Campaign group issues “pre-action” letter warning of judicial review over controversial planning deregulation

A campaign group has written to the government threatening legal action unless it suspends its introduction of new permitted development (PD) rights, which are due to come in to force next Monday.

Rights: Community: Action (RCA) has got the law firm Leigh Day to write a “pre-action” letter to the government, informing it of its intention to launch a judicial review of the new planning rules.

Terminus House best one

Terminus House in Harlow was converted to housing under existing permitted development rights

The new permitted development rights, which were announced in July as part of the government’s radical shake-up of the planning system, give building owners the right in principle to extend houses upwards, and to demolish and  rebuild commercial premises as housing without planning permission.

The group is also looking to take action over the shake-up of the use-classes order, which the government has said is necessary to help save high streets.

In the pre-action letter, Leigh Day said the potential claim would be made on the basis that the government had failed to take account of consultation responses over the policy, or its own expert advice. This included the independent review of permitted development rights that it commissioned from Dr Ben Clifford at UCL.

Clifford’s report, finally published on the same day as the new statutory instruments, found that only a small fraction homes created under permitted development rights met national space standards, and were in general of worse quality “in relation to a number of factors widely linked to the health, wellbeing and quality of life” of occupants.

Consultation responses to the proposed PD rights extension were largely negative, with the government’s summary admitting that less than a third of respondents were in favour of the proposed demolition and rebuilding PD right.

The letter also pointed out that the conclusion of the government’s Building Better Building Beautiful Commission was that existing permitted development rights had “inadvertently permissioned future slums”.

In addition, the letter said the fact that the government had not undertaken an environmental assessment of the statutory instruments granting the new rights or assessed the impact on protected groups under equalities rules provided grounds for legal challenge.

It also pointed out that the new regulations were laid before parliament on 21 July, the day before the parliamentary summer recess, and will come into force the day before it reconvenes. This means that parliament has therefore had no opportunity to debate “the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War” before they come into effect, with potentially enormous consequences for the environment.

RCA has also instructed Paul Brown QC and Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers to act for it on the matter.


Announcing the plans in July, housing secretary Robert Jenrick (pictured, right) said the changes were designed to deliver much-needed new homes and revitalise town centres across England by cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy.

Since the introduction of a series of change-of-use PD rights in 2013, including the right to convert offices into homes, official data shows that more than 60,000 homes have been created using the PD rights.

Wellstones, Watford

However, the existing rights, which allow developers to bypass usual planning processes, have been blamed by campaigners for the creation of a huge number of tiny and poor quality homes, including flats without windows, such as those proposed in a former industrial unit in Watford (pictured, left).

The RIBA in July described the decision to introduce more PD rights as “disgraceful”, and joined forces with the Royal Town Planning Institute, the RICS and the Chartered Institute of Building to issue a strongly worded open letter to Jenrick criticising the move.

A spokesperson for the housing ministry, which does not tend to comment on ongoing legal cases, said: “The government has received the letter and will respond in due course.”