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21/525 Permitted Development Rights


Research question

• What are the health and health inequality impacts of housing created through the new Permitted Development Rights?

Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) allow certain changes to be made to a building without the need to apply for planning permission from the local planning authority. PDRs are introduced nationally by government regulations and must be followed by local authorities. PDRs operate differently across the four devolved administrations. Planning permission is the process of ensuring national and local policy compliance on all aspects relating to quality of place including transportation, natural environment, living conditions and amenities.

Since 2013, a series of changes to planning policy have extended PDRs in England which allow change of use to certain buildings from, for example, existing retail, manufacturing or agricultural use into residential property. Office to residential change of use PDR was made permanent in 2016. Further changes to PDRs were made in 2020 as part of the government’s commitment to increase housing supply, particularly in town centre locations. In May 2021, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee held its first session of its inquiry into Permitted Development Rights, taking evidence from a range of stakeholders, including Local Government.

It is estimated that since 2013, more than 100,000 new housing units have been created through PDRs in England, the majority of which were created through office to residential conversions. The changes in office space use post-COVID may increase the availability of such buildings for conversion. PDRs have also been applied to warehousing, industry and high street uses such as betting shops and food takeaways.

Concerns have been raised about the impact of PDRs on health and health inequalities. For example, much PDR housing is poorly located on, or is in close proximity to, existing industrial estates with limited access to the range of amenities and facilities associated with a sustainable, healthy community. There is increased likelihood that PDR housing is developed in poorer quality localities, often in more deprived areas, and used by local authorities to house vulnerable populations. Schemes have been criticised for performing poorly against the Town & Country Planning Association’s (TCPA) healthy homes principles and for not meeting the requirements of the Nationally Described Space Standard.

Recent research on the association between housing created through PDRs and health has indicated that more studies are needed to evaluate the positive and negative impacts on population health and wellbeing of housing created through PDRs.

Please note that although this call is specifically about housing created through PDRs, the Public Health Research (PHR) Programme welcomes applications on related areas of research via its researcher-led work stream.

For this call, the PHR Programme is particularly interested in the evaluation of interventions that operate at a population level. Research areas of interest could include (but are not limited to):

  • Research investigating the impact of PDRs on health inequalities experienced by PDR residents and the surrounding communities.
  • Evaluations of impacts on neighbourhoods including features such as opportunities for physical activity (e.g. bike facilities, cycle infrastructure, outdoor space, appropriate paths for pedestrians, traffic and proximity to facilities), education, health services, shops, public transport and employment.
  • Research investigating the wider impacts on the local authority infrastructure due to the lack of Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments.
  • Evaluations of Local Authority mitigations of the impacts of PDRs.
  • Research investigating the impact of PDRs on the wellbeing and related health behaviours of residents.
  • Investigations of direct exposures within housing created through PDRs, for example, to damp and mould, air pollutants, temperature extremes, noise, access to natural light, overcrowding within households and pests.
  • Research into the thermal performance/energy efficiency of housing and the impact on the residents (over-heating, cold, fuel poverty) and the environment (carbon emissions).
  • Investigations of how exposure to these aspects affect primary health outcomes for example: respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergies, injuries, excess winter deaths, infectious diseases, musculoskeletal conditions, and mental health.
  • Evaluations focused on building features, e.g. quality of construction materials used and toxicity (such as cladding), indoor and outdoor amenity space, hazards, and adaptability and use by different population groups, such as older people, disabled people, people with young children.
  • Research on the impact that extreme weather events have/might have on housing created through PDRs, and adaption and mitigation measures.

A range of study designs and outcome measures can be used. It is likely that natural experiments will be the focus of this work but qualitative methods, visual and spatial analyses may also be appropriate. Researchers will need to identify and justify the most suitable methodological approach. Researchers will also need to specify key outcomes and how these will be measured in the short, medium and long term. Primary outcomes must be health related. For this call, the PHR Programme will accept other outcomes (such as air quality, ventilation, access to public and active travel options) as long as the link to health can be demonstrated and justified. Cost-effectiveness is always of interest to policy makers and the PHR Programme encourages researchers to consider including economic considerations in their application.

Researchers are encouraged to ensure that there is user involvement from people with lived experience of PDR housing in the design of the evaluation and in the research team. Researchers should consider how best to involve decision-makers from local authorities, non-governmental and third sector organisations in the research team. We will consider inclusion of experts as costed members of the study team if appropriately justified. Researchers should demonstrate the relevance of their proposed research to policy makers, planners, architects, housing developers, builders and surveyors, local authority housing and public health officers, special interest groups, charities and community audiences. Researchers are expected to be aware of other studies in this area and ensure their proposed research is complementary.

For further information on submitting an application to the PHR Programme, please refer to the supporting information for applicants submitting stage 1 and stage 2 applications.