The Welsh Government’s Chief Planner issued a letter on 30 March 2021 setting out that a number of temporary permitted development rights (temporary PDR) were to come into force on 30 April 2021. These relate to temporary use of land, change of use of units in town centres, street furniture and awnings.
According to the Chief Planner, the purpose of the temporary PDR is:
As a result of covid-19 and the need to social distance and ensure adequate ventilation for customers, a number of businesses, especially in the hospitality sector have had to move quickly to adapt their premises so that they can operate profitably and safely within the health guidelines. This has included additional outside seating areas, covered areas, pop up counters and pop up shops.
The Chief Planner’s letter is therefore timely and notes that the temporary PDR provide a co-ordinated approach with Welsh Government grant funding that has been made available to the private sector to adapt property and the public realm at this time. The changes also coincide with the easing of lockdown in Wales with outdoor hospitality premises allowed to open from 26 April 2021.
Subject to restrictions and conditions, new Part 4A (Temporary Changes of Use) and amended Part 42 allows:
It is necessary that before proceeding with the development, the conditions, restrictions, and definitions that apply to these new permitted development rights are fully understood.
We welcome the recognition from the Welsh Government that there is a need for the planning system to be responsive, flexible and pragmatic to assist with the recovery from covid-19. In discussing Class A, Part 4A the letter explains that even if the temporary PDR cannot be utilised and a planning application is required then the Local Planning Authority should prioritise these applications. It states:
It is reassuring to hear the Chief Planner saying that the planning system should not act as a barrier to recovery and that businesses can proceed with these minor developments without the need to apply for planning permission and even if permission is required then these should be fast-tracked and considered pragmatically.
Town Centre Uses – A move towards diversity
With the rise of internet shopping, high rents and business rates and a failure to diversify, town centres were struggling even before the pandemic. The situation by now is much worse with town centre stalwarts such as Debenhams and Topshop the latest to go out of business leaving large voids.
Local Development Plan policies have historically sought to protect the change of use of A1 uses in town centres to other uses, especially in primary frontages. However, the Chief Planner’s letter highlights a change of direction by facilitating the temporary use of town centre units for alternative uses for a period of up to 6 months. This includes A1 uses in primary frontages which have for so long been protected from any change away from A1 retail use.
The letter notes that if the alternative use proves successful then a planning application will be required to retain the use beyond 6 months. Where it has been demonstrated during the temporary period that the planning impacts are minimal, or where the impacts could be managed through conditions, sufficient weight should be given to the social, economic and broad regeneration benefits of retaining an alternative use.
It will be interesting to see what kind of temporary uses pop up in the town centre within the temporary period and whether these are retained in the long term.
Whilst all of this is helpful and should be welcomed, it must be noted that this is nowhere near the flexible system present in England where the use class order has recently been loosened dramatically with the introduction of Use Class E which encompasses the old A1 (Part), A2, A3, B1, D1 (Part) and D2 (Part) uses but with some restriction such as shops (less than 280 sqm) selling essential goods.
The Chief Planner’s letter notes that this is a solution for the short term, and we wonder therefore if a more flexible approach to town centre uses will become permanent in the future in order to safeguard the vitality and viability of town centres.
Lichfields Can Help
Whilst the above temporary PDR appear to be modest and simply tweaking around the edges, we do think that they will assist the hospitality sector and town centres in adapting their premises so that an expensive and lengthy planning application or planning enforcement can be avoided.
If you are unsure whether you are able to take advantage of the new permitted development rights, then we would be more than happy to discuss your situation and assist with a notification or planning application if required.