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Appeal: Flats with no windows allowed under permitted development

Watford / Shutterstock: 1384314302

An inspector has approved plans to convert an industrial building in Watford into 15 bedsits, seven of which would have no windows, ruling that the scheme met the requirements of the GPDO.

AUTHORITYWatford Borough Council
INSPECTORSteven Rennie
PROCEDUREWritten submissions

The appeal concerned an industrial building in Watford that was last in use as an upholstery workshop. The building is single-storey, with a high dual-pitched roof. It has a mezzanine level, but no roof insulation.The building has only small, high-level windows at ground-floor level.

The appellant sought permission to convert the building into 15 studio flats/bedsits under schedule 2, part 3, class PA of the general permitted development order, which allows changes of use from use class B1(c) (industrial) to residential.

The flats would each have an area of between 16.5 and 21 square metres, less than half the minimum standard for a 1-bed flat, which is 37sq m. All of the upstairs flats and one downstairs would not have any windows.

The council refused permission on the grounds that the quality of the accommodation proposed was so poor that the units could not be considered “dwellings”, and therefore did not benefit from permitted development rights.

The council officer’s report noted that the units “would not provide any meaningful outlook, daylight or even appropriate ventilation”, and that upper-floor units “would have no means of escape in case of fire”. This “oppressive environment” would have “a serious impact on the health of future occupiers”, it concluded.

Inspector Steven Rennie acknowledged that the proposed units were small, and that “living without a window would not be a positive living environment”. 

However, he noted, “the provisions of the GPDO require the decision-maker to solely assess the impact of the proposed development in relation to the conditions given in paragraph PA.2”.

“The size of individual dwellings to be formed by the change of use and whether they would have windows/ventilation is not a condition of the GPDO” for the change of use proposed, he concluded. On this basis the appeal was allowed.

"A low bar for homes"

Peter Taylor, elected Mayor of Watford said: “We are very disappointed by this decision. We strongly opposed this sub-standard development, because it is the wrong building and location for a residential conversion - the living space is extremely poor, seven of the homes have no windows, there is no amenity space and residents will step out of the building onto a very busy service road.

"It is a disgrace that central government has set such a low bar for the homes that people are expected to live in.

"Councils should be given the powers to reject applications like these.

"They should not expect their decisions to be overturned by central government, who are determined for councils to meet unrealistic housing targets at the expense of infrastructure and proper living conditions for residents.

"We will continue to reject these type of planning applications as we expect more for Watford. So should our government."

The inspector’s report – case reference 3220904 – can be read here.

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