Market Insight

Build, build build: Will planning changes deliver development or delay?

July 21, 2020

The Prime Minister recently set out the first steps in his strategy to ‘rebuild Britain and fuel economic recovery’ across the UK with the aim to ‘build back better, build back greener, build back faster.’

As part of the announcement, said to include some of the most radical planning reforms since the War, further modifications to Permitted Development Rights (PDR) were published.

The aim? To bring forth more development and stimulate the economy by removing planning red tape through extended permitted development provisions.

But what exactly was announced? And how will it affect developers and investors?

According to the statement, subject to achieving Prior Approval, from 1 August 2020, developers will be able to build up and extend buildings by up to two additional storeys, without seeking full planning permission – but this is conditional on a series of caveats. 

This includes works required to facilitate this development such as engineering operations for construction, replacement/additional plant to service new dwellings, provision of safe access and fire escapes and the construction of storage, waste or other facilities to service new dwellings. 

However, whilst it is to be applauded that Government is attempting to reduce planning red tape in this way, the practical reality is likely to be rather different from the political rhetoric. 

Having explored the legislation, there are a number of detailed provisos which developers will need to comply with, in order for their building to be eligible for development under the extended permitted development rights. 

Here are just some of the conditions: 

  • The existing building of flats must be 3 or more storeys in height above ground level
  • The existing building needs to have been constructed after 1 July 1948 and before 5 March 2018
  • The existing block of flats cannot have been granted permission by virtue of Classes M, N, O, P, PA or Q (so, buildings with office to residential conversions would not benefit from this permitted development)
  • The additional storeys would need to meet with certain height restrictions and be within the curtilage of the existing building 
  • The land cannot be designated (i.e. as a conservation area, listed building, AONB) or be within a safety hazard area, military explosive storage area, or within 3 kilometres of an aerodrome perimeter
  • When applying for Prior Approval, the local planning authority (LPA) will need to consider a number of impacts including transport and highways, contamination risk, flood risk, visual impact, natural light provision, overlooking etc.
  • The applicant needs to provide the LPA with a report detailing the management of the construction of development, including information on the hours of operation and mitigation for any adverse impact of noise, dust vibration and traffic on existing residents
  • The new development must remain under use class C3 dwelling houses as its primary use

What are the risks? 

National Planning Policy seeks to achieve a high quality of design in any development coming forward. 

If upward extensions cannot be assessed against national and local design policies, there is a risk that we could see a host of weird and wonderful extensions to buildings that have been designed to meet the criteria set out in the legislation, rather than responding to the character in which a building is located.

With this in mind, it is possible that we risk losing that high quality, sustainable design that Government has pushed so hard for.

Clearly, a balance needs to be struck. The economy needs to recover as quickly as it can, but not to the long-term detriment of the quality of the built environment. 

Who will the winners be? 

There is a question mark over how viable these permitted development rights will be in other parts of the country and how many developers will look at is as a worthwhile process. 

The likelihood is that these PDR rights will be popular in London, where land values are at a level where the addition of storeys to a building quickly and cost-effectively could reap significant financial reward – particularly for smaller investors and developers looking to maximise the value of their existing assets. 

We may also see smaller / medium sized contractors begin to specialise in upward extension work in the short-term, as this announcement delivers an opportunity to grow their business at what is a difficult time for the wider industry. 

Of course, we can’t know what the full implications will be, but what we do know is that planning officers will still need to determine each and every application they receive. 

If uptake of this permitted development route is high, we are likely to continue to face the same barriers to speeding up the planning process and delivery of enough development to stem demand – unless Government invests heavily in planning resource at a local authority level.

Check before you act

As with any planning change, the devil will be very much in the detail – and with these permitted development rights, there is a lot of it.

If you would like to explore this potential route for one of your investments, be sure to check with a planning professional whether or not your building meets the necessary requirements before taking any action. 

Our planning experts will work with you to understand the detail of what is required in order to comply with the changes, as well as discussing with you the merits of any other options available to you. 

For more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch.