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Campaigners threaten legal action over planning reforms

Rights : Community : Action said the extended permitted development rights risked the environment and wellbeing of disabled people, demanding the Government suspend the new rules

A campaign group is preparing to challenge the Government in court over a recent extension to permitted development rights.

Climate emergency activists Rights : Community : Action (RCA) wrote to housing secretary Robert Jenrick informing him of their grounds for bringing a judicial review against the new rules.

The extended permitted development rights – allowing developers to convert commercial buildings like offices into homes without requiring full planning permission – are “one of the most radical shake-ups of planning law since World War 2,” RCA said.

In the pre-action letter sent via law firm Leigh Day, the campaigners said they would take the Government to court if it did not suspend the new rules before they are brought in on September 1.

Last month The Big Issue reported on industry criticism of Boris Johnson’s attempt to ‘build back better’. Converting office units into housing is a practice largely shown to produce shoddy homes that promote overcrowding, particularly when local communities have no say in the project and no affordable housing contribution is required.

And RCA said parliament had no opportunity to debate the reforms after they were introduced a day before it went into summer recess – something the campaigners said could have “enormous consequences for the environment”.

The Government did not carry out a strategic environmental assessment, the letter noted, breaching an EU directive.

But it also did not investigate the impact such developments could have on equality, they said, with the potential to impact disabled people in particular including homeless people with mental health problems.

Earlier this year the Government published a report contradicting the new planning rules – blasting office-to-residential conversions created without full planning permission as seeming to “create worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions” in relation to matters of “health, wellbeing and quality of life”. The letter from RCA included this in its grounds for challenging the reforms.

“The small, out-of-town units that will be created by ‘the new permitted development changes are very likely to be used to house current and future homeless persons, in the same way that existing office-to-residential conversions are,” the letter read, citing the likelihood developers will create not-fit-for-purpose homes on rural, vacant land.

It continued: “In particular, any disabled persons who occupy these out-of-town units will be cut off from many public services, including healthcare and social care.”

Lawyers appointed by RCA requested a response by midday on August 26. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told The Big Issue it would not comment on ongoing legal matters but that it had received the letter and would respond in due course.