The Committee's response to Government's consultation on permitted development rights for homeowners - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents


2  The Government's proposals and responses

The Government's proposals

5. In his written statement on 6 September the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government explained the context in which the proposals to change the permitted development rights had been made:

As a nation, we have great pride in our homes, and I want to make it easier for families to undertake home improvements: not just to cut red tape and strengthen individual homeowners' rights, but also to help generate economic activity which will support small traders in particular.

I am announcing today a further package of simplification measures to remove red tape and ease the burden on local authorities. We will consult shortly on changes to increase existing permitted development rights for extensions to homes and business premises in non-protected areas for a three-year period. This will mean less municipal red tape to build a conservatory and similar small-scale home improvement and free up valuable resources in local authorities.[6]

6. In its consultation document published on 12 November the Government gave more details of the proposed changes:

At present, single-storey rear extensions with a depth beyond the rear wall of 4m for a detached house, and 3m for any other type of house, are allowed under permitted development rights, subject to various limitations. To provide greater flexibility for homeowners who wish to improve and enlarge their properties, we propose that in non-protected areas these limits should be increased to 8m for a detached house, and 6m for any other type of house. This would also cover conservatories at the rear of properties.

We are not proposing any changes for flats, which do not have permitted development rights for rear extensions, and are not proposing any changes for extensions of more than one storey, which under permitted development can have a maximum depth of 3m beyond the rear wall.

To ensure that the amenity of neighbouring properties is protected, other limitations and conditions would remain the same. For example, development will not be able to cover more than 50% of the curtilage of the house, single-storey extensions must not exceed 4m in height, and any extensions which have an eaves height of greater than 3m must not be within 2m of the boundary. In addition, existing protections under other regimes (building regulations, the Party Wall Act or the 'right to light', for example) will continue to apply. There is no weakening of the National Planning Policy Framework policies which aim to prevent garden-grabbing.

The proposals do not grant permitted development rights for the construction of separate outbuildings for residential accommodation, or for the creation of separate residential units. They do not reduce the wide range of powers which local authorities have to tackle the unauthorised 'beds-in-sheds' development carried out by a small minority of unscrupulous landlords.[7]

The Government's rationale for the changes and responses

7. In the consultation document the Government expanded on its grounds for making the changes. The Government said that the proposals would "make it quick, easier and cheaper to build small-scale single-storey extensions and conservatories, while respecting the amenity of neighbours".[8] In our view the Government's rationale for the changes can be grouped as follows:

a)  the need to submit planning applications for small domestic extensions is unnecessary and the changes will speed up development and reduce costs;

b)  permitted development rights are already integral to the operation of the planning system; and

c)  where local circumstances justify keeping domestic extensions within planning control a local authority can use Article 4 of the Permitted Development Order to disapply the relaxation.

We examine each of these below.

UNNECESSARY PROCESS

8. In the consultation document published on 12 November the Government said that:

Under the current system, homeowners wishing to extend their home more than a few metres from the property's rear wall have to fill in complicated application forms that can take eight weeks or longer for the council to consider. The large majority of homeowner applications are uncontroversial: around 200,000 are submitted each year, and almost 90 percent are approved, in almost all cases at officer level. The application process adds costs and delays, and in many cases adds little value.

We propose to make it quick, easier and cheaper to build small-scale single-storey extensions and conservatories, while respecting the amenity of neighbours. We estimate that up to 40,000 families a year wishing to build straightforward extensions will benefit from our proposals, and will be able to undertake home improvements to cater for a growing family or look after an elderly relative without unnecessary costs and bureaucracy. Some 160,000 homeowner applications will continue to be considered through the planning system as at present, including all the larger, more complex and controversial cases.

