On 21 July the Government published the new revisions to permitted development rights which allow for certain kinds of development without the need for a full planning application.
Four new rights allow for the upwards extension of buildings, which come into force on 31 August:
- Class AA – permits construction of up to two new storeys of flats on top of detached buildings in commercial or mixed-use
- Class AB – permits the construction of new flats on the top of terraced or semi-detached buildings in commercial or mixed-use
- Class AC – permits the construction of new flats on top of terraced dwellinghouses
- Class AD – permits the construction of new flats on top of detached dwellinghouses
These rights are subject to a number of conditions: the buildings must have been built between 1948 and 2018; height regulations must be adhered to; and these rights do not apply either to listed buildings or to buildings in conservation areas. Prior approval must be sought from the local authority, where amenity impact, design, highways impact, noise impact and air traffic impact can all be assessed, as well as whether any extension would impact protected views (a consideration only in London).
Also introduced are new rights to allow homeowners to extend upwards by up to two storeys.
These rights are in addition to the already-introduced right to allow free-standing blocks of flats to be extended by up to two storeys, which will come into force on 1 August.
Demolition and rebuilding
Of considerable interest is the right to demolish vacant buildings and replace them with new residential units. Class ZA allows for the demolition of commercial buildings (use classes B1a, B1b and B1c; at least until these uses become part of the new Class E), and the erection of a purpose-built detached block of flats or a single dwelling.
The right does not apply in conservation areas, to listed buildings, if the building is over 1,000 sqm, if it is constructed after 1989, if it is unsafe/uninhabitable through deliberate action, or if it has been vacant for less than six months. The new building must be on the same footprint as the old building and cannot be more than two storeys/7m higher than the original building, or more than 18m high overall.
Again, prior approval is needed where the local authority can consider the design and appearance of the proposals. This includes the amenity of future occupants and surrounding residents in terms of overlooking and overshadowing, highways impacts, flooding impacts, heritage impacts, noise impact, contamination impacts, and the impact on surrounding businesses/residents. Arguably this covers everything that may be otherwise material in the determination of an application for express planning permission for the same development, except for principle. A construction management plan must also be submitted.
The rights are in some ways not as extensive as previously hinted, they extend only to commercial buildings and not to industrial or residential (although vacant residential buildings are few and far between).
Some of the prior approval conditions show that the Government has taken on board the justified criticism of current permitted development rights, for example proposals will be assessed on their design merits, and natural light must be provided to all habitable rooms. This is welcome, though there is still no mention of the need for resulting units to be in accordance with the national internal space standards.
As a whole thought, and as we have previously suggested, it is hard to envisage the application of these new rights having a very substantial impact on delivery of dwellings. Many of our historic towns and city centres such as Cambridge and Oxford are covered by conservation areas. The criteria under which proposals will be assessed is not all that different to a planning application (albeit there is to be no assessment against local plan policies). And given the need for housing which this right seeks to address, it seems short-sighted to limit any rebuilding to within the footprint of the existing building – many of our out-of-centre office blocks come with acres of unnecessary and unsightly parking, which could be densified.
All in all, it seems unlikely that these new permitted development rights will cause a significant swell in loft living. Instead, for a government seeking to simplify the planning system, it may paradoxically add yet another layer to already complex permitted development rights legislation.