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Ancillary vs Incidental


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Over the past two years we have seen a stark rise in outbuilding enforcement cases across England. This has been caused by a misunderstanding of Schedule 2 Part 1 Class E of the General Permitted Development Order.

Homeowners tend to think that as long as they remain within dimensional restrictions then they can build large outbuildings without permission – unfortunately it is not as simple as that. We are seeing more and more homeowners falling foul of the confusion over what is and isn’t an ‘incidental use.’

Under Schedule 2 Part 1 Class E of the GPDO, permitted development is defined as:

“(a) any building or enclosure, swimming or other pool required for a purpose incidental to the enjoyment of the dwellinghouse as such, or the maintenance, improvement or other alteration of such a building or enclosure”.

The fundamental word used in the GPDO is incidental, but in planning terms what does this actually mean?

The dictionary definition is: “Of a minor, casual, or subordinate nature”. Therefore, many homeowners press ahead with large outbuildings, granny annexes, summer houses and garden offices thinking that these are incidental in scale and use to the main dwelling.

However, many outbuildings such as granny annexes and staff accommodation are actually defined as having an ‘ancillary use’. Whilst the dictionary definition of this sounds similar to ‘incidental’, being defined as: “of secondary importance, auxiliary or supplementary,” this in fact is an entirely separate concept in planning law.

Whilst ‘ancillary’ and ‘incidental’ are seemingly similar in their general definitions, the application of these terms within the context of planning means they are fundamentally different.

Planning Definition

There is so much case law examining ancillary/incidental it is difficult to briefly summarise – but in its most basic terms:

ANCILLARY (needs planning permission) =  generally anything you (as a person ) could do normally in a standard house as built; e.g. eat, sleep, sit comfortably, pray, study, watch tv, shower.

INCIDENTAL (permitted development) = generally everything else. Including storage, swimming, bowling, gym, art studio, or something that can be classed as a hobby. An incidental use is “parasitic” on the primary use- it cannot exist without it. Also ancillary use can be incorporated as long as it’s subordinate to the incidental, i.e. shower room for gym or small bar area- these are seen to not materially extend the normal living accommodation at the property.

Given that Permitted Development rights are supposed to make life easier, the confusion over what you can and can’t do in outbuildings is an example of where this simply isn’t the case.

Before you embark on your outbuilding development we strongly recommend you make absolutely sure you don’t need planning permission.

If you have found yourself subject to a planning enforcement notice in relation to your ancillary structure then please contact one of our knowledgeable planning consultants to see how we can best assist: info@plainview.co.uk