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Extending flats upwards – the new permitted development right explained

A number of new permitted development rights have recently been introduced by government. One of the earlier changes, the upward extension of existing blocks of flats, is intended to increase the number of new homes being delivered in England. PWA Planning director Paul Walton looks at the details.

This was one of the more intriguing measures announced in Boris Johnson’s Build, Build, Build speech at the end of June in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new permitted development right effectively gives ‘automatic’ planning permission for upwards extensions of up to two-storeys for existing blocks of flats, providing they meet certain requirements and subject to a standard prior notification process.

Which properties qualify?

The new permitted development right, which came into effect on August 1, 2020, is for “new dwelling houses on detached blocks of flats” and allows for construction of up to two additional storeys of residential accommodation.

Before any development can take place, the developer must apply to the local planning authority to determine whether prior approval will be needed, although a more streamlined application process has been promised.

The criteria that must be satisfied to make use of the new PD right include:

  • The existing building must be a purpose-built block of residential flats
  • It must have been built between July 1, 1948 and March 5, 2018
  • The new storeys must comprise residential flats

What other restrictions are there?

Well quite a few actually. The definitions in the wording for this PD right refer specifically to “blocks of flats”, “purpose-built”, and “detached”.

This means it applies only to buildings consisting of separate and self-contained premises constructed as dwellings. The building must have been built purposefully as flats and remain in use as flats. And it means that the building must not share a party wall with a neighbouring building.

The PD right is also not available to buildings which are mixed use, which means that even if a small part of the building is used for offices or retail, for example, then the right will not apply.

If the planning permission for residential use of the existing building was itself obtained through permitted development rights, then the new PD right is not available. This would rule out buildings that have been converted to residential from office or retail use.

There are also some height restrictions for the new PD right. The additional storeys cannot exceed three metres in height, or the height of any existing storey. The overall height of the extended building must not exceed seven metres above the highest part of the existing roof. Furthermore, the extended building must not exceed 30 metres in height in total.

Listed buildings and those within 3km of an airfield cannot be extended either.

Will the new PD Right prove useful?

On the face it, the restrictions and exclusions would seem to limit the appeal of the PD right to developers looking to use it to create large numbers of new homes.

For example, a lot of city centre apartment blocks are likely to have a ground floor retail element or share party walls with other buildings, both of which would exclude development. The height restrictions will also prevent extensions to many of the larger schemes in city centres.

However, the new right for extending upwards is likely to appeal to some developers looking to expand individual blocks of flats. Other changes to the permitted development rights regime are intended to offer other mechanisms for the delivery of new homes which have broader appeal. We will consider these in separate articles.

If you have any planning questions around permitted development rights, contact Paul for more information on 01772 369669.

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