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Permitted development rights – meeting the government’s agenda to “build build build”?

In line with the government’s agenda to “build, build, build”, next month sees the implementation of a new permitted development (PD) right allowing up to a two-storey upwards extension to residential buildings.

Sitting alongside this, Robert Jenrick has announced that further measures will be coming into force to allow for the conversion of commercial buildings to residential use.
The Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2020 will take effect from 1 August, allowing some purpose built-blocks of flats to be extended by up to two storeys.

While the new right appears revolutionary on the face of it, there is conditionality attached to the right which may prove onerous for anyone seeking to rely on it. As a starting point, all projects relying on this right will require prior approval. This will involve an assessment or the potential impacts in terms of transport, highways, contamination and flood impacts, all of which we have become accustomed to as a result of the amendments to the office to residential PD rights. However, there are the additional considerations of the impact on the amenity of existing residents and neighbours including the provision of natural light, as well as any impact on air traffic and protected vistas (in London).

The PD right also has relatively limited application, only applying to stand-alone blocks of flats standing at less than 30m in height and built post 1948. It does not include conversions or those with other uses on the ground floor. Not unsurprisingly, listed buildings and those in conservation areas are also exempt. While the PD right appears radical on first blush, in reality there is a limited number of blocks that the right could apply to.

The practical considerations of extending a building upwards will need to be addressed. For example, will any utilities and plant located at the top of the building need to be moved and if so, how will this be done? There will also be the logistics of carrying out complex building works whilst individuals remain in residence in the lower floors – how can this be done in practice and how can this be evidenced in terms of what is submitted to the local authority as part of the prior approval process?

From a local authority’s perspective, any application for prior approval pursuant to the upwards extension PD right will require a not-insignificant level of resource in terms of the assessment of the application.  This is in the context of resources which are already stretched, particularly in the context of COVID-19, and there may well be changes to come in respect of the fees levied for applications for prior approval.

Last week, Jenrick (3 July) also announced that the new PD rights allowing vacant commercial and residential buildings to be demolished for new housing will be introduced before the summer recess of 22 July. This was introduced by the government’s March statement around planning for the future. As would be expected, the devil will be in the detail and the position will become clearer as and when the regulations are published for this new PD right. No doubt there will be similar requirements in respect of prior approval, which has the effect of making reliance on the PD right more akin to submitting a planning application.

One further thing to note is that a further PD right has been announced by the housing minister which would allow the upwards extension of commercial buildings for residential use (office and retail), and again this would be introduced before the summer recess. This ties in with Jenrick’s agenda to allow the densification of town centres, with residential uses providing economic support for the more traditional town centre uses.

All of these measures are being seen as part of the government’s overall push to get the economy moving, particularly so as we begin to emerge from lockdown. They sit within the context of Boris Johnson’s recent pledge for the radical reform of the planning system, and yet so far the PD rights seem mired in the red tape required for prior approval. The move towards a zoning system had been trailed in March, and this would perhaps be more effective at speeding up the planning system (at least in the long term). However, zoning may prove too radical a step for now, and we should know more when the Planning White Paper is issued.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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