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Government legislates to ensure all permitted development properties have natural light

Words: Laura Edgar
Windows in homes / Shutterstock_194774591

Housing minister Christopher Pincher has laid regulations before Parliament to legislate that homes delivered through permitted development rights must have windows.

The news has been welcomed by Watford’s mayor, Peter Taylor.

Last year, The Planner reported on an inspector’s decision to grant permission for the conversion of an industrial building in Watford to 15 flats, seven of which would have no windows.

The council had blocked the scheme on the grounds that the quality of the accommodation proposed was so poor that the units could not be considered as dwellings, and therefore did not benefit from permitted development rights.

The problems posed by such developments were also raised in the House of Lords last year by Baroness Thornhill MBE, former mayor of Watford. At that time she said that under her watch the town had seen the numbers of these conversions rising since PDR changes were introduced in 2013, and expressed her concern that the work of Shelter, the Town & Country Planning Association, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and the Local Government Association had confirmed that the council’s fears were shared by others.

Inspector Steven Rennie acknowledged that “living without a window would not be a positive living environment” but highlighted that “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.

At the time, Taylor stated that it was “a disgrace that central government has set such a low bar for the homes that people are expected to live in”, while other built environment professionals outlined their concerns for human health and wellbeing.

Taylor wrote to then housing secretary James Brokenshire, stressing that it is very difficult to argue that the flats are anything other than “simply not fit for human habitation”.

“They are so brazenly in breach of minimum standards for residential property as set by your own government that it beggars belief that these plans have been approved on appeal,” he said.

Taylor and Watford’s Liberal Democrats campaigned against such homes not having windows.

The plans were later dropped and revised to nine flats – all with windows.

In a letter addressed to Baroness Thornhill, Pincher explains that the new permitted development regulations that he has laid before Parliament will enable buildings to be extended upwards without planning permissions to deliver homes. This commitment was set out in the government's Planning for the Future paper in March.

“The right allows up to two storeys to be added to an existing purpose-built free-standing block of flats, of three storeys or more, to construct new homes,” Pincher explains. This is subject to a maximum height extension limit of 30 metres.

The regulations, he continues, “also introduce a requirement for new homes delivered under permitted development rights to provide adequate natural light in all habitable rooms. This recognises the important contribution permitted development rights make to housing supply while affirming our commitment to the delivery of quality homes”.

Taylor said he is pleased that the government listened to the campaigners and has banned windowless flats, but insisted that it is a “scandal that anyone could approve accommodation that doesn't even have a window. These tiny rooms were simply not fit for human habitation”.  

“However, I am worried about these new rights for developers to build upwards in our town without permission, which will take more powers away from councils and hand them to developers. The government has also failed to say anything about the size of the rooms which people could be living in. 

“We all know the consequences of families living in overcrowded and cramped accommodation. I want everyone in our town to have the right to live in a decent, good-quality home."

Taylor told The Planner that is "simply unacceptable for people to be expected to live in tiny, cramped, unsuitable conditions". The government, he said, "must do better at robustly enforcing their own rules on Nationally Described Space Standards". 

“The government should be giving local people more say, not less. It's important that councils have the powers to reject applications if they are not suitable for their community and do not give local residents a good quality of life.”

Pincher also notes that the regulations include temporary measures to help businesses operate and get people back to work as the lockdown restrictions implemented to stem the spread of Covid-19 are lifted. 

The regulations can be viewed here on the legislation.gov.uk website.

Image credit | Shutterstock