HC Deb 10 May 1991 vol 190 cc624-5W
Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he proposes to introduce planning controls over the demolition of houses; and if he will make a statement.

Sir George Young

Yesterday we tabled amendments to the Planning and Compensation Bill which will enable the Government to bring the demolition of houses within planning control in England and Wales.

Until recently the Government believed that demolition did not usually constitute development and therefore did not fall within planning control. However, a recent High Court decision held that, in the particular circumstances of the case, the demolition of dwelling houses was development. That decision is subject to an appeal.

For buildings listed as of historical or architectural importance and buildings within conservation areas, demolition is already covered by other controls. Most other demolitions of houses are not contentious and do not justify additional planning controls. However the Government are aware of the concern that has been expressed in particular cases. For example, some potential developers have demolished perfectly sound houses before having the necessary planning permission to erect replacement buildings. Rather than leave a vacant site that may blight neighbouring properties, the local planning authority can feel pressured to grant planning permission for an out-of-character development for which planning permission should be refused.

A public consultation exercise last year showed that, although such "speculative" demolition was not widespread, its occurrence did sometimes cause serious concern. In the light of responses to that consultation process, having reflected on the debates on the subject of demolition at various stages of the Planning and Compensation Bill and bearing in mind the recent High Court judgment, the Government have now concluded that the time is right to introduce selective controls on demolition.

The proposed amendments would extend the definition of development to include the demolition of all buildings. They would also incorporate a direction-making power, which would enable the Secretary of State to provide that the demolition of particular types of building is not development and would not therefore be subject to planning control. Since the problem which these amendments are designed to tackle relates in particular to dwelling houses, our intention is to use this power to exclude from control all demolitions except demolitions of dwelling houses.

Because most demolitions of dwelling houses would not justify the full application of the new controls, we propose using the Town and Country General Development Order 1988 to grant permitted development rights for the demolition of dwelling houses in most circumstances. This would mean that planning permission would not normally be required for such demolition.

However, if a local planning authority wished to prevent demolition in a particular case or in a vulnerable area, it could use its power to give a direction which would require the developer to seek planning permission before proceeding with demolition. Such a direction would require the confirmation of the Secretary of State if it is to remain effective for longer than six months.

By these measures we believe that it will be possible to control these undesirable cases of demolition without putting an undue burden either on developers or on local planning authorities.