Construction kick-start? Recent changes pave the way

15th September 2020

The government is planning a series of measures designed to help kick-start the economy, with many targeted at particularly badly hit sectors.

We have already seen the Business and Planning Act make it much easier for licenced premises to apply to seat and serve people on the highway, and also to vary their licence to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises.  The hospitality sector has also benefitted from the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, and a VAT cut.

Whilst these measures grabbed the headlines, the government has also been quietly introducing changes to planning law designed to kick start the construction sector in line with the ‘Build, Build, Build’ rhetoric of the Prime Minister.  Neil Faunch of our offices recently produced interesting overviews of the overhaul of Planning Use Classes and the introduction of Automatic Planning Permission Extensions.

Further changes have also been made with an extension of Permitted Development (PD) rights, which grant the right to make specific changes to buildings, either to the structure or the use, without having to apply for further planning permission.

This is the principle applied to changes such as loft conversions and smaller extensions, with the scope of PD rights gradually widened since 2012, to now include making it easier to build larger extensions on commercial and residential buildings.

Permitted development rights point the way forward

The government is clearly committed to using PD rights to cut red tape and boost housing development, as evidenced by two further extensions of the principle announced recently.

The first of these was contained in the Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2020, and came into effect on 1 August to allow purpose built residential blocks of flats to be extended upward by up to two storeys.

Although this initially seems like a radical move, it should be remembered that PD rights do not represent a completely free pass for a developer.  Despite the bypassing of the standard planning procedure, a development carried out under PD rights still requires prior approval.

The local planning authority will still assess the proposal in terms of transport, highways, contamination and flood impacts.  It will also consider the development’s impact on other residents and neighbours, including the provision of natural light and protected vistas in London.

These PD rights can only be applied to standalone blocks of flats less than 30m high that were built after 1948.  The rights do not include flats in conservation areas or those that mix residential and non-residential units.

Other exceptions include those that have already been developed under PD rights.  If a block has been converted from commercial to residential use under PD rights in the past, further development upward under PD rights will not be permitted.

Strict rules on the height of each new storey and the overall height of the finished building will apply, and the prior approval conditions have been expanded to include the provision of natural light in all habitable rooms.

Homeowners get new permitted development rights

As had been widely predicted, from 1 September, homeowners will not have to apply for planning permission if they want to add two storeys on to a house that consists of two or more storeys and one storey on a house that consists of just one storey.

As with the PD rights applying to blocks of flats, there are a number of restrictions, including:

  • PD rights do not apply if the house was built before 1948 or after 2018
  • PD rights do not apply if the house has already had additional storeys added, whether via PD rights or full planning permission
  • The height of the building following the development should not exceed 18m

Other conditions covered by prior approval include the fact that the external materials of the extension must closely resemble those already used on the rest of the house, and that no windows should be placed on a side elevation of the house.

Taken together and with all the various restrictions borne in mind, these PD rights changes represent a clipping of the current planning red tape rather than a revolution.  Whether the changes lead to the expected increase in construction work remains to be seen.

So long as the current government is committed to its levelling-up agenda and recognises the need to boost economic activity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes of this kind will probably be a regular occurrence.

If you are a property owner, and are interested in how the recent changes to Permitted Development rights affect you, please get in touch with our Commercial Property team.  Laura Pyatt can be contacted on 01543 431181 or email to assist with any queries you may have.

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