Planning Rules - Changing For The Better?

Issue 99

By Neil Turner, Director, Howarth Litchfield

The Housing Secretary, Michael Gove has issued a consultation on new permitted development rights which, if allowed, would let homeowners build bigger extensions without the need for planning permission.

Some of the proposals seem really radical: for example, scrapping the rules that limit an extension to 50% of the land surrounding it, or curtilage as it’s known. Extensions would be wider, taller and able to wrap around houses.

The aims are part of the government’s desire to ‘shake up planning rules’ and to increase development with emphasis on the use of brown field land – a point I have made in previous articles in Northern Insight. I would support any rule changes that speed up the process, but not at the expense of consideration on the quality and size of all developments.

The government wants to increase the number of new houses with the ability to change offices into homes, which again, is very sensible at first sight.

However, I have my concerns from a number of different perspectives and have seen other professions voicing concerns.

So, what of the proposals? For example, an extension on the rear would be allowed up to the same height as the highest point of the original, as long as it’s not seen from the front street. Larger ground floor extensions wrapping around a house would be allowed. Loft conversions would not be limited to 40sqm in a terrace or 50sqm in other houses.

My concern is that our estates and terraces are already under pressure from poor additions and changes. The character of semi-detached houses changes when every house is extended so that they almost become a terrace street by default. Large roof extensions create poorly proportioned houses looking down on neighbours.

The government is consulting until 9th April and wants to encourage flexibility. However, the risk is over development of houses. I have seen commentary from lawyers and agents warning of the potential for more issues and conflict between neighbours. Rights to light, access for scaffolding, objections and disputes could be the unintended result.

Ideally people would move from one house to a larger house, as they move up the property ladder. But the high costs of housing and the associated costs in terms of stamp duty land tax, and fees has led to more people wanting to alter their homes. The fact that building works are expensive as well doesn’t help this matter.

The planning system is under pressure, but from a lack of experienced planning officers to cope with the current demand for applications. We need greater investment from central government to enable local authorities to improve the entire process.

Changes to permitted development need careful thought, rather than simply allowing houses to be changed without any professional consideration – by architects, surveyors, planners or guide regulations.

Neil Turner, Director, Howarth Litchfield can be contacted on 0191 3849470 or email

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