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Legislation outlined for permitted upward extensions in England

Words: Laura Edgar
Robert Jenrick / Chris McAndrew

The legislation required to allow buildings to be extended upwards through permitted development rights has been laid before Parliament.

The rules mean that such extensions will not need planning permission from the local planning authority. Also, permission will not be required for the demolition and rebuilding of unused buildings as homes.

The government hopes that commercial and retail properties can be quickly repurposed to help revive high streets and town centres.

Homeowners will be able to add up to two additional storeys to their home to create new homes or more living space through a fast-track approval process. This includes a requirement to consider carefully the impact on neighbours and the appearance of the extension.

The government believes that this will “reduce pressure to build on greenfield sites and deliver more homes that fit the character of their local area, without the red tape”.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “We are reforming the planning system and cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy to give small business owners the freedom they need to adapt and evolve, and to renew our town centres with new enterprises and more housing.

“These changes will help transform boarded-up, unused buildings safely into high-quality homes at the heart of their communities. It will mean that families can add up to two storeys to their home, providing much-needed additional space for children or elderly relatives as their household grows.”

According to the government, pubs, libraries, village shops and other buildings essential to communities will not be covered by these flexibilities.


Claire Dutch, partner and co-head of planning and environment at law firm Ashurst, commented: "We've all been waiting eagerly to see the detail on this controversial relaxing of planning rules. We want to see what constitutes an 'unused' building and what can be built in its place. Will the new law itself be enough to boost housing numbers and save town centres, or will it be used more as a planning tool to improve the chances of getting planning permission? By this I mean, will it be used tactically as a first step in the planning process, as we often found with the office to residential permitted development right?

"Much has been made of this dramatic slashing of red tape, but it'll be interesting to see how quickly these 'unused' buildings can be repurposed and what that will actually mean for the housing and town centre crises. The proof will be in the pudding."

Crispin Truman, chief executive of countryside charity CPRE, said: :The housing secretary is absolutely right to highlight the mounting pressure on green belt and greenfield sites and we welcome the focus on urban regeneration to relieve that pressure - the closest the government has come to adopting the all-out ‘brownfield first policy’ that we desperately need.

"But there remain major concerns over the quality of housing and other developments being delivered. Our evidence has shown that three-quarters of housing developments should not have been granted planning permission due to poor or mediocre design quality. Further deregulation as proposed here, would only make the problem worse.

"Given the amount of time we are spending at home and in our local areas, it has never been more important to deliver better quality homes and green spaces. That’s why we’re urging the government to keep planning local. Communities need to have more of a say in planning for local homes and places."

Local Government Association housing spokesman David Renard said: “The planning system is not a barrier to housebuilding, with nine in 10 planning applications approved by councils. It gives local communities the power to shape the area they live in and provides an effective means of balancing the interests of homeowners and their neighbours. 

“Neighbours have the right to a say on development and should not be exposed to the potential of unsightly large-scale unsuitable extensions being built unchallenged and without scrutiny in their communities.

“Taking further planning powers away from communities and councils will only deprive them of the ability to define the area they live in and know best. It risks giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas with communities having no way of ensuring they meet high quality standards, provide any affordable homes as part of the development or ensure supporting infrastructure such as roads, schools and health services are in place.

“It is vital that councils and local communities have a voice in the planning process and are able to oversee all local developments.”

Tim Smith, partner at law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, who specialises in planning law, commented: “Announced with little foreshadowing, these are an odd set of proposals. Despite the claims in the accompanying press release that the liberalisation of homeowners’ extensions “will reduce pressure to build on greenfield sites and deliver more homes that fit the character of their local area”, it is difficult to see how either objective will be achieved. Even if there is a significant take-up, the incremental size increases in the existing stock will make little impact on the need to deliver new homes. Moreover it is a strange decision to break cover with these isolated proposals so close to publication of the keenly-awaited white paper on planning.”

Image credit | Chris McAndrew