The government is due to look again at permitted development rights to allow property owners to extend buildings upwards to create new homes and increase housing density.

The proposals were announced by the Housing Secretary James Brokenshire at the Conservative Party Conference and then swiftly confirmed new housing measures issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Governments. The measures could apply to existing blocks of flats, shops and offices.

Are such ‘upwards extensions’ without planning permission an easy win to deliver new homes?

Additional new homes are already being brought forward using the airspace above existing buildings and approved through the planning application process. The introduction of a permitted development right to further support the creation of additional new homes above certain existing buildings in high streets and town centres. English urban areas are relatively low-density by international standards, and there is now an opportunity to consider that good design means also that high density does not have to be the same as tall buildings and high-rise, but could be achieved with clever sympathetic additions to existing buildings.

Responding to the PDR announcement, RIBA president Ben Derbyshire warned of the potential for poor-quality schemes to be built. He said: “It has become clear the permitted development of offices to residential housing has led to terrible homes. The government’s consultation on commercial property and upward development must avoid a repeat of these failings by ensuring proper oversight of projects.

New homes on existing blocks of flats should still be subject to minimum space and amenity standards. There can be no excuse to create a system where an extension to a building will provide sub-standard homes. Nevertheless, it is extremely important that existing residents are safeguarded by careful consideration of the impacts of new floorspace. Impacts normally assessed by planning applications would still need to be considered in the prior approval process. Issues such as overlooking, overshadowing and daylight/sunlight impacts would need to be considered with detailed reports submitted to the council to check that the proposals are acceptable.

As architects, we are confident that with or without the need for a planning application, property owners wouldn’t want to blight their property value with a devaluing ugly extension. It is still crucial to ensure design quality that the upwards-only extension fits in architecturally with the existing host building and with the client’s needs and project aspirations.




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