These measures will bring extra work for local construction companies and small traders, as families and businesses who were previously deterred take forward their plans. For illustration, 20,000 new extensions could generate up to £600m of construction output, supporting up to 18,000 jobs. In addition, each family who benefits will save up to £2,500 in planning and professional fees, with total savings of up to £100m a year.[9]

9. When he gave evidence to us on 12 December Eric Pickles said that:

an awful lot of [the planning applications] that are dealt with by officers go through on the nod; it is just a process. What we are suggesting is, in order to relieve local authorities, whose planning authorities are hard pressed, that they perhaps spend time on things that are more difficult and worthwhile, rather than just being engaged purely in process. Providing that neighbour rights of light and nuisance are held to the existing arrangements, we do not see that this is as big a problem as some have suggested.[10]

10. The following points criticising this argument were made in the written memoranda we received:

  • The planning process is a well-tried channel to resolve and head-off disputes with neighbours over extensions and ensures there is no unacceptable impact on amenity. The planning process is, in effect, an independent mediation service that can lead to substantial improvements in the quality of extensions through agreements to change designs. The potential for disputes about domestic extensions is acute, particularly in compact, urban locations.[11]
  • If more domestic building work is taken out of development control, local communities will have less opportunity to have a say over building in their areas.[12]
  • If the proposals apply to Houses in Multiple Occupation landlords will be able to expand their properties without any control even in areas where there are social problems.[13]
  • The fact that local authorities currently receive approximately 200,000 applications from householders per year and nearly 90% of all applications are approved once negotiations have resolved any unacceptable amenity impacts shows that the current arrangements present no barrier to appropriate and well designed applications.[14]
  • One in 10 applications is refused for good reasons.[15]
  • The change will have a significant impact on the quality, design and amenity of development and the surrounding local area.[16]
  • The change will not reduce the amount of red tape because home-owners will need to apply to the local authority for a Lawful Development Certificate. Without a certificate they are unlikely to raise a loan to fund the development or will be caught out when selling the property and the buyer will not exchange without proof the works did not need consent.[17]

PERMITTED DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS ARE ALREADY INTEGRAL TO THE OPERATION OF THE PLANNING SYSTEM

11. In the consultation document the Government said that:

Permitted development already removes hundreds of thousands of developments from the planning system every year, benefiting homeowners and businesses of all sizes, and reducing costs and delays. Extending permitted development rights further will promote growth, allowing homeowners and businesses to meet their aspirations for improvement and expansion of their homes and premises.[18]

12. On the length of time the relaxation would apply, the Minister, Nick Boles, told the Committee on 15 October that:

If, at the end of the three years, it has, as I fully expect, become completely accepted—just like the last lot of permitted development on extensions is now completely accepted—and everybody is happy with it, we may look at keeping it in place.[19]

13. The following points were made to us in the written memoranda on these matters:

  • The 2009 changes to permitted development rights were based on an impact approach and were regarded as the maximum amount of development permissible before neighbours would be affected.[20]
  • Changing what constitutes permitted development and then changing it back again will require very careful and potentially costly handling and publicity if it is not to result in accidental breaches of planning control.[21]
  • To double the length of extensions will inevitably impact on adjoining occupiers and the further erosion of gardens to the cost of family play space and biodiversity.[22]
  • There will be more complaints to local authorities from adjoining occupiers, who have not been consulted and had an opportunity to comment on the proposals resulting in more enforcement cases as authorities are forced to investigate the complaint and verify that the works do not need planning permission.[23]
  • Fees from domestic planning applications provide finance for planning departments.[24]
  • Local decision making (for example, by councils 'opting out' through the use of Article 4 Directions) [see below] will also be confusing making planning seem a complex and variable system.[25]
  • Permitted development rights are a very blunt instrument of planning policy which assume that a consistent national approach should prevail in the face of diverse local circumstances.[26]

ARTICLE 4

14. In the consultation document the Government explained that there was scope for local authorities to tailor permitted development rights to their own particular circumstances. The Government said that if there were "genuine local concerns, councils can consult with the community about whether there are exceptional circumstances that merit withdrawal of permitted development rights locally using existing powers known as article 4 directions".[27] The National Planning Policy Framework states that the use of Article 4 directions to remove national permitted development rights should be limited to situations where this is necessary to protect local amenity or the wellbeing of the area.[28] When he gave evidence on 15 October Nick Boles said that "local authorities will [...] through Article 4 directions [...] be able to make a case for why [the relaxation of] permitted development should not apply to their area".[29]

