Disrupting the balance of permitted development rights

So, the government have once again decided to muddle around with the planning system in an attempt to boost the economy via property development. The clear way to achieve this would be to further reduce policy restrictions for new homes at any scale; that is, not just for volume house builders, but also for individuals who have suitable plots of land in relatively sustainable locations – rural or urban.

Instead, the government have indicated that they are looking to double the length of extensions that a homeowner can build on the back of their house without permission.

Permitted development rights

Current “permitted development rights” allow single storey extensions of 3 metres if you live in a terrace or semi-detached house, or 4 metres if you live in a detached house (subject to other caveats). The government wish to change this to 6 metres and 8 metres respectively.

Permitted development rights exist to reduce the burden on the planning application system from having to deal with an avalanche of small, minor household developments such as extensions, loft conversions, windows, porches etc. Rules for what is allowed as permitted development have been carefully formulated to ensure that there is an acceptable balance between visual impact and the impact on neighbours (amenity impacts), and ensuring this efficiency in the planning system is maintained.

For instance, you can’t build a dormer on the front of your roof slope under permitted development rights, but you can at the rear. This is to ensure the street scene is not marred by inconsistent and incongruous dormers of different shapes, colours and sizes. Similarly, you can’t build a two storey extension if it would be within two metres of a boundary of your neighbour, to ensure that their garden will not be overwhelmed, or lose too much light.

The government seemingly want to throw out these carefully considered rules for rear extensions. This in turn disrupts the careful balance of “planning system efficiency” and “impacts on amenity” for what will likely be insignificant economic gains.

Who will benefit?

There are a limited number of people in this country to which these rules would benefit. These are people who are either desperate for the internal space, or have such large gardens, they do not mind losing a portion of it.

People who already have extensions are unlikely to want to spend significant amounts of money re-extending an extra 3 or 4 metres (and probably having to re-install a kitchen and remodelling), especially into valuable garden space already compromised by an existing extension. People who do not have existing extensions probably never wanted one – the promise of being able to build an 8 metre monstrosity is unlikely to encourage them to build now.

Bear in mind that if you live in a flat these rules will not apply to you – only householders. Permitted development rights for people living in new build houses (such as those on new estates) have been mostly removed via condition, so again this limits the number of people who can take advantage of the rule changes.

What are the pitfalls?

There are also potentially grave impacts on neighbour and local residential amenity. 6 metres in some cases on an urban house is doubling the length of the footprint which could be seen as overdevelopment, urbanising valuable open garden spaces. Impacts on neighbours are plain to see – If you were living in a terraced property and your neighbours extended 6 metres on your boundary, would you be happy? There are light, shadowing and openness issues to contend with.

Remember, permitted development rights mean that you do not need to be consulted. No impact on your amenity is assessed. As long as the dimensional rules are met, development can go ahead without permission. You have no scope to complain or make your issues heard.

The right choice?

We struggle to see how the attraction of being able to build a 6-8 metre extension without planning permission will bolster the economy.

If the government is serious about property development spearheading economic recovery then they need to target new house building itself – both small scale developers and volume housebuilders.

Think again Pickles.