Relaxation in planning regulations allows homeowners to build bigger extensions without planning permission

construction planners

In this the first of a regular monthly feature, our consultant town planning expert explains the effect of new changes to the planning regulations and considers some of the implications for your business and your customers seeking to improve their homes. In future features he’ll look at how the local planning authorities react to these and other changes being made to ‘cut red tape’ and ‘streamline’ the planning process, and offer tips and advice on the planning and conservation issues that are important to you and your customer.

Bigger, easier, quicker house extensions?

From the 30th May a temporary relaxation in planning regulations was introduced that allows householders and home owners, to build bigger home extensions without the need to first obtain planning permission. But how will this work and what will be the impact?

Like so much else in life, ‘the devil is in the detail’…

A kick-start for the home improvement sector

The Coalition Government’s Growth and Infrastructure Act (2013) aims to help kick-start the economy through a variety of measures, from major infrastructure projects such as the new HS2 railway line through to detailed changes to various planning regulations. And it’s not only HS2 that is controversial!

A temporary change to the Permitted Development Rights of householders came into force on 30th May 2013, for a three year period. This doubles the length of a single storey rear extension that homeowners can build without the need for planning permission. Critics have said that this could lead to a rash of unsightly developments springing up and spark feuds between neighbours.

A new prior approval notification process is introduced to replace the need for certain types of planning application. This will be free to the householder and the local authority must give a decision within a 6 week timescale.

The change only affects a rear extension of between 3-6m length for an attached house and 4-8m length for a detached house. Clearly, such extensions will need windows, patio-doors or roof lights to give adequate daylight to the deep rooms created, and the type of extension now permitted by this could include for example, adding a rear conservatory extension onto the back of an existing rear extension; the type of proposal that might ordinarily be refused by the local authority.

Prior approval process

The change involves amendment to the ‘GPDO’ permitted development legislation[i] to create a new prior approval process for certain types of householder rear extension, whereby the owner, rather than submitting a planning application for approval (at fee of £175), instead makes a prior approval notification to the local authority.

The ‘GPDO’ permitted development legislation has the effect of giving planning permission for specified types of minor development – these are known as Permitted Development Rights. The amendment to Part 1 of the GDPO extends the Permitted Development Rights of the householder of a ‘dwelling house’ but not of flats.

Also excluded are houses in designated areas (known as Article 1(5) land) which include: Conservation Areas, Areas or Outstanding Natural Beauty, the National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

The rear extensions permitted must be erected during the 3 year period from 30/05/2013 to 30/05/2016. The local authority has 6 weeks to complete a consultation process with the immediate neighbours and then notify the owner of their decision.

If a neighbour objects the local authority must consider whether to accept or reject the proposal on a narrow range of grounds only. If no neighbour objects, the local authority is obliged to accept the development – regardless of whether it infringes local planning policies and guidelines.

How will it work?

The new prior approval process will only apply to proposals for a 3m – 6m or 4m – 8m rear householder extension. All other restrictions and processes under Part 1 of the GPDO remain unchanged. So for example, existing rights and controls governing the replacement of windows are unchanged, as the limits on the proportion of a garden that might be built upon or the requirement for obscured glazing on certain aspects.

The Building Regulations are not affected.

The developer must notify their local authority before starting works and provide information that includes “a written description of the proposed development” and “a plan indicating the site and showing the proposed development”.

The local authority will consult the immediately adjoining neighbours for a minimum period of 21 days. If one of the these owners or occupiers objects then the planning permission granted by the amended GPDO will apply “only if the local planning authority consider that it would not have an unacceptable impact on the amenity of adjoining premises”. The local authority will have to consider the case and either approve or refuse the application within 42 days. In the latter case the applicant would have the right to appeal.

If no one objections, the local authority is obliged to accept the development. If the local authority fails to notify the applicant of a decision within 42 days, then the applicant can proceed to erect the extension.

What are the implications? The ‘Devil is in the detail…’

The regulations require that if any adjoining neighbour objects, then the local authority will have to assess the impact of the extension upon the “amenity” of “all adjoining premises”.  To assess this impact, the local authority “may require the developer to submit such further information regarding the proposed development as the local planning authority may reasonably require in order to consider the impact of the proposed development on the amenity of any adjoining premises”.

It is already clear that local authorities will interpret these requirements for plans and information differently. While Government is trying to reduce the level of detail required compared to conventional planning applications, sufficient information is needed for the local authority to: (a) check the proposal falls within the limits of the Permitted Development Rights; and (b) enable them to assess the impact in the event of a neighbour objection.

It is already clear that some local authorities are likely to say they need very similar drawings and information as required for a conventional planning application; others look like taking a ‘lighter-touch’ approach. So one immediate impact is that there will be inconsistencies between the different local authority areas in which you work and you will need to get to grips with this.

The process requires the local authorities to do almost the same work as for a conventional planning application but for no fee and with further cuts set to hit their budgets – the likelihood is that local authorities will be less able or inclined to spend time and resources negotiating improvements to minor planning proposals in order to make them acceptable, in which case they may refuse. They’ll also be less inclined to answer informal enquires about this too.

It will be important that get the proposal drawing and supporting information right in the first place. For this you’ll need increasingly to inform yourself with advice from independent advisors and ‘self-help’ using local authority and other web sites.

The changes only benefit rear extensions between 3m – 6m or 4m – 8m, so if, for example, the proposed development extends slightly to the side of the original property or fills too much of the garden area it will fall outside these new Permitted Development Rights. So the question of whether or not a proposal has the benefit of the Rights will be a key issue.

The total number of qualifying extensions could be few – by the Government’s own estimate the number of home extensions per year made as a result of these changes will increase by only 1.7%.

Consider my advice

I believe this could be part of big changes to come in the control of small scale development. I’ll keep you up to date through this feature on the impact and consequences of these changes.

Where you’re involved in a rear extension proposal that may quality for these Permitted Development Rights, my advice to you is:

Encourage the householder to talk to the neighbours first about their ideas rather than rely on the local authority to inform them. This is good for neighbourly relations and may avoid formal neighbour objections; this will save time and the further involvement of the local authority. Remember, if the neighbours don’t object then the local authority are obliged to approve any qualifying proposal whether it breaches their other preferred design guidelines or not!

Discourage clients from ‘skimping’ too much on the plans and information submitted – too little detail and the local authority may decline to ‘register’ the prior approval notification in the first place or they may refuse it (where a neighbour objects) because there is insufficient information with which to make a sound assessment – if in doubt the Planner will by instinct ‘err on the side of caution’.

This temporary change is well worth exploiting where a householder wishes to add a rear conservatory extension onto the back of a planned or existing rear extension – cases that are often unpopular with the Planners.

This will not affect Conservation Areas and may be a temporary arrangement that affects few cases, and you might say “this has little to do with the double glazing business!” But depending on how it is received…. it could lead to further changes in the planning regulations and the manner in which local authorities can and want to be involved in smaller scale householder development.

This could have major consequences for the industry, so watch this space….

These views are those of

Michael Thornton MRTPI

Regrettably we are unable to answer any specific planning issue however we do try to offer general answers on the blog, please add your comment.

The amendments are being introduced by Statutory Instrument 2013 No. 1101 “The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2013″

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