After prolonged pressure from local authorities and MPs the government is consulting on a proposal to introduce a new use class for short term lets and a new type of Permitted Development right that would allow the change of use from a dwellinghouse to a short term let. Will it help in Cornwall and how can NDPs be involved?

The Proposals. The details, in a long consultation, are here. For a shorter explanation see the following….

The proposal is to create a new use class – C5 short term let – so that the ‘use of a dwellinghouse that is not a sole or main residence for temporary sleeping accommodation for the purpose of holiday, leisure, recreation, business or other travel’ will require planning permission.

When the use class comes into effect existing properties would fall into the short term let use class (C5) where they met the definition or remain as C3 dwellinghouse. Owners of existing properties that meet the definition of short term let would not need to apply for planning permission. Where the class of a property is unclear because of their individual circumstances, owners can apply for a lawful development certificate to confirm the lawfulness of the use for planning purposes.

The letting out of a room or rooms, for example to a lodger, within a ‘sole or main’ dwellinghouse will be unaffected by the introduction of the new class. ‘Second homes’ that are only occupied by the owner would be C3, but those that are additionally let out for part of the year will fall into the C5 short term let use class.

The new use class would mean that developers could provide new dwellings that are purpose built as  C5 short term lets.

To provide flexibility where short term lets are not a local issue the intention is to create two new Permitted Development [PD] rights for the change of use from a residential dwellinghouse to a short term let and vice versa. A PD right is a form of automatic permission which means that a formal application to the LPA is not required. Where short term lets harms the amenity or wellbeing of the area, and there is evidence to support it, the LPA would have the option to remove the PD rights by making an Article 4 direction focussed on those areas or streets that see the highest numbers of short term lets, or individual properties. This would mean that new C5 uses would require a formal planning application to be made.

Existing properties would fall under the new use class once it comes into effect, meaning that owners of existing properties would not be required to apply for planning permission in A4D areas.

Alongside this the consultation proposes that, for the sake of flexibility, properties which are used as a main or sole dwellinghouse should be allowed some short term letting. This could apply for example where the owner is on holiday themselves, or there is a sporting event or festival held locally that they can avoid whilst benefitting financially. The consultation seeks opinion as to whether the reasonable period for this should be 30, 60, or 90 nights in a calendar year. Planning permission will continue to be required where a main or sole C3 dwellinghouse is let out for longer than this number of nights in a calendar year where there is a material change of use.

To deliver this flexibility the Govt., prefers the introduction of an additional permitted development right to allow the use of a main or sole C3 dwellinghouse for temporary sleeping accommodation for up to a defined number of nights in a calendar year. The permitted development right could be removed by making an Article 4 direction where harm to the amenity or wellbeing of the area is evidenced. Alternatively , dwellings under class C3(a) (a single person or people forming a single household) could be allowed to be used for short lets for a reasonable period while retaining its use as a main or sole dwellinghouse.

Will the proposals help in Cornwall?

In my view they will have limited impact on the housing market and social effects of short term lets, and that will be over a long period. This is because;

  • For many coastal communities the issue is not with short-term lets, but with Second Homes that when not in use by their owners simply remain empty, and permanent in-migration of wealthy retirees taking up the housing stock;
  • People letting Second Homes through Peer to Peer platforms may be wealthy enough to simply let them be empty when not in use by themselves;
  • Identification and monitoring necessary to provide the information needed to bring the controls into effect will, even with DCMS proposed register of short-term lets, be patchy and hungry of scarce resources;
  • Existing properties would automatically fall under the new use class once it comes into effect, thereby reducing the effectiveness of planning controls in A4D areas;
  • It will take some time to get the proposals enacted, after which LPAs and NDP groups will need to research and clearly evidence the justification for the A4Ds and planning policies needed to achieve the desired effects, and to get them into effect;
  • Strong opposition to policies and A4Ds may come from well-off Second Home/Airbnb property owners and business interests focused on serving that market.

It’s also possible that the the proposed short let ‘flexibility’ for homeowners could encourage multiple owners of main or sole dwellinghouses in holiday hotspots (eg a coastal village centre) to let their properties during peak holiday periods. The resulting churn of people, noise and traffic, storage and handling of waste may lead to intense problems and conflict with other local residents.

On the other side of the coin, it has to be accepted that short term lets are an important part in Cornwall’s visitor economy, supporting business prosperity and employment. Also, flexibility for homeowners to let out their home or part of their home for short periods can be the source of an important supplementary income in hard times. It will be important for local authorities to maintain a careful balance of interests.

How can NDPs be involved? To provide an effective framework to implement these changes NDP groups could set out policies in their neighbourhood plan setting out the level and circumstances where they would support, or not support, new short term lets. Any future planning applications for new build short term lets, or for the change of use to a short term let where the permitted development rights have been removed, would be determined in accordance with these policies. This will require convincing evidence that might be difficult to establish. For example, establishing the appropriate proportion of short term lets in a policy area that may be permitted to be in class C5 before its amenity and well-being is harmed.

Where an A4D is required, only the LPA can do it. Nor can it be done through an NDP. However NDP groups could work with their LPA to gather the necessary evidence demonstrating how the A4D is justified.

Conclusions. The proposed introduction of a use class for short term lets and associated permitted development rights will be of limited value on its own, but could be a useful part of a suite of measures including council tax rises, licensing and occupancy conditions. To be most effective, it might be better if existing C5 uses were to revert to C3 on change of ownership, thus enabling planning controls to come into effect quickly.

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