Permitted Development rights

Raft of planning changes designed to kick-start construction sector


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Raft of planning changes designed to kick-start construction sector

The Government response to the impact of Covid-19 on the property sector has included a new Code of Practice for Commercial Property relationships, but slightly under the radar is the raft of changes to planning laws, with an extension to the existing Permitted Development rights.

What are Permitted Development rights?

Permitted Development (PD) rights cover the ability of a property owner to make specific changes to a building without the need to apply for permission from the relevant local planning authority.

Since 2012, consecutive governments have widened the scope of PD rights, partly to help boost the number of dwellings, by reducing the red tape involved.

It is also easier now to change the use of a building from one class to another and to add larger extensions to commercial or residential premises. Perhaps the most controversial change is granting PD rights to change the use of a building from office space to residential.

The main objectors to the policy claimed it would lead to a loss of office space and also the developments created without planning permission, would be sub-standard with developers also ignoring the need to fund affordable housing and local infrastructure improvements.

The most recent changes which came into effect on 1 August 2020 allow a developer to create two additional storeys, which must be flats themselves, on top of an existing purpose-built block of flats, if it was built between 1 July 1948 and 5 March 2018.

Before embarking on any building work, the developer must contact the local planning authority to ascertain whether prior approval is needed for specific aspects of the development.

The rules regarding the block having to be residential in nature are particularly strict, so even if there are retail units on the ground floor of the block, as is often the case, or a small proportion of the units as a whole are used as office space, then the PD right will not apply.

The new PD rights will also not apply if a developer has previously used PD rights for the building, to turn an office block into a residential block. There are also additional rules around the height of the new storeys, the height of the extension and the overall height of the building.

Government sees the light with PD rights

Interestingly, the prior approval conditions that apply to the new PD rights, dealing with aspects such as the provision of natural light in all habitable rooms, are stricter than those previously applied to existing PD rights and from August, are also going to be applied to those existing PD rights.

This move has been widely interpreted as an attempt by the government to deal with concerns that some of the homes created under existing PD rights had design flaws which meant that access to natural light was sorely lacking.

At the same time as applying for prior approval, developers must provide the local planning authority with floor plans detailing room dimensions in the proposed new storeys, although the planning authority will not state whether they consider the dimensions are adequate.

Considering the limited options for applying these new PD rights, they are likely to appeal more to smaller developers working on a single property than major developers looking for ways to create large numbers of new homes.

Homeowners to benefit from Permitted Development right changes too

From 1 September 2020, homeowners will also be permitted to add as many as two additional storeys to their home using PD rights, rather than waiting for the traditional planning process to run its course.

However, there are strict regulations around this extension of PD rights, which will only apply to detached homes built between 1948 and 2018, and not to those in conservation areas.

Under the rights, homeowners will be able to expand a single storey property upward by addition of another storey and properties with two or more floors can add up to two more storeys, to a maximum building height of 18 metres.

The permitted development rights are subject to a requirement to seek determination from the local authority as to whether prior approval is required for specific impacts as set out within the order.

As a specialist real estate law firm, we understand the vagaries of the planning process and it will be interesting to see if the upward extension of a single property within an established street might look out of place and be resisted by local authorities keen to keep the existing aesthetics.

We deal with commercial property and work closely with property developers to ensure they achieve their desired outcomes when acquiring and developing property, so if you have a project that might use PD rights or not, please speak to Karen Mason, on +44 (0)20 7464 4081 or email