Tories call for streamlined appeals and the abolition of ‘use class’ orders to free up office space

The Tories have called for a radical shake-up of how the planning system deals with housing and energy projects.

In a series of announcements at this week’s Conservative party conference in Bournemouth, proposals included:

  • Abolishing the distinction between housing and commercial projects
  • Streamlining planning appeals
  • Giving parliament, and not just ministers, a greater say in high-profile planning decisions.
Michael Gove, the Tories’ housing spokesperson, told a fringe event organised by Cabe that the system of “use class orders” should be scrapped to give commercial and residential projects the same planning status. Gove’s proposals would mean that developers

would no longer have to submit a planning application if they wanted to change the use of a building from commercial to residential.

Gove said scrapping the distinction between the two uses was a logical response to the lack of demand for commercial space.

He said: “I am very attracted to the idea of abolishing use class orders and the distinction between commercial and residential. At the moment, we have hundreds of thousands of square metres of office space that is empty.

He said circumstances had changed since the late eighties, when the Tories had introduced use class orders because commercial development was generally less polluting. Scrapping use class orders would also make it easier for developers to respond to market conditions.

However, it is likely to anger homeowners because it will make it easier to build commercial schemes in residential areas.

Gove backed proposals by John Gummer, the former environment secretary and chair of David Cameron’s Quality of Life commission, to dramatically slim down the scope of matters considered at planning appeals.

Separately, Alan Duncan, shadow minister for trade, industry and energy, has slammed Britain’s planning system for holding up large energy projects, claiming the process should be more democratic.

He said planning decisions for nuclear projects and large-scale renewable energy projects that are stalled in the planning system, such as the London Array wind farm, should come before parliament.

He said: “We need a fair regime in which decisions are quicker, and take into account Britain’s strategic position.”