OCS objects to planning free-for-all

Losing local oversight of changes could lead to poor developments.

2 February 2021

Oxford Civic Society has written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government strongly objecting to their “Supporting Housing Delivery and Public Service Infrastructure” (through Permitted Development) proposals, which propose considerable deregulation of the planning process.

High Street shopsThe proposals would allow many commercial, business or services premises to be converted to residential use without involving the planning authorities.  Even in the handful of cases where planning permission would still be required (such as community centres, hotels, cinemas), it is proposed that the consultation period be substantially reduced.

The OCS Planning Group argues that excluding effective scrutiny by the local community in this way is unacceptable and undemocratic, and risks

  • damaging town and city centres, and high streets;
  • encouraging the creation of poor-quality homes; and
  • the loss of historic character in conservation areas.

Gillian Coates, OCS Vice-Chair and co-ordinator of our Planning Group, writes

“New permitted development is not objectionable in itself:  change is good if it brings improvement.

“OCS wants to see a revived city centre which serves those who live and work here: Covid-19 has badly damaged the economy, and many businesses are unlikely to reopen their doors. We don’t want empty high streets, and we recognise that allowing business premises to be converted to residential use could help provide much-needed accommodation for people working in Oxford, especially if it were affordable.

“We can see that encouraging such conversions could breathe new life into the city centre, with a larger number of people on the streets in the evenings, shopping locally, frequenting restaurants and pubs, theatres and cinemas.  And more central living would reduce the need for cars, which would have a beneficial effect on the use of private and public transport and improve the quality of the air we breathe.

“But having said all that, such development cannot be allowed to be random and purely market-driven. There must be proper checks and balances to safeguard the size, shape and character of the city, prevent any proliferation of cramped or environmentally substandard accommodation, and to protect the city and its residents against opportunistic or unscrupulous developers.”

Sir Clive Booth, President of OCS, added

“Without adequate scrutiny by planning authorities and local communities, it will be impossible to ensure that development is undertaken sympathetically and takes account of the potential impact on its surroundings.

“We, and other Civic Societies around the country, remain deeply concerned about the proposals in this paper and hope that the Government will think again.”

You can read the Society’s letter in full here.