Planning Permission no longer Required for Many London Roof Extensions

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The government recently released their plans for increasing productivity in the UK, outlined in an 82 page proposal titled “Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation”.

It covers everything from education, infrastructure and – most importantly for us – home building. In an effort to address the roadblocks in solving the housing crisis, the next few years will see dramatic changes in planning laws to help stimulate construction, including the release of brownfield sites and a welcome emphasis on supporting self builders and SMEs.

I can’t possibly cover everything in this one post, so I suggest clicking here and reading the report if you want more detail. You’ll find the chapter on housing on page 43.

The part that made the biggest splash in London is the proposal to allow homeowners to add additional storeys to their property without requiring planning permission as long as it is equal to the height of neighbouring buildings or lower. Reactions have ranged from those excited to finally be able to enjoy more space without uprooting to those concerned that London’s streetscapes will be peaked by a jumble of mismatched roof extensions.

While the proposals say that planning permission will be removed for qualifying developments, I can guarantee that some form of regulation will remain or replace the current system – simplified, perhaps, but certainly not altogether abolished.

Adding storeys on a structure not designed to bear such weight is a delicate task, as we at DGA know well. The consequences of getting this wrong could literally be fatal. I expect that homeowners and developers planning to build upwards will have to display in one way or another how they will do so safely. The alternative of people being able to add whatever they want on top of their home regardless of risk is simply impossible.

There’s also no word on whether this will override the restrictions in Conversation Areas, Buildings of Townscape Merit or Listed Buildings.

While we wait for specificity, we can appreciate the government’s formal and explicit desire to make it easier for homeowners to expand in the capital, especially welcome after years of London homeowners butting their heads against a risk-laden planning process that has been offering fewer and fewer options.

The news does make me wonder what the reaction has been amongst the many boroughs who decided to limit basement builds. Last November, our planning expert Olly Brown warned that homeowner desire to expand properties is only growing and if they’re denied expanding downwards, they’ll just expand upwards or outwards.

“Homeowners aren’t going to stop wanting and needing to expand their spaces and while basement developments may inconvenience neighbours in the short term, in the long run they have the least impact on the townscape,” Olly wrote. “I suspect if this policy does become set in stone, the residents who blocked basements will be just as appalled by the resultant surge in loft and rear extensions.”

As dramatic as the proposal sounds, concerned locals would still retain their power. While the line about removing the need for planning permission for upwards extensions has been widely reported, the latter half of the sentence isn’t receiving any attention and tellingly isn’t highlighted for emphasis in the Productivity Plan.

The complete statement reads:

“The government will therefore work with the Mayor of London to bring forward proposals to remove the need for planning permission for upwards extensions for a limited number of stories up to the height of an adjoining building, where neighbouring residents do not object. In cases where objections are received, the application will be considered in the normal way, focussed on the impact on the amenity to neighbours.“

We can safely assume that many neighbours will be objecting, so the surge in upwards extensions may not be as dramatic as the headlines want you to believe. If this proposal is accepted, it will reinforce the need to inform and involve your neighbours in your plans, a process we are glad to manage on your behalf.

Briefing neighbours means outlining in clear detail what you plan to build and reassure them that your development will be as safe as possible with minimal impact on their property, backed up by an architect with a thick portfolio of similar successful projects. Reminding them that extensions increase local house prices never hurts either.

Whatever final form these proposals eventually take, I’m excited to see what this and other changes in planning law will mean for self-builders and hope the government’s commitment to them bears fruit.

By John Dyer-Grimes