What the new permitted development right allowing homes to be extended upwards means for councils and applicants

Uptake of a new permitted development right allowing homes to be extended upwards is likely to be restricted due to the complexity of the prior approval process and the limited number of properties eligible for such development, practitioners predict. But councils are concerned about the potentially harmful impact on design quality and planning team resources.

Upwards extensions: new PD rights published (pic: Getty)
Upwards extensions: new PD rights published (pic: Getty)

A new permitted development (PD) right allowing homeowners to build an extra two storeys on their houses without needing planning permission is set to come into force on 31 August. Details of the new right were revealed last week alongside several other PD changes that aim to boost housing delivery.

The right has been introduced via a new statutory instrument – the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) No.2) Order. It applies to terraced, semi-detached and detached housing and enables two additional storeys to be added to two-storey properties and one storey to a single-storey home, up to a maximum height of 18 metres.

During a government consultation on the proposal in late 2018 and early 2019, more than half of respondents expressed opposition to the proposal, with key concerns including the impacts on neighbour amenity and the character of residential areas. However, an explanatory memorandum to the regulation states that the new right "could provide more space for growing families, or to accommodate elderly relatives, without having to move house".

"A rush of schemes is not expected," said Nik Smith, associate director at consultancy Nexus Planning. The right is likely to be used by people extending their homes, he said, but developers "could also see an opportunity to buy up homes and extend them".

"Smaller housebuilders may take these schemes on," suggested Riëtte Oosthuizen, planning partner at HTA Design. However, Oosthuizen pointed out that limitations on eligible properties - only those built between 1948 and 2018 and outside a conservation area can benefit from the right - will considerably reduce the number of possible schemes.

"It's likely that the PD rights would be used mainly in affluent areas in London and the south east, where the property values were high enough to make these extensions viable," according to Michael Bach, planning chair at the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies.

However, all projects will require prior approval from the local planning authority, including consideration of the impact on the amenity of neighbouring premises and the scheme's design. "This is meant to be a streamlined process to check that the project conforms with the basic PD right requirements," said Nicholle Kingsley, a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons. "However, under this new PD right, the level of scrutiny by the local authority is quite extensive, putting pressure on their resources. It also creates uncertainty for the applicant."

"These changes could be quite onerous for local authorities," said Richard Blyth, head of policy at the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). "On the one hand, councils are required to process a prior notification which covers a whole range of issues such as the design and impact on neighbours. In addition, they may be pressed to give advice on whether a scheme is actually within the new PD system at all, looking at matters such as the location of the site and the design of the roof."

"The level of fees paid by applicants under PD rights has been increased," said Bob Bennett, chair of the Planning Officers Society's development management network, "but it still does not reflect the work which will be required and the policies [councils] will need to develop."

"With the extent of work required by the applicant to prepare a scheme using the PD rights route and the level of scrutiny by the council, it would make sense to persuade clients to prepare a planning application," said Ben Simpson, planning director at GL Hearn. "The cost is not much greater and, by making a planning application, the scheme's quality could be improved by developing a dialogue with the local authority."

Under the right's prior approval process, councils are required to assess the proposal's design quality. This includes the architectural features of the house's principal elevation and the impact on neighbouring properties, said Rob Foers, planning lead at the District Councils Network and principal planning officer at Hinckley and Bosworth District Council in Leicestershire. The government has introduced this consideration, he said, in response to "widespread criticism" about the design quality of schemes built under the office-to-residential PD right. "Councils will, however, need to have in place robust design policies if they want to turn down a prior approval application because of the quality of the scheme," said Foers, who pointed out that applicants can appeal against refusals.

"Some areas have concerns about the impact of upward extensions on the unique architectural integrity of a street or on a neighbouring conservation area," said Paul Barnard, planning director at Plymouth City Council. "Rows of single-storey bungalows typical of some seaside resorts or rows of 1950s terrace housing in the outer suburbs could be spoilt with the extra storeys," warned Dean Hermitage, head of development management at the London Borough of Haringey. Some local authorities might consider restricting the PD right in parts of their district by introducing an article 4 direction, he suggested, which would mean such changes require planning permission.

"In some sensitive areas, councils could develop design guidance about how additional storeys can be added which would maintain the design integrity," Oosthuizen suggested. "They could work with local communities on how an increase in the height of homes could be managed in the neighbourhood."

John Walker, the former director of planning at Westminster City Council and now a consultant at public affairs firm C|T Local, highlighted the consultation requirements when applications are made under the new right. Councils will need to set up a system to notify neighbours and a wide range of statutory consultees, he pointed out, adding: "It's not clear exactly how their views can be taken into account."

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