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

3  Conclusions

20. We start with the impact assessment which provides the evidence, and the assessment of the evidence, justifying the Government's proposals. In our view it has two shortcomings. First, the assumptions on which it is based are so "tentative", broad-brush and qualified as to provide little assurance that the monetary benefits suggested for applicants for planning permission will be achieved. There is insufficient detail and, furthermore, the impact assessment does not analyse how much of the claimed reduction in costs would actually result from the changes. For example, although plans would no longer need to be submitted with a planning application to the local authority, they may still need to be drawn up for much of the building work arising from the new permitted development rights. The Government's estimated range for the possible savings to applicants, of between £5 million and £100 million annually, is so wide that it does not provide a sound basis for the change. If the realised savings are at the bottom end of the range, there must be a question of whether the changes are worth the disruption. Second, the assessment ignores all costs foregone in lost benefits of leaving the current arrangements unchanged such as increased neighbour disputes or additional costs because of the need to secure Lawful Development Certificates. While Eric Pickles dismissed arguments about the significance of these additional costs as "thin and insubstantial" and Nick Boles said that it would "be a much less onerous duty [...] to go around, after it is built, and check that it is less than four metres and only single storey",[40] neither they nor the impact assessment had any figures to support these contentions. The difficulty of estimating these costs is likely to be on a par with estimating the costs the Government does cite in the impact assessment. We conclude that the impact assessment is inadequate and does not provide a sound basis justifying the proposed changes to permitted development rights for domestic extensions.

21. As to the merits of the change, we go back to our Report on the National Planning Policy Framework published a year ago. As we noted in that Report, the definition of sustainable development was critical to discussions when the Framework was drawn up.[41] The final version states that:

At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking.[42]

In our Report we described sustainable development as a stool resting on the three equal and complementary legs of economic, social and environmental considerations.[43] The Framework itself says that "there are three dimensions to sustainable development: economic, social and environmental".[44] Indeed, Eric Pickles made the point to us during the evidence session on 12 December that he had noticed, when reading planning reports, that "since the presumption in favour of sustainable development, you can actually see that process of looking at the environment, looking at the damage and looking at the economic gain".[45]

22. In reviewing the Government's proposals to extend permitted development rights for domestic extensions we looked for evidence that it has taken account of the three components of sustainable development—economic, social and environmental. The justification for the changes is framed almost exclusively in terms of economic considerations. We found little or no evidence that the Government had considered or addressed the social or environmental impact of the changes. It has ignored the detrimental effects of the change—increased neighbour disputes and any deleterious impact on the quality, design and amenity of the permitted development and the local area. We cannot see why claimed economic advantages for making the changes should without any assessment trump social and environmental arguments against extending the permitted development rights. Such an unbalanced approach could be used to justify any extension of permitted development rights. We regret that the Government has failed to address or evaluate the social and environmental arguments put forward against the proposed changes to permitted development rights for domestic extensions. Its approach has disregarded two of the components of sustainable development: the social and environmental impact.

23. Part of the explanation may be that the Government has placed a time-limit on the relaxation: the changes are for three years. However, the impact of temporary changes to development rights is not temporary. Given that the social and environmental effects of the permitted development on neighbours and on the locality will be permanent we consider that it is inconsistent with the principles of sustainable development to allow a temporary relaxation solely on economic grounds. If the change to permitted development rights is worth making, it should be permanent. If it is not, the change should not be made. The proposed changes need to be subject to a thorough and rigorous examination, which the consultation initiated on 12 November 2012 is not. In his oral evidence on 15 October Nick Boles seemed to indicate that the changes might be made permanent at the end of three years. In addition, when he gave oral evidence on 12 December, Eric Pickles made "it absolutely clear: we are not wedded from going from four to eight metres to three to six metres. We could well consider something a little less than that."[46] Temporary changes can cause confusion and create uncertainty both at the inception of the change and in the period before its conclusion. Given the indication that the changes may be permanent, and that the Government would consider an extension less than doubling the current depth dimensions, we recommend that the Government complete a comprehensive assessment of the social, environmental and economic impact as well as a comprehensive economic assessment, and that it carry out a fresh and extensive consultation with a range of options for change should it decide to make a permanent alteration.

24. We conclude that the case for the changes the Government proposes to permitted development rights for domestic extensions has not been made. We therefore do not agree that in non-protected areas the maximum depth for single-storey rear extensions should be increased to eight metres for detached houses, and six metres for any other type of house.

25. If against our advice the Government should be determined to persist with change (and we consider that it should not) then a number of adjustments need to be made.

  • First, because of the potential impact on areas with a significant number of Houses in Multiple Occupation, there is a strong case for excluding them from the relaxation at least until a thorough impact assessment has been carried out.
  • Second, if the Article 4 mechanism is to provide a viable local exemption from permitted development rights, it will be necessary to remove payment of compensation and to allow local authorities to charge for planning applications falling within Article 4 in cases such as domestic extensions.
  • Third, we recommend that the Government carry out a full review of the impact of the changes at the end of the three year "trial". We recommend (a) that the review includes an independent study, including commissioned research on neighbour disputes and the impact on the quality, design and amenity of the permitted development and on the local area and (b) an invitation to interested parties to submit evidence and (c) that the outcome of the review be published.

40   HC (2012-13) 693-ii, Q 205  Back

41   Eighth Report of Session 2010-12, National Planning Policy Framework, HC 1526, chapter 4  Back

42   DCLG, The National Planning Policy Framework, March 2012, para 14 Back

43   HC (2010-12) 1526, para 161 Back

44   DCLG, The National Planning Policy Framework, March 2012, para 7 Back

45   HC (2012-13) 693-ii, Q 195 Back

46   HC (2012-13) 693-ii, Q 201  Back

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Prepared 20 December 2012