LAST month, The Wokingham Paper revealed that 400 homes may be built in Wokingham industrial estates without gaining planning permission from the council.
The loophole — permitted development — allows a developer to change the use of a building without going through the entire planning process.
It means that the council can rarely object to such changes in their own borough.
Developers building homes through permitted development can also avoid providing affordable housing and contributing to local infrastructure and services, as they do not have to pay a community infrastructure levy (CIL) contribution.
Hoping to lobby the Government to change the law on permitted development, Evendons councillor, Sarah Kerr started a petition and wrote to Wokingham MP, Sir John Redwood about her concerns — who in turn contacted central Government.
The Minister for Local Government and Homelessness replied to Sir John, stating: “The permitted development right for the change of use from office to residential is making an important contribution to the delivery of new homes across the country.
“In the four years to March 2019, over 54,000 homes to buy or rent have been delivered under the right.
“Where it is felt that it is necessary to protect the local amenity or wellbeing of an area, the local planning authority can consult the local community on removing a permitted development right by making an Article 4 direction.”
“This then requires a planning application which the local planning authority can determine in accordance with its local plan.”
However, in order to apply Article 4 to the site, Wokingham borough council must find something uniquely special about the industrial parks that mean they cannot be changed without the planning committee’s approval.
Article 4 directions can be used when an area of acknowledged importance would be threatened. These are usually conservation areas, not business units.
The Minister for Local Government and Homelessness added that a review of permitted development rights across the UK is currently underway.
Sir John was asked about his contribution to the review. He said: “The government made a Statement on 13 March 2019 setting out a number of changes it proposed to make to permitted development rights, mainly in connection with the changing shape of the High Street and differing uses for shops.This followed a consultation. It then amended the legislation by an statutory instrument at the beginning of May last year.
“If constituents wish to lobby for further changes or want amendments to the changes already made I would be happy to take these up with the government.”
Last month, the Local Government Association (LGA) stated that since 2015, more than 13,000 affordable homes have been lost across England due to the conversion of offices into homes via permitted development.
David Renard, LGA housing spokesman, said: “Permitted development rules are resulting in the alarming potential loss of thousands of desperately-needed affordable homes.
“It is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process and are able to oversee all local developments.
“By scrapping permitted development rules, the Government can give councils and local communities the ability to shape the area they live in and ensure homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place.”