15. The following points were made to us in the written memoranda on the use of Article 4:

  • Article 4 directions are time consuming, expensive and cumbersome and as a result are not frequently used by local authorities.[30]
  • Article 4 directions are usually subject to limitations of time, and, more significantly, require the authority to compensate those affected by the restriction. These factors mean that Article 4 directions do not provide a practical means for local authorities to restrict development where the intended development is of high value or of wide extent.[31]
  • Planning applications which have to be submitted due to an Article 4 Direction are exempt from planning application fees.[32]

Impact assessment

16. Finally, we considered the impact assessment attached to the consultation document. It focussed on two scenarios: doing nothing; or implementing Government's proposals as published.[33] Addressing the package of five items, the assessment sets out, in our view, a strong justification for the planning system:

The planning system provides a mechanism through which the impacts and external costs of development to third parties can be taken into consideration when new development is proposed. The planning system plays an important role in promoting the efficient use of land and considering and mitigating the adverse impacts that development can have on third parties.[34]

Against the importance of planning control the Government counted costs. It said that: "applying for planning permission places an administrative burden on business, estimated at around £1.1 billion in 2006".[35] This claim in the consultation document is referenced to Administrative Burdens of Regulation - Communities and Local Government, a seven page document "produced by the Better Regulation Executive alongside Communities and Local Government, [which] provides a high level summary of the burdens imposed by the Department and is adjusted to take account of activity that business would choose to do even if the regulation did not exist".[36] The document is undated and there is no detail, no research cited and no reference to domestic extensions or differentiation of types of planning application.

17. The intended effects of the proposal on domestic extensions are to reduce the burden of the planning system on homeowners and business, and boost growth. Specifically on domestic extensions, the document stated:

A boost for growth by incentivising developers to carry out work in the short term, rather than delaying, and where development takes place that would not otherwise have done so due to the requirement to obtain local authority planning permission [...]

Reducing the need for local authority assessment of development with more limited impacts to allow them to concentrate on larger development of more strategic benefit to their local area.[37]

18. In the short assessment that follows in the consultation document we consider that the key points are:

The estimated total savings on the planning application process (including fee) is between £150 and £2470 depending on the level of information required to support the application. If the requirement to seek planning permission were removed these costs would no longer be incurred. [...] In the year ending March 2012 there were just under 195,000 decisions on 'householder development' applications. If we assume that 10-20% of these would fall within permitted development rights after the policy change, between 20,000 and 40,000 developments would no longer be subject to planning requirements. It should be noted that these figures represent a tentative estimate [...] Under this illustrative scenario—between 10% and 20% of existing householder developments no longer require an application—the saving to applicants might range between £5m and £100m annually.

There will be further benefit from householders who were previously deterred from development by the cost of preparation and submission of a planning application. Householders may now choose to develop their homes. It is not possible to estimate the number of applicants that are currently deterred from making changes to their homes because of the economic costs the planning system imposes [...]

Under [the provided] illustrative scenarios, the additional annual construction output ranges between £300m and £600m.[38]

19. When he gave evidence to us on 12 December we asked Nick Boles about the variation between £5 million and £100 million. He explained that:

we know how many applications there currently are and we can make, therefore, an estimate [...] of the number that therefore will no longer need to have planning permission under the permitted development right. What we cannot estimate very easily is how many people there are, who would have been put off from doing it at all by the planning process and the expense and effort involved in going through that, who will now actually come forward.

We can make a reasonable estimate. It is a slight stab in the dark, but it is a reasonable estimate of how many of the existing volume will now come through without planning permission. It is much harder to speculate on how the lack of planning permission requirement will stimulate more activity, particularly as the economy hopefully begins to recover steadily. That is why the figures are necessarily vague. What we do know is that this will be relieving local authorities of a lot of work. While a number of them have said to us, "We will lose fee income," that does not really work as an argument because they also say that fee income is inadequate to cover the costs of processing an application. If fee income is less than the cost then taking away that work saves them money.[39]


6   HC Deb, 6 September 2012, col 34WS; and see also col 401. Back

7   DCLG, Extending permitted development rights for homeowners and businesses: Technical consultation, November 2012, paras 17-20 Back

8   DCLG, Extending permitted development rights for homeowners and businesses: Technical consultation, November 2012, para 2 Back

