Calls for local planning policies to be ‘urgently’ re-evaluated to support working from home trend

HOUSEBUILDER Barratt Developments and planning consultancy Lichfields have launched a new report calling for local planning policies to be ‘urgently’ reviewed to support the working from home trend.

The ‘Working from home: Planning for the new normal’ report, which draws on a survey conducted by Savanta ComRes, found that 49% of households felt their current property was unsuitable for home working. Many are struggling to do their job effectively from home, with only 28% of respondents having a dedicated space such as a study or home office.

The report reveals that working patterns have shifted dramatically during the pandemic, with working from home – at least some of the time – now normal for millions of people. The trend is expected to stay with an estimated 7.5 million people in the UK hoping to do their jobs from home on a permanent basis.

Currently, many local authorities impose policies dictating how many bedrooms should be provided in new homes. However, these policies are said to pre-date the pandemic and fail to take account of the demand for dedicated workspace.

69% of workers said they would prefer an additional room in their home as a dedicated office space. Young and middle-aged workers had a less positive view of their home as a place to work than the over 55s.

Philip Barnes, group land and planning director at Barratt Developments, said the current focus on a mix of one and two-bedroom properties favoured by planning policy is unlikely to satisfy demand for home working.

The report highlights that having a dedicated space for work supports wellbeing, drawing on research revealing that many people struggled with mental and physical health during the lockdown.

Matthew Spry, senior director and head of Lichfields London office, said, “This is important research that shines a light on the relationship between Covid and how people use their homes. It raises important issues and reinforces the message that home working is now here to stay, which is influencing how people choose their new homes and use their house space.”

Last year, Rightmove reported a 326% increase in use of home working search references by people looking for a new property. This is reflected in the Lichfields report, which says two thirds of people are considering home working options when planning their next move.

Philip Barnes said, “Local planning policies, which aim to control the size and mix of residential developments, have to be urgently re-evaluated in the light of the report’s findings. Pending preparation of new local policies – which can take years – planning authorities need to be more flexible when it comes to determining planning applications for homes with more rooms than expected by their outdated policies.

“National planning policy already asks local authorities to accommodate needs not anticipated when policies are drafted, to allow for new and flexible working practices. We need to see this in practice, to take into account the shift towards millions of us now working from home. Without such moves, the mismatch between the supply and demand of homes will become ever more acute. We could see family homes with a dedicated home working space even less affordable for those who most need them.”