On Monday night (22nd April 2013), the House of Lords passed the amended Growth and Infrastructure Bill. The bill, which had narrowly avoided defeat in the Commons the week before, is, for the purpose of this post, better understood as the Permitted Development Bill.

The Government, under the auspices of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles, has for a long time now been trying to ‘Get Britain Building’. This jingoistic programme of house building, which actually involves not a lot of house building, has been superseded by ‘Get England Extending’, with a planned extension of Permitted Development (PD) rights that would allow extensions (plus, as the Daily Telegraph seems to insist on reminding us all, conservatories) of 8m (detached properties) and 6m (semi and terraced properties) without the need for planning permission.

Quite why the Government believes a temporary (3 year) extension of PD rights will a) solve the housing shortage crisis and b) solve the economy is beyond me, but I’m sure someone somewhere else has solved this conundrum. The point of this post is to look at the amendments to the bill and work out what they actually mean.

In the Commons, the main grounds for objection to the previous bill was that it would lead to unsightly extensions that neighbours could do nothing about. It was precisely this concern, therefore, that Mr Pickles has attempted to allay with his amendments, principally by introducing a “new light-touch neighbours’ consultation scheme”. Now this is where it all gets interesting.

The scheme will work as follows:

  • Homeowners wishing to build extensions under the new powers would notify their local council with the details.
  • The council would then inform the adjoining neighbours – this already happens for planning applications.
  • If no objections are made to the council by the neighbours within a set period, the development can proceed.
  • If objections are raised by neighbours, the council will consider whether the development would have an unacceptable impact on neighbours’ amenity.
  • This is a form of ‘prior approval’ process which allows for consideration by ward councillors, and (if the council wishes) by a Planning Committee.
  • There will be no fee for householders to go through this process.

The letter to Parliament explaining the scheme suggests that it is truly the best of both worlds – when that world is a Conservative housing policy – since it cuts red tape and strengthens localism. Whether you believe such paragons of policy are progress or not is irrelevant, since the amendments spectacularly fail to achieve both.

By allowing neighbours to object to potential extensions, and it’s important to remember here that we are talking about extensions under Permitted Development i.e. extensions that one can legally do without planning permission, the Government is paying lip-service to the idea that the neighbours’ opinions will change the end result. They will not.

It simply doesn’t matter if a neighbour objects to an extension on grounds of design, materials, style etc – if the extension meets PD criteria (which is more or less solely concerned with size) the ward councillors will be obliged to give “prior approval”. Ugliness is inconsequential when it comes to this policy.

There are, of course, exceptions when a) the homes are listed or in a conservation area or b) the extension infringes on the neighbour’s right to light, however these exceptions have always existed.

But the letter mentions “amenity” you might say, and you would be wright. The letter does state that “the council will consider whether the development would have an unacceptable impact on neighbours’ amenity”. The important point here is the word “unacceptable” – unacceptable to whom? No doubt many of these large extensions will be unacceptable to said neighbours, but they are unlikely to be unacceptable to ward councillors who are, to a certain extent, obligated to fulfil council policy.

The point of this policy was to speed up and increase building, that is why the amendment allowing councils to exclude themselves from it was defeated. It is viewed as a policy of national economic interest.

I believe the amendments are simply there to legitimise larger extensions in the eyes of the wider public. By forcing councils to confirm the more contentious projects, it closes the door on neighbourly protest. The fact that there is no mention in the letter of an applicants right-to-appeal, like there would be in the normal planning process, again suggests that “prior approval” is simply a forgone conclusion, a rubber-stamping process.

So once again it seems that a national, top-down policy has been unsuccessful in delivering localism. Who’d of thought? What the policy has been successful in, however, is taking red tape and wrapping it round and round a previously straight-forward part of planning policy. If I am wrong, and neighbours’ amenity will be fiercely protected, it still does not hide the fact that by introducing a neighbours’s consultation scheme, whether it is “light-touch” or not, Mr Pickles has introduced a whole new layer of tape to a policy that was designed to not have any at all.

The whole point of PD is that there was minimal room for manoeuvre; a strict set of changes you could make to your house without planning permission, regardless of objections. If you now allow people to object, which then has to involve ward councillors, and potentially the planning committee, it seems to me that you’ve managed to come up with a rebranded version of planning permission, albeit without a fee.

