The council will submit proposals to end the creation of “awful accommodation barely fit for human habitation” in Reading.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) will request changes to planning rules in parts of the town which would make it more difficult for developers to turn buildings into poor-quality flats.

Permitted Development Rights (PDR) allow for some buildings to be converted into housing and for developers to build new housing on top of buildings without planning permission.

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Reading Chronicle: PICTURED: Plans were approved this week via PDR for these Market Place offices to become 93 flatsPICTURED: Plans were approved this week via PDR for these Market Place offices to become 93 flats

Council leader Jason Brock says this has led to “sub-optimal accommodation and in some cases totally awful accommodation that is barely fit for human habitation”.

And councillor Tony Page, lead member for planning, said the latest in a series of permitted development rights are “potentially catastrophic” following the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said PDR, first introduced in 2015, has limited the council’s ability to do enforcement and lost it around 600 on-site affordable homes, as well as more than £3.5 million in off-site contributions and an estimated £4 million in infrastructure contributions towards education, leisure and transport.

Developers are now realising the accommodation built through PDR is not of a good enough quality, according to Cllr Page, with many developers submitting proper planning applications in Reading having secured change of use permission through PDR.

He said the council “want to see a proper planning process” so that local residents get the opportunity to be consulted.

The council is proposing to change the rules so that the following applications, which can currently be made without seeking planning permission, would need a full planning permission application in large parts of Reading:

  • Change of use from commercial, business and service use (use class E) to residential
  • Change of use from hot food takeaway, betting office, payday loan shop or launderette to residential
  • Change of use from casino or amusement arcade to residential
  • Demolition of single, purpose built, detached block of flats or a single, detached office, light industrial or research and development building and its replacement with a detached block of flats or detached house
  • Up to two additional residential storeys on a detached commercial or mixed-use building (in use for retail, financial and professional, restaurant and café, office, research and development, light industrial, betting shop, payday loan shop, launderette)
  • Up to two additional residential storeys on a two-or-more-storey terraced commercial or mixed-use building or one additional storey on a one storey building

RBC is seeking to do this under Article 4 of the GPDO, which allows a local authority to remove PDR subject to 12 months’ notice, consultation and approval by the Secretary of State.

The council wants to limit this embargo to the following areas;

  • The entire town centre
  • District and local centres
  • Core employment areas
  • Other primarily commercial or retail locations
  • Areas with the poorest levels of air quality.

The Secretary of State must be notified about any Article 4 direction and has powers to modify and cancel directions.

Any proposal to put an Article 4 direction in place will need to be accompanied by clear evidence to show the harm that results from the PDR.

Cllr Ricky Duveen says he expects the Government will reject the proposals and a plan b will be needed.

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Responding, Cllr Brock said: “We would all expect the Government’s new department will push back on at least elements of this and maybe the whole thing, but it will be incumbent on them to justify why they think they it’s OK to keep permitted development and the creation of slums of the future.

“We cannot allow an intolerable situation to continue, without any form of protest or considered representation, that allows our town to be reshaped without any input.”