§ CHANGE OF USE
'Section 22(3) of the Act of 1971 (which provides that certain operations or uses of land or buildings involve a material change in the use of the land or buildings) shall be amended by adding at the end the words:
(c) raising the level of occupancy of any building above the net residential density as set out in the development plan, whether by the carrying out of any works for the alteration of the building or otherwise, involves a material change in the use of the building" '.—[Sir B. Rhys Williams.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Sir B. Rhys Williams
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
In Kensington we are suffering from our own particular type of inflation. We have too many people chasing too few rooms. The problem is one which is on the point of becoming almost unmanageable and, indeed, intolerable. Last Wednesday at a packed meeting at the town hall, about 700 people were, I believe, virtually unanimous in their desire for the Government to intervene to protect Kensington and the whole of central London from a sharp deterioration which they felt was proceeding in the way of life of people who live in 343 central London, and in the environment generally.
It would be fruitful now to give local authorities powers which are already latent in existing legislation, namely to restrict increases in levels of occupancy to existing ceilings. Under the Housing Acts local authorities are accustomed to intervening where there is severe overcrowding, but they are entitled to do it only where there is a health hazard. Equally, under the Planning Acts local authorities are already used to setting maximum levels of occupancy but only where new building is proposed or where substantial building change is involved.
There is anxiety in central London at the moment because buildings where the original layout and structure was on a sufficiently grand scale to avoid any risk of health hazard are being subjected to a rise in the occupancy level. It is profitable for unscrupulous developers to exploit the trend and sharply to reduce the general level of amenity and living standards of those who are crowded into these premises.
My original intention was that we should confer—possibly by the Secretary of State'sdecision—upon those local authorities which are suffering particularly from the problem the power to designate particular areas, or even particular blocks, as areas of certain fixed maximum occupancies, rather as they declare conservation areas. I do not feel that that is such a large departure from existing legislation, or that there would be any serious difficulty in implementing it.
I recognise, however, that it may require certain safeguards, such as the notice to be given to the owners of the premises and possibly in regard to appeal. In many cases the fact that the council was known to have the necessary powers to prevent a rise in the level of occupancy of established premises might well be enough to prevent speculators from adventuring into conversions of existing blocks or raising the levels of occupancy in a way which might bring down on them the wrath of the local planning authority.
I assure my right hon. Friend that, although he may not like the phraseology of the Clause, he has only to come to Kensington or to visit many other central urban authorities to recognise the need for something to be done. We want to 344 prevent the intensification of residential use of existing properties, particularly in conservation areas, in order to protect the quality of life of our cities.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I appreciate the problem which faces my hon. Friend's constituency with the increase of occupancy of the residential areas there. I know that the object of the Clause is to require planning permission to be obtained before any works are carried out or other changes are made to a building which would raise the occupancy level.above the net residential densityset out for the area in the development plan. But there are grave difficulties in dealing with the matter in this way.
In seeking to establish in his Clause a yardstick of acceptable density of occupation, my hon. Friend has turned to the densities which are usually stated in development plans as part of the authority's general policy of controlling new buildings. These densities are not related to the existing pattern of development; they are laid down with the idea of giving guidance both to the developer and to the planning authority as to the appropriate densities when new buildings are erected. In many older areas existing densities are well in excess of those stated in the development plan.
If the change which led to an increased occupancy were a division of the house into flats, it would already involve development by virtue of Section 22(3)(a) of the 1971 Act. If works were involved in building an extension, this would also involve development, although the development might not need express permission, if the size of the extension were within the limitations which we discussed on a previous Clause and which are set out in the general development order—the 1,750 cubic feet, or one-tenth of the original cubic capacity, height not exceeding that of the original building. But even if the extension is within the general development order limits it could be brought under control by the local planning authority making a direction under article 4 of the general development order. This could lead to a compensation claim if permission were subsequently refused on an application.
There are some possible ways of dealing with the problem. If we deal with 345 it in the way my hon. Friend wishes in the new Clause, the most unintentional problems could arise. The raising of the level of occupancy is to be controlled not only if works take place but also if it occurs "otherwise". Therefore, assuming it were possible to work out from a development plan the permissible level of occupancy of a small house in, say, single-family occupation, the occupier would require planning permission for a material change of use of the building if his family increased beyond the permitted number. That could happen even though there was adequate room for all the family in the house. I think that this is taking family planning a little to the extreme.
The adoption of the densities set out in the development plan as the criterion for the purpose of this provision is, I think, misconceived. The development plans lay down maximum densities in terms of persons per acre, and to assess the permitted occupancy of an individual house by reference to a development plan would involve measuring each house plot, which is usually taken as including half the width of the road, and measured in this way a corner house might have quite a large plot. If it occupied, say, one-tenth of an acre and the density prescribed in the plan was 136 persons per acre, the corner house could be occupied by 13.6 people, while the house next door, of identical size, might have a plot of only half the size or even less. The base line for a material change would be in that case 6.8 people. There would be no logic in the prescribed occupancy level derived from the use of densities set out in the development plan, while a lot of work would be involved in trying to work them out.
Giving these examples of the difficulties of applying the sort of criteria my hon. Friend proposes does not detract from my concern about the position as it arises in Kensington and other London boroughs and areas in other cities. I think we must consider for some areas some regulation of the density of population particularly in order to preserve, as my hon. Friend said, the quality of life there. In that I am not, and I am sure he is not, being snobbish and wanting to keep large houses in the occupation of only a couple of people. Although I appreciate his problem, I think he is 346 choosing the wrong way to deal with it, and certainly it should not come under planning law. We shall have to find some better way to deal with it than he proposes.
§ Question put and negatived.