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New planning rules are ‘panic measure’ – LGA

New planning rules come into force today to allow businesses and developers to change the use of buildings from one type to another, without needing planning permission, for up to two years.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has urged Government to let local areas decide for themselves whether a change of use is appropriate, but communities’ secretary Eric Pickles has said it will cut red tape for business.

Announcing the rules earlier this month, he said: “There is huge untapped potential in the many disused existing buildings we have and we’re determined that every one of them is put to good use.

“By simplifying the process and relaxing some stringent rules we can provide a helping hand to those eager to boost their high streets or rural communities by cutting the time and costs needed to start up new businesses.

“These reforms will provide a boost to the exciting free schools programme. It will make it easier for parents and community activists to convert buildings into new schools.

“We’re also providing a great opportunity for outdated, redundant or underused offices to be brought back to life by converting them into homes, protecting the green belt and countryside at the same time. This will also increase footfall and provide knock-on benefits to the wider community.”

Cllr Mike Jones, chairman of the LGA's Environment and Housing Board, said: “People tell us that they're fed up of having their local high streets filled with betting shops and payday loan companies.

“We have been clear that if we're to get people back out shopping in their local town centres, we need to give them more say on what type of businesses and shops open there. Instead, from today they will have less.

“There's a very real danger that, in chasing a short-term boost, this panic measure could end up creating real problems in our high streets and doing lasting damage to our town and cities. This could potentially drain the life from our high streets.

“Planning controls are not there to make life difficult for new businesses but as a form of democratic quality control which ensures new shops and businesses will be good for the area and the people who live there. Councils are currently approving more planning applications than ever before.

“We desperately need to boost struggling high streets and help new businesses take over empty buildings, but a blanket national policy is not the answer. Councils aren't seeking to stop bookies from opening up altogether, but it's important that local areas can have a say.

“Most people would be more inclined to visit their local high streets if they saw a resurgence in the sort of cherished local, good quality shops, restaurants and businesses which can be at the very heart of communities. Instead, this blanket national policy will make it easier than ever for high streets to become ghettos for clusters of here-today, gone-tomorrow money lenders and betting shops.

“Converting offices into flats, cafes into betting shops or businesses into schools can have a huge impact on the character of local areas and people will rightly feel that they should be entitled to have a say.”

(Image: Martin Pettitt)

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