Log in | Register

Extended PDRs and an airspace storey


Extended permitted development rights have created something of an uproar, notes Gary Hoban. But it's not as bad as people think 

As anticipated, the extension of permitted development rights (PDRs), has caused an industry uproar. In an open letter, RICS, CIOB and RIBA rejected the government’s case for liberalising planning in this area, framing the move as an accelerated race to the bottom in terms of size and quality.

Critics also cited a government commissioned report that had found recent PDR dwellings to be 51 per cent less likely to meet the nationally prescribed space standards than those built by the full planning consent process.  

A key element of the extended PDRs is the easing of rules on airspace developments – building new storeys on top of existing dwellings.

I recently led on an airspace project for social landlord client Sutton Housing Society in south-west London, adding new storeys to 1970s tower blocks. Five separate planning applications, all approved in June under the old rules.

"More freedom will certainly place more responsibility on the developer"

What did we learn? First, adding new airspace storeys is usually more complicated than developers anticipate. Building anything more than one storey is likely to require new structural support to sustain the increased load, as well as new lifts, stair access and fire escapes, and all of these are likely to require formal planning consent. Second, more freedom will certainly place more responsibility on the developer – responsibility for quality and ensuring that buildings remain balanced so that two-storey additions don’t visually impact on the street scene.

Sutton Housing Society elected to improve the visual impact of all five of the existing buildings by specifying new façades, windows and improved communal facilities which helped to harmonise the extensions. Single storeys can often be visually accommodated as a ‘penthouse’ level, but keeping two-storey designs cohesive is more challenging, and an application was rejected on this project due to its proximity to a tall church.

Finally, what constitutes ‘sensible’ density in airspace developments? Sutton Housing Society was clear on what it termed to be sensible density, but a similar project today may tempt some developers to push things to the limit – to the detriment of the quality of the homes and the lives of residents.

I hope that extended PDRs will mean a positive mindset shift towards allowing two-storey extensions, but that local authority planning control can still be exercised to promote cohesive design, particularly where permission is needed for ancillary elements to support new homes.

Gary Hoban is a director at architects Hoban Design

Image credit | iStock


Email Newsletter Sign Up