Concerns raised over plans to relax laws for developers

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CONCERNS have been raised over plans to relax planning laws.

The government wants to scrap the need for people to get permission to convert shops of up to 150 square metres into houses.

Planning minister Nick Boles said the purpose of the move is to bring empty and underused buildings back to life and revitalise high streets.

But Cllr Luke Stubbs, Portsmouth’s deputy conservative group leader, said it could go against local rules designed to help preserve the character of the city’s shopping areas.

He said the council wouldn’t be able to continue justifying keeping a cap on the number of cafes and restaurants in busy locations such as Albert Road, Southsea.

‘The shops in Albert Road and elsewhere have fought for years to remain viable commercial centres by keeping a high proportion of retail frontage,’ Cllr Stubbs said.

‘These changes would sweep all that aside.

‘A few shops may become flats, but the more serious danger is of the dilution of shopping streets by takeaways.

‘Whilst allowing takeaways is not explicitly in these new rules, when there is a right to convert any small shop to housing, there would be no logical reason to refuse change of use planning applications.

‘The current justification of defending retail centres will no longer make any sense.’

The plans also cover buildings used for agricultural purposes.

Premises used as offices, hotels, homes and for leisure and meeting places could also be allowed to become nurseries providing childcare.

A building used for agricultural purposes of up to 500 square metres could be used as a new state funded school or a nursery with childcare.

Mr Boles said: ‘Thousands of empty and underused buildings, often on the edge of town centres, are going to waste because people do not want the hassle and uncertainty of submitting a planning application.

‘Removing this barrier will bring more people closer to their town centres, providing a much needed boost to local shops and ensuring we make the most of buildings that are already there for new homes, nurseries and schools this country needs.

‘Extending these permitted development rights on brownfield land will benefit all communities - whether in towns or the countryside.’