HC Deb 13 June 1991 vol 192 cc619-20W
Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has considered the report of the research carried out on behalf of his Department into the effects of the Use Classes Order 1987 and associated provisions in the General Development Order 1988; and if he will make a statement.

Sir George Young

Independent research into the effects of these orders was carried out last year on behalf of the Department by Wootton Jeffreys Consultants, in association with Bernard Thorpe. I have considered the consultants' report, which is being published today by HMSO.

The researchers found that the introduction in 1987 of "business" use class had improved the efficiency with which space is used and had widened choice. They found evidence that some existing industrial uses have been replaced by cleaner uses, and that the opportunity for change has attracted greater investment, resulting in improvements to the local environment. Although the researchers found some evidence of increased traffic generated by more intensive use of former industrial land, no other adverse effects on amenity or the environment were associated with the business use class. I am therefore satisfied that there is no case on environmental grounds for amending the business use class.

The research confirmed continuing misgivings about the business use class in other respects, including the displacement of manufacturing jobs, which have traditionally met local employment needs, and of pressures on specialised activities which have built up in particular locations. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that development activity since the 1987 Use Classes Order has been generally consistent with existing, often long-established market trends. I have concluded that to amend legislation which applies uniformly throughout England and Wales in response to these concerns would not be justified.

Where clear justification can be provided, it remains open to planning authorities to propose policies in development plans aimed at channelling particular types of business development into particular locations. Development plans should not generally contain policies advocating the imposition of general restrictions on the freedoms provided by the Use Classes Order or the General Development Order.

The research revealed evidence of some local controversy resulting from changes of use involving fast-food and take-away outlets within the food and drink use class. I am also aware of some misgivings over changes of use to and from public houses within that use class. I am not persuaded that a case has been made for adjusting the present scope for changes of use in the high street sector, where the researchers found that market activity has been generally subdued since 1987.

I am encouraged that the researchers found that the inclusion of small group homes within the dwelling houses use class has benefited the care in the community programme, without adverse effects on amenity. My attention has been drawn to concern about the impact on residential areas of changes of use within the hotels and hostels use class. This concern appears to be associated as much with the characteristics of the clientele, where "down market" changes of use have taken place, as with any land-use planning difference between the uses encompassed within the use class. There is some very localised evidence of harm to amenity, through increased traffic and general activity, associated with the conversion of hostels into hotels, but this is insufficient to merit amending the order.

I have concluded that the freedom from planning control currently provided by the Use Classes Order and part 3 of schedule 2 to the General Development Order should remain unchanged. However, the Government proposes to continue to monitor closely the effects of the Use Classes Order and General Development Order and we are minded to commission further research in another three to five years.