Keeping in with the Jones’s

The new Act has turned the neighbours into planners, says Andrew Mulroy

You can see where the changes came from that cover domestic permitted development in the Growth and Infrastructure Act that came into force at the end of May. Everyone can have the larger rear extension that they had dreamt of and local authorities cut the paperwork – thus saving money.  

‘It will unlock British entrepreneurship that has been tied up in red tape for too long, while ensuring democratic checks and environmental safeguards remain in place,’ says secretary for communities and local government, Eric Pickles.  Simple, isn’t it?

No.  First, for people that don’t have the money, being able to build more doesn’t help at all.  A cut in VAT for refurbishment would have been more constructive.  Indeed, the Act is likely to cost everyone money. A senior planner at a council that we regularly work with raised fears about – design quality aside – increased workload for minimal fees and the confusion likely to be created by the temporary nature of the changes and a consequent rise in enforcement cases.

A certificate of immunity from listing can now be applied for at any time and no longer has to be attached to a planning application. This is long overdue

Poorly designed deep-plan extensions can result in a loss of natural light and ventilation in both the host building and in neighbouring properties, as has been highlighted in the RIBA Homewise Campaign and the BREEAM Domestic Refurbishment Assessment criteria.  

Planners, however, seem to concentrate only on the impact on adjacent properties and ignore the effect of an extension on the host building.  Designing from inside outwards avoids that inevitable ‘middle room’ in deep plan schemes that inevitably becomes home only to a dormant piano.

However, permitted development is a useful tool to keep projects alive in a time of austerity.  If you can’t save on the scope you can save on process, by omitting planning using permitted development.  Many local authorities have the 2008 permitted development dimensions as their default position when deciding full planning applications, so the 2013 permitted development rules seem to provide an option to trump these. But this is only true if it isn’t a conservation area, you give the planners notice and, critically, the neighbours do not object.  For once silence seems to be assent. 

Hardly any of our schemes have had objections from neighbours and so it will be interesting to see whether this will continue.  It is imperative that clients engage in Pickles’ democratic consultation in order to avoid the neighbours’ dissent.  One wrong word and your safe permitted development scheme will become a risky planning application.  
One of our clients has already built a rough mock-up of a proposed extension to discuss with the neighbour, while others have brokered a joint scheme.  RIBA Stage 2 is no longer sketch options and a cost plan; it is now tea with the neighbours as planning controls have been devolved to those next door.


Andrew Mulroy is a director at Andrew Mulroy Architects, a small practice in London specialising in domestic refurbishment projects. The practice has been shortlisted in the Haringey Design Awards, NLA Don’t Move, Improve! Awards and the BD Small Hotel Competition


 

Permitted development

This is not an area in which we as a practice generally work. However, we can only see limited positive effects from the amendments to the legislation covering householder permitted development.

The temporary extension of permitted development is going to fuel the number of developments designed by unqualified individuals. The only way to ensure quality is through regulation. The regulations have been lifted in an attempt to get Britain building, but this will distance the profession further from this type of work.
The lack of detailed information and clarity engendered by developing in this manner may become a costly exercise for some householders.
Where a homeowner employs the services of an architect the amendments to householder permitted development legislation may possess greater freedom for design and creativity (we have all bemoaned planners for stifling creativity, or compromising the quality of design through personal taste).
But if this relaxation is aimed at streamlining then why does the local planning authority require 21 days to simply inform an applicant that no objections have been received?


Andy McDowell is an architect at Lincolnshire-based Jonathan Hendry Architects


 

Where people live
Where people live