Housing secretary Robert Jenrick shook up the housing sector on Thursday when he followed up Wednesday’s Budget with the announcement of a series of measures to improve homebuilding, such as speeding up the planning system, and supporting self builders in finding plots.

(MORE: Robert Jenrick announces planning reforms)

There were many measures proposed, and one that stood out was the potential extension of Permitted Development (PD) rights, so what could this mean for those building from scratch, extending or renovating a house?

The potential PD changes fall under two main strands: 

  • The government will introduce new rights for building upwards on existing buildings by summer 2020
  • A consultation will be held on potential PD rights to allow vacant buildings to be demolished and replaced with new homes. 

(MORE: Self Build: The Complete Guide)

Permitted Development: Extending Upwards

Regarding that first update, the new rights will enable building upwards, including extending residential blocks, by up to two storeys. The majority of projects which involve extending upwards currently require planning permission to ensure a design fits within the neighbourhood and that neighbours have no objections. 

(MORE: Building an Extension: A Beginner’s Guide)

The loosening of the rules, which was initially proposed last year, could theoretically make it easier for homeowners to expand their homes upwards, and provide greater leeway to extend.

However, there is concern that this could negatively impact communities, leading to a rise in poorly-designed buildings, with no formal route for neighbours to object.

Unfortunately, detail is as scarce now as it was last year about what this will mean for home improvers.

Sally Tagg, Managing Director at Foxley Tagg and planning expert for both Homebuilding & Renovating and NaCSBA, said: “It is possible that the expansion of PD to permit the extension of properties upwards by adding extra storeys could benefits those wishing to extend their home. However, we do not know what caveats and restrictions will be placed on this.

Clearly the announcements are high-level in that they are light on detail at this point. And as ever the devil will be in the detail.”

Tagg added that while this could yet be a positive move for homeowners, other homeowners could be more negatively affected.

Such an expansion has the potential to adversely affect homeowners if it permits large and unattractive extensions to a neighbour’s property, which has the potential to adversely affect one’s amenity through loss of light, loss of privacy and the creation of a sense of overbearing. As such, any new PD provision that impacts upon the opportunities for neighbours who may be adversely impacted to have their say needs to be treated with caution.

David Renard, planning spokesman for the Local Government Association, said the government should not “take away more of the powers councils and communities need over planning”, expressing his concern about the impact of this potential change.

Replacing Vacant Buildings

The second proposal will involve a consultation into allowing empty buildings to be demolished and replaced with housing without the need for a planning application.

If this proposal gets the green light, it could theoretically lead to increased numbers of affordable homes, providing housing for those struggling to get onto the housing ladder. The only reportedly stipulation so far for these new builds is that they are well-designed new residential units which meet natural light standards. How this will be policed has yet to be revealed.

Adrian Dobson, professional services director at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said that allowing the demolition and replacement of industrial and commercial property is a contradiction to the government’s plans to their commitment to delivering high-quality housing.

“Current rules allow developers to create housing which fails to meet even the most basic spatial, quality and environmental standards,” he said. 

“Rather than driving a green housing revolution, the government’s plans to allow the demolition and replacement of industrial and commercial property with housing under permitted development would make it easier to build the slums of the future.”

Tagg stressed that caution should be exercised before any conclusions are made as to what this will mean for the housing sector. “Again, we need to see further detail to even begin to consider the potential implications.”

Will the outcomes of this consultation prospectively affect self builders? Tagg says it’s too soon to tell, but believes opportunities will be unlikely, rather the amendments would be aimed at developers who will demolish and rebuild entire blocks.

“In order to ensure that this mechanism is not used by some to develop poor build quality and designed homes for the future there needs to be carefully worded provisions within the PD criteria. The difficulty is that there have been some poor examples of housing derived from office conversions where there are no space standards on conversions. To avoid this being repeated, careful consideration of these issues needs to be built in.

“With the caveats of the above, there may be an opportunity for group self-build and co-housing but led by enablers, again though this will be hugely dependent upon the details, but it would be a potential reuse of previously developed land and in urban settings these could be a sustainable option to bring land back into use.”

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