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Permitted development rights for upward extensions confirmed

25 April 2019

Permitted development rights for upwards residential extensions and a rethink on conversions from offices to homes are among planning changes to look out for this year.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire confirmed in March that a permitted development (PD) right to extend upwards on some commercial and residential buildings is on the way, an announcement he made in a statement to Parliament.

Making upwards extensions a PD right was first broached in October last year, with a fresh set of proposals put out for consultation. They included: allowing extensions in terraces to the height of a higher adjoining building; permitting extensions up to the prevailing roof height in an area; and adding additional storeys to stand-alone residential blocks.

Brokenshire has not confirmed which measures will be adopted, only that the PD right is to go ahead, and stated that details would be revealed as part of a package of planning measures in the autumn. The minister has promised to commit to ensuring such PD rights respect the design of the existing streetscape and adequately consider the amenity of neighbours.

Previous upwards extension proposals put forward in 2015 ran into widespread opposition and this second consultation also raised many concerns within the industry.

Following last autumn’s consultation, adding storeys to some buildings will become a PD right

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the proposal was "effectively removing the ability of local planning authorities to ensure good design through the appropriate application of local plan policies". The RTPI questioned whether such developments would adhere to fire and building regulations.

PD rights allowing longer single-storey rear extensions to existing homes, introduced as a temporary measure in 2013, were due to expire at the end of May 2019. These are being made permanent and will be subject to a ‘proportionate’ planning fee. In contrast, rights to convert buildings used for storage to residential use, due to end on 10 June 2019, will not be extended.

A new PD right to allow the demolition of commercial buildings for the purpose of building new homes is being considered, although Brokenshire said that existing PD rights for conversions from office to residential use are to be reviewed with an eye to quality standards.

In her report, Why the government should end permitted development rights for office to residential conversions, recently published by Levitt Bernstein, Julia Park provides detailed case studies of poor examples of office-to-residential conversions.

"It still makes good sense to convert an office building that is genuinely no longer either needed or fit for purpose, to another use," she explains. "If the most appropriate new use is residential, so much the better given the desperate shortage of housing. But this should only involve office buildings that have the potential to become good places to live."

The Labour Party have recently sharply criticised current PD rights regarding housing. Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey pledged that Labour would scrap the allowing of offices and industrial buildings to be converted into homes without planning permission, claiming that the policy leads to ‘slum housing and rabbit-hutch flats’.

Brokenshire’s statement also confirmed that a range of reforms set out in the government’s January 2019 consultation on ‘Supporting the high street’ will be implemented. These include new PD rights for converting various high-street businesses into offices.

Furthermore, they allow hot-food takeaways (class A5) to be converted to residential use (C3). The existing right that permits a temporary change of use of buildings for two years will be extended to three, with a promise to enable more community groups to take advantage of it.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Places, planning and communities.
As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

Posted on 25 April 2019.

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