More homes in Peterborough city centre ‘a benefit’ despite ‘risk’ to quality

More homes in the centre of Peterborough will benefit the city, according to a senior council figure.

Peterborough City Council executive director for economy and place Steve Cox said increasing the number of people living centrally will help to boost the economy, although he admitted that new rules pose a “risk” over the quality of housing.

Earlier this year the Government expanded permitted development rights. This allowed for offices to be demolished and replaced with homes, a two-storey upward extension of homes built post-war and the creation of new homes above existing terraces, offices and shops, all without needing planning permission.

This has led to concerns about a build-up of poor quality accommodation, a fact Mr Cox recognised, but he said the increase in homes will be a good thing for Peterborough.

The former job centre is one of a number of places in Broadway which is being converted into residential use

He told the Peterborough Telegraph: “It’s definitely a benefit. It was happening anyway with town centres changing in their appearance because of different shopping habits.

“Planning changes are enabling more residential use. That’s the right thing because you want more people living in city centres who are able to spend money and bring vitality.

“If the conversions are done to a high standard so we get high quality accommodation and a greater mix, that’s good for the city centre and good for the retailers and hospitality sector.

“We would want to make sure we’re not ending up with poor quality housing or small space standards. Without being able to influence that through the planning process it’s difficult to require that.

“But I think the expectation of what will sell in Peterborough is high. We want high quality. I don’t think you will find developers trying to build something that’s not going to be attractive.

“It wouldn’t be worth their while to do that. It’s important they build something that people want.

“We work closely with the development industry and that’s the sentiment that I get. They see Peterborough as somewhere which deserves quality accommodation. But there is a risk with permitted development as you lose control over that.”

A number of city centre homes plans have been approved in recent years, in particular Broadway where flats are planned for the council’s former offices at Bayard Place and the former job centre.

Moreover, the Government is trying to introduce further reforms which would include an annual housing target with councils given their own quotas to meet.

If approved by Parliament, this would see the number of new homes needed in Peterborough on average increase from 982 to 1,282 a year.

This could spark a battle between Peterborough City Council and local communities, many of whom have previously challenged attempts to designate space in their areas for housing.

Mr Cox said: “We need to see how this plays out in the White Paper (going through Parliament), whether it sticks or not going forward and to keep a close eye on that.

“There’s been a lot of noise in the system about these targets being imposed on local authorities. For us, it’s back to the Local Plan which is still pretty fresh.”