The benefits to increasing PD allowances are unknown, and the point of this post was not to try and support or disparage the policy either way; the point was to highlight the total fudge that has been made of it. The policy has changed so much that it no longer achieves the primary point of it’s being, and does in fact complicate what was a previously understood process. Cross party back benchers have been successful in permitting Mr Pickles to do not a lot, and development, rightly or wrongly, has certainly been put on hold.

Comments
  • Richard Addenbrook

    Presumably, the new approach will only apply where a proposed extension goes beyond current PD rights (4m for attached, 3m for semi)?

  • Samuel Joy

    Hi Richard, that is correct yes.

  • Ian Oreilly

    Currently you can if I am correct build a wooden structure on the back of your house (lean to type) which is ugly and although classed as temporary may stay put for 20 odd years. If planning s not allowed for houses with big enough gardens then a bigger monster in these plastic shed like things will happen.
    It is said by the objectors that if people want a bigger house they should move but people cannot afford the step up but can afford this extension, so if not with pd then temporary lean to style extensions it will be.

  • Richard Addenbrook

    So we now have a three tiered system. Assuming the existing home is detached, extensions up to 4m deep may satisfy PD, extensions of between 4m and 8m deep will need to go through the new PD process and anything larger will need planning approval. Don’t forget there are numerous other PD criteria which must be met so as Samuel stated above, the situation is far more complicated than it needs to be. Given the number of variables, there seems to be more of a need for potential "extension builders" to consult a professional than before!

  • Samuel Joy

    Well put Richard, they have created a three-tier system. I just can’t understand how they’ve come to a conclusion that the amended bill was still worth pushing through.

  • David Ryland

    As a designer of extensions and a planning adviser, I am not sure that these new relaxed allowances will be fully understood by the homeowners. For example if the rear wall of the property is stepped, the maximum depth extension must also be stepped. As said there are many other constraints which need to be taken into account, such as soil pipe provision etc. I would always advise a prospective client to seek a Lawful Use Certificate before building, even if not consulting a professional designer.

    Also, surely it is not just the act of obtaining planning approval for larger extensions that is limiting development, it is the cost of building it that also determines if a client can proceed.

  • Phil Davies

    The "new" attempt at PD rules make me laugh.
    It does not matter at all what parliament offer us past or future, it still has to pass in front of the noses of any council planning department and at that point the process becomes an expensive nightmare, how do I know this?
    I am refurbishing my wife’s family (of 92 years) home ( (in green belt) to the letter of the existing PD rights entitlement, all confirmed from the outset by seeking the opinion of a respected planning lawyer, the directly affected neighbours and the local councillor (who also supports what I am doing), having started construction a local jobsworth (not within view of any of the structures) complained "he’s building without planning permission".
    The Council planning dept concerned have a long and exemplary public reputation for being extremely difficult to anyone wishing to build in "their" territory.
    The LDC submission attempt was withdrawn when the planning dept tried to enforce as being "requirements" conditions that are not contained in the statutes.
    The planning enforcement dept have constantly bullied, bluffed and sometimes lied to me to apply for planning permission or an LDC, despite me repeatedly responding as to how and why (per PD rights clause) it all conforms, oh and by the way, would they care to inform as to which PD clause(s) they consider I might have contravened so as to justify this action – I have yet to be advised, despite asking 12 times.
    They have stonewalled my responses to them.
    They then stonewalled the responses from my planning lawyer to them (who incidently independantly advised the same as I did).
    My planning barrister advised them the same as I and the planning lawyer did, they still will not accept this.
    They have threatened; enforcement three times with consequences based on old irrelevant test cases (one of which was 45 years out of date and had been superceded twice), and a stop notice.
    The latest twist is, yesterday they barged their way on to site (again), as they are entitled to do, this time to carry out a survey – despite having had the opportunity to do so on two other previous site visits (one illegally) over the 18 months in which they have been involved with this construction works "investigation", oh, and they exposed their survey contractor to HSE prosecution by their incompetence and broke the rules governing their site visit entitlement.

    They still have yet to advise as to which PD rights statute(s) I have supposedly contravened.

    If this was the police, I would have valid grounds for an action based upon persecution, but then the planning dept know they can operate without redress by bullying and misinformation against the individual.

    In short – if the council planners decide, for whatever reason, THEY do not want you doing whatever THEY decide, THEY will make your life a misery, despite whatever parliament entitles you to do.

  • Alice Tyler

    Sorry, but the idea that a householder can add an extension, up to a certain size, to their home without planning permission is an almost sixty-five year old myth!

    The term "Permitted Development" means that planning permission HAS been given

  • Post a comment
    You must be logged in to comment. Log in