of commercial buildings to replace them with homes, without the council approving the plans.

However, PDRs could soon be blocked in certain areas of Reading if the council proposal wins approval.

The council’s Labour administration is moving to make an ‘Article 4 Direction’ in certain area to prevent certain PDRs from going ahead without consultation with neighbours and the planning authority.

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If approved, the Article 4 Direction would apply to the town centre, other local centres, core employment areas and other primarily commercial-based locations, and the areas with the poorest air quality.

Micky Leng (Labour, Whitley), lead councillor for planning, said: “Having seen first-hand the detrimental impact the use of these planning laws can have on communities, Reading is now taking a stand.

“Owners and developers have been riding roughshod over the views of neighbours and the local planning process for too many years. Their motivation is profit and they often have little or no interest in the views of people who live in the vicinity of these developments.”

The councillor said ‘for clarity’ the move is not the council being anti-development, and it is well aware of the ‘desperate’ need for homes in Reading.

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Cllr Leng added: “This is about fairness and ensuring all developments go through the correct democratic planning process, which should be the same process whether you are an owner or a larger developer.

“The idea behind the change is to give the council and communities more control over developments through the planning process, to help protect the existing office and industrial supply and to guard against conversions which are harmful to local neighbourhoods. Importantly, it will also allow the consideration of other essential planning considerations – such as affordable housing or amenity space provision – which would not otherwise be possible with the PDR in force, and which I’m sure will be welcomed by all councillors.

“Reading has been vociferous on this subject, and indeed objected to the original introduction of office to residential PDR almost a decade ago now.

“It is essential the correct planning framework is in place nationally to enable local councils to keep an overview of local planning decisions.

“Councils must retain the ability to insist that developers make an appropriate contribution to local infrastructure and affordable housing, as opposed to solely increasing their profit margins at our expense.”

The blocking of PDR is due to be decided at a policy committee meeting on Monday, October 31.

If agreed, the Article 4 Direction will come into effect on November 15 and would apply to a number of areas across the town, including in areas of Reading with poor air quality.

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The council opposes PDRs because requirements for affordable housing and developer contributions do not apply to them.

It has estimated that PDR has cost Reading 600 affordable homes, at least £3.5 million in off-site contributions to affordable housing.

Additionaly, it states nearly £4 million has been lost in developer contributions since 2013.

Furthermore, the council states more than four in every five new PDR homes are one bedroom or studios, meaning they ignore the requests made for a mi in housing sizes outlined in the Reading Local Plan.

Reading Chronicle | Town Centre