9   DCLG, Extending permitted development rights for homeowners and businesses: Technical consultation, November 2012, paras 1-3 Back

10   HC (2012-13) 693-ii, Q 201 Back

11   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 25 [LGA], Ev 36 [Monks Orchard Residents Association] , Ev 45 [Loughton Residents Association], Ev 49 [London Borough of Redbridge] , Ev 51 [Royal Institute of British Architects], Ev 54 [Planning Officers Society] , Ev 55 [National Organisation of Residents Associations], Ev 63 [Royal Town Planning Institute], paras 10-12,, Ev 66 [Simon Hill], para 4, Ev 84 [Westminster City Council], Ev 96 [Friends of the Earth] , Ev 99 [The Leamington Society] Back

12   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 36 [Monks Orchard Residents Association], Ev 39 [London Forum of Amenity and Civic Services], Ev 45 [Loughton Residents Association], Ev 52 [Royal Institute of British Architects], Ev 99 [The Leamington Society] Back

13   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 35 [Marina Lewycka], Ev 35 [Highfield Residents Association], Ev 36 [Residents Action], Ev 39 [Stewart Morris], Ev 42 [Tower Gardens NWA Residents Association], Ev 43 [North Southampton Community Forum] , Ev 49-50 [London Borough of Redbridge], Ev 56 [National Organisation of Residents Associations], Ev 61 [Nottingham Action Group on HMOs], Ev 66 [Simon Hill], Ev 94 [J Shergold], Ev 96 [Jesmond Residents Association] , Ev 99 [The Leamington Society] Back

14   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 27 [LGA] , Ev 63 [Royal Town Planning Institute], para 12 Back

15   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 37 [Monks Orchard Residents Association], para 15, Ev 40 [London Forum of Amenity and Civic Services], Ev 68 [CPRE], para 14 Back

16   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 36 [Monks Orchard Residents Association] ,Ev 51 [Royal Institute of British Architects], Ev 66 [Simon Hill] , Ev 96 [Friends of the Earth] , Ev 99 [The Leamington Society] Back

17   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 84 [Westminster City Council]; see also Qq 94-95.  Back

18   DCLG, Extending permitted development rights for homeowners and businesses: Technical consultation, November 2012, para 4 Back

19   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Q 87 Back

20   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 84 [Westminster City Council] Back

21   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 63 [Royal Town Planning Institute], para 8 Back

22   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 84 [Westminster City Council] , Ev 26-27 [LGA], Ev 99 [The Leamington Society] Back

23   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 50 [London Borough of Redbridge]; see also Ev 45 [Loughton Residents Association], Ev 54 [Planning Officers Society] and Ev 84 [Westminster City Council]. Back

24   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 50 [London Borough of Redbridge] Back

25   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 78 [RICS]  Back

26   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 106 [City of London Corporation] Back

27   DCLG, Extending permitted development rights for homeowners and businesses: Technical consultation, November 2012, para 16; see also Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order 1995 (SI 1995/418). Back

28   DCLG, The National Planning Policy Framework, March 2012, para 200 Back

29   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Q 87  Back

30   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 24 [LGA], Ev 36 [Monks Orchard Residents Association], Ev 41 [London Forum of Amenity and Civic Services] , Ev 50 [London Borough of Redbridge] , Ev 68 [CPRE], para 15 Back

31   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 106 [City of London Corporation], para 5 Back

32   HC (2012-13) 626-i, Ev 50 [London Borough of Redbridge] Back

33   DCLG, Extending permitted development rights for homeowners and businesses: Technical consultation, November 2012, pp 25-26 Back

34   DCLG, Extending permitted development rights for homeowners and businesses: Technical consultation, November 2012, p 22 Back

35   As above Back

36   DCLG, Administrative Burdens of Regulation - Communities and Local Government, undated, http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20120919132719/www.communities.gov.uk/documents/corporate/pdf/regulation-burden.pdf Back

37   DCLG, Extending permitted development rights for homeowners and businesses: Technical consultation, November 2012, p 23 Back

38   DCLG, Extending permitted development rights for homeowners and businesses: Technical consultation, November 2012, pp 26-27 Back

39   HC (2012-13) 693-ii, Q 201 Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 20 December 2012