By Vivienne Shirley, Senior Consultant
The government has launched a fresh consultation on permitted development rights (PDR) for upwards extensions, following its 2016 London-focused consultation which concluded with plans being withdrawn.
The new plans were trailed at the recent Tory party conference, where communities secretary James Brokenshire said we “need to be smarter on how we use land and the space available” and that this could be done through “prioritising brownfield but also looking at land that’s already been built on”. The proposals, he claimed, will “permit people to build up on existing buildings rather than build out to use more precious land.”
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) formally launched a range of possible new planning measures alongside the Budget on Monday, aimed at supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes. These included “a new permitted development right to extend certain existing buildings upwards to provide additional, well designed, new homes to meet local housing need”.
As well as proposing additional stories on high street, residential and office buildings, the consultation asks if they should be allowed on premises such as health centres and retail parks. It also includes a range of different height limit policies for respondees’ consideration. The consultation will run until 14 January 2019.
Building on earlier plans
The plans build on the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) released earlier this year, which stated that planning policies and decisions should allow upward extensions where they are sympathetic to their setting. The new consultation document further shows the government recognises the importance of making good use of previously developed land and buildings – including the airspace above them – to create new homes. Indeed, 2017 research by Knight Frank used geospatial mapping technology to find around 41,000 new dwellings could be built in central London using rooftop development space, without impacting the skyline.
While greater certainty about the national policy on upwards extensions will be welcomed by many developers, the announcement has puzzled some given the withdrawal of 2016 plans to incentivise ‘building up’ in London. The consultation of 2016 found that more than half of responses were not supportive of the proposal with ‘a one-size-fits-all permitted development right approach considered unworkable’. It will be interesting to see whether the latest consultation, which also includes the suggested caveat that PDR would be subject to a prior approval process by councils, yields different results.
Response from the sector
The reaction to the fresh proposals for upwards extensions has been mixed, with RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills commenting: “Densification of built-up areas can bring about much-needed housing supply, but quality is as important as numbers… National policy can provide a favourable steer, but local communities should be able to set standards which enable higher buildings to make a positive contribution to housing supply.”
However Mike Kiely, chair of the Planning Officers Society, noted that existing office-to-residential PDR have resulted in many poor quality developments. This view was echoed by RIBA president Ben Derbyshire, who commented: “It has become clear the permitted development of offices to residential housing has led to terrible homes.”
For example, research released by RICS earlier this year found “inconsistency in the quality of developments, with only 30% of units delivering through permitted development meeting national space standards”. The report also found PDR had produced a higher number of substandard homes than those governed through full planning permission.
Meanwhile, Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, largely welcomed the proposals but warned that communities “will only accept development at greater density if local services and infrastructure can adequately support the growing population of a particular area”.
How much power is given to councils regarding quality control and community contributions could therefore be a key factor in the success of the proposals. Building up is part of the innovative solution to addressing the housing crisis in urban areas, but it is vital it is done sensibly so we’re not left with poorly designed, poor quality homes in the city – whether upwards really is the way to go still remains to be seen.
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