Why the Government's Recent Change to Permitted Development Rights Is Misguided
Under the headline 'Housing Minister announces boost for families and high streets as planning red tape is axed' Housing Minister Kit Malthouse MP announced that what had been temporary changes to Permitted Development Rights, in place since 2012 and due to expire on 30th May 2019, would now become permanent.Contact Us
It is true, as proudly trumpeted on the Government website that "thousands of homeowners will be able to extend their properties quickly and easily without the need for a full planning application, under new Permitted Development Rights made permanent today" (25 May 2019).
It is also true that
• Many homeowners may find their planning timescale considerably extended
• Some potentially vulnerable neighbours will struggle to assert their rights and may have them disregarded
• In some cases negative effects of a development on the environment will be neglected
Under the headline 'Housing Minister announces boost for families and high streets as planning red tape is axed' Housing Minister Kit Malthouse MP announced that what had been temporary changes to Permitted Development Rights, in place since 2012 and due to expire on 30th May 2019, would now become permanent.
What Are The Changes To Permitted Development?
The changes to Permitted Development Rights essentially covers two main elements, Change of Use of commercial premises on the high street from retail to office space and the making permanent of the Neighbour Consultation Scheme covering Larger Home Extensions. The first of these is not my area of expertise, and by all accounts the high street needs all the help it can get, so I am not going to dwell on that element of the changes, however, with 20 years experience in the construction industry running my company Vivaldi Construction Ltd and having recently spun off an environmental and planning consultancy in Oakshire Environmental, I feel well qualified to comment on the second. We have successfully steered many, many hundreds of projects through the planning process, dealing with dozens of different Local Planning Authorities (LPA), dealing with just the sort of projects covered by Permitted Development.
What do the changes mean to householders - Well, in theory they are an extension to your property's Permitted Development Rights, and there main effect is, if you want to construct a single storey extension to the rear of your house, you can build up to 8 metres projection from the rear wall if you have a detached property (rather than the previous 4 metres) and 6 metres if attached (rather than the previous 3 metres) as Permitted Development. The height restrictions remain at 3 metres height to eaves and 4 metres overall height. So essentially the idea is that you can now build quite a large extension without needing a planning application.
What effect does the Government think these changes will have - To quote the Housing Minister "These measures will help families extend their properties without battling through time-consuming red tape". Whilst that's what the Minister wants the effect to be, I have to say from experience that the actual effect may be somewhat different. The time-consuming element of his statement I will cover first and then the red tape element in my conclusion.
The New Permitted Development Rights In Practise
Our experience - Having dealt with the legislation covering Permitted Development Rights during its temporary introduction I can say from experience that it has had little positive effect on planning timescales, and has in some case almost doubled the time taken to get through the compliance stage. To understand why, you need to appreciate the process that a planning application goes through, whether it's a traditional householder planning application or the alternative being discussed, the Neighbour Consultation Scheme.
For both routes paperwork is initially submitted through the Planning Portal or direct to the LPA. The paperwork typically takes up to a week to initially process and make valid, depending on current workload. Just on this initial processing, whilst in theory applications should be processed and validated within 3 to 5 days of receipt, our planning consultancy is now regularly seeing that process extended. In fact we recently had a case take over three weeks just to initially process, with the LPA citing "an unusually high amount of applications" as the reason for the delay.
Householder planning applications - For a Householder planning application the LPA will then publish the plans on their website and consult any stakeholders, such as local parish councils, water authority, highways, Environment Agency etc, as well as allowing a 21 day period during which neighbours may lodge an objection. Following this the actual decision is nearly always delegated from the LPA Planning Committee to a Senior Planning Officer. The overall planning process being concluded, at least in theory, within 8 weeks (56 days) of the paperwork being made valid.
Neighbour Consultation Scheme - For the Neighbour Consultation Scheme the LPA will process the application in the same way, making it valid and then notify immediate neighbours. If neighbours raise an objection within a 21 day consultation period the LPA will then consider the application, and have a total of 42 days to make a decision as to whether the impact on adjoining properties is acceptable, although no other issues are considered. If no neighbours raise an objection then the development can be started after 42 days.
So, if all works out perfectly and no neighbours raise any objections the very best real impact of the new Permitted Development Rights is to reduce a process from 56 days to 42 days, saving two weeks, but at what potential cost.
3 Negative Aspects of The Changes to Permitted Development Rights
Firstly - There is a potential for the timescale of the whole process to be considerably extended. We have encountered an increasing number of properties that have no Permitted Development Rights, and not just those in the most obvious categories such as listed buildings and those in conservation areas. Many householders are unaware that their property has had its Permitted Development Rights withdrawn under an Article 4 amendment which means of course that the Neighbour Consultation Scheme cannot be used. We have experienced too many instances where clients insist their property has no restrictions and request we use the faster route to obtain approval, only to find many weeks in to the Neighbour Consultation Scheme, when the LPA has processed the application sufficiently, that Article 4 restrictions apply and we have to start from scratch with a traditional planning application. Realistically we would prefer to have a planning application process we know is going to last 56 days, rather than one that might be 42 days, but could end being 96 (yes we have had exactly that happen).
Secondly - There is a potential for neighbours to be afraid or just unwilling to assert their rights. Just imagine a situation where there is an application to extend the rear of a terraced property under Permitted Development by a full 6 metres, and this can be 3 metres high at eaves level, 4 metres high in total. If this proposed development was immediately south of a neighbour and extended right to the boundary, it would have a massive impact on the neighbours right to light. However, imagine if the householder wanting to carry out the project was a big aggressive guy, able to exert pressure on a potentially vulnerable neighbour, is the neighbour going to lodge an objection? This may sound like a purely hypothetical situation, but we have experience of acting on behalf of a vulnerable neighbour in similar circumstances. Currently these neighbours don't have to raise objections to have their rights protected, the LPA do it for them. The changes to the regulation will potentially leave vulnerable people at risk of being intimidated. Remember, if no objections are raised by neighbours then the LPA will not consider the application and construction can go ahead under Permitted Development.
Thirdly - While the Neighbour Consultation Scheme can consider the impact of a development project on the amenity of adjoining properties, and then only in the event of one of them raising an objection, that is all it considers. Environment – nothing. Highways – nothing. Really, does this make sense? And don't think that building regulations will pick all that up, because for example in the case of a conservatory extension, a conservatory being defined as a building with at least 75% of its roof area glazed, then building control are not involved, that means a very large building going ahead under new Permitted Development Rights with no outside assessment of its impact. We believe a householder's right to improve their home is of paramount importance, but that home does not exist in isolation and the householders' right to extend needs to be balanced with the impact on the wider community and environment.
According to the BBC, Martin Tett, planning spokesman for the Local Government Association, which represents UK local councils, agreed when he said:
"The planning process exists for a reason" and whilst he acknowledged the relaxed rules were popular with homeowners, he said it meant councils had little opportunity to consider the impact of extensions on their local area.
What The Government Should Do Instead
What should the Government do instead, well it may sound like heresy to our colleagues in the construction industry, and maybe even some of our clients, but what we need is not less regulation, it is more regulators.
If they want to "help families extend their properties without battling through time-consuming red tape" the Government needs to rebuild the Local Authority Development Control departments. We have noticed a real deterioration in the service that Development Control departments are able to offer in recent years. It is quite common now for planning officers to not even look at paperwork until the determination date is almost due, as a result of excessive case loads. We may sound a little nostalgic, but we can recall a time when we could have informal meetings with planners to discuss our clients' aspirations, and receive guidance, including on Permitted Development Rights, in advance of submitting paperwork. That might be unrealistic in these financially straightened times, when local authority budgets are under such pressure, but if the Government really wants to improve the ability of homeowners to construct additional living space that allows families to grow, whilst still respecting the rights of neighbours and the needs of the wider community and the environment, then an investment in Development Control allowing a more collaborative approach between homeowners, builders, planners and other stakeholders would surely pay dividends.
 Government Press Release – 25th May 2019
 Oakshire Environmental planning project with Camden Council
 BBC News - 25th May 2019
Construction, Planning & Geotechnical Consultant