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13/05/2016

The redevelopment of our beautiful launderettes

Words:

Chris Shepley finds himself back in the launderette discussing the vagaries of permitted development and upward extensions. Oh, how they laughed. 

Chris ShepleyBack in the launderette, Mr Khan relaxed.

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2016 lay on Machine No 4, open at Article 6. Despite a small Persil spillage, he slowly forced some semblance of meaning from it and concluded that United Wash Houses’ application to change it to a small flat could happen only if there were “adequate provision” nearby. 

The application was being dealt with not by the council, but by an “Alternative Provider”, the Cayman Islands Planning & Money Laundering Company, which, entirely coincidentally, shared an address with United Wash Houses. But even they would struggle to argue that the launderette over in Cloggley, 20 miles away, was a suitable alternative.

Mrs Braithwaite set the dryer spinning merrily. But there was little time for a party because the torrent of consultation from DCLG continued unabated. They turned their attention to the Consultation on Upward Extensions in London. Even though London was some distance away, their experience showed that these little ideas usually spill out to other places, so they had all done their homework.

“Is it”, asked Mr Khan cautiously, “as ridiculous as I think it is?” They all agreed that it was.

They noted that London was a “dynamic world city” (para 1.3), and also that it was a “vibrant world city” (five lines later in para 1.4). They ploughed through the usual introductory bilge about the need for new houses, the protection of the green belt, and the marvellousness of the government. Then they came to the nub, which was, by one means or another, to allow extra storeys on buildings, up to the height of an adjoining roofline.

"They noted that London was a 'dynamic world city' (para 1.3) and also that it was a 'vibrant world city' (five lines later in para 1.4)"

This was not necessarily a problem. Some difficulties would undoubtedly ensue from the requirement to make sure this created separate dwellings, but no doubt pretty new fire escapes could be provided, and the people downstairs would be delighted to have company above.

Mr Khan questioned the need for the policy, the council having shown little resistance to such developments, on the rare occasions they might occur. Mrs Braithwaite wondered about that old pledge to reduce planning guidance to 50 pages, there being a further 21 on this topic alone.

But the comedy really arose when the document began to go into ludicrous amounts of detail. This was a matter that could have been dealt with by a single line in the planning guidance encouraging authorities to permit such extensions in suitable circumstances. But no. 

Here, in para 3.8, was a series of drawings of the type that Mrs McTavish’s granddaughter might have produced. Under each example were instructions such as the following:

“In the terrace in example 2 above, B, C D and E could build up to two additional storeys, no higher than the roofline of A and F, if works are carried out at the same time as the result of a single application. B, B and C, or B, C and D could build two additional storeys alongside A, no higher than the roofline of A, if works are carried out at the same time as the result of a single application. E, E and D, or E, D and C could build two additional storeys, no higher than the roofline of F, if works are carried out at the same time as the result of a single prior approval application. C and D could not build up at a later time than B or E, or if B and E had not built up.”

“Is this really how expensive people in Whitehall should be spending their time?” asked Mr Khan. “Could a local authority get away with such amateur pub-lunch dribblings?”

Persil filled the room. Laughter rang from the building. Planning could be fun after all. 

Chris Shepley is the principal of Chris Shepley Planning and former Chief Planning Inspector.

ILLUSTRATION | OIVIND HOVLAND

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