Permitted Development rights: out with the old, in with the new (buildings)


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On Tuesday, the Government announced new legislation in a bid to boost the delivery of housing and revitalise town centres. We explain the key changes to the General Permitted Development Order in our latest blog.

The changes, in the form of amendments to the General Permitted Development Order, introduce new permitted development (PD) rights for upwards extensions to existing dwellings and the demolition of existing buildings to be rebuilt as homes.

The change which perhaps creates the greatest opportunity for landowners and developers is the introduction of a new permitted development Class ZA – ‘demolition of buildings and construction of new dwellinghouses in their place’, which comes into force on 31 August 2020. Class ZA will permit any existing detached building, currently in use as a purpose built block of flats or commercial premises within the B1 use class, to be demolished and replaced with a purpose built detached block of flats or a detached dwelling. The rights also cover the various operations associated with the demolition and construction of buildings.

There are however are a raft of restrictions included which set out instances where development is not permitted under Class ZA. Some of the key restrictions include:

  • If land covered by, or within the curtilage of, the old building is or forms part of a listed building or land within its curtilage;
  • If the old building was constructed after 31 December 1989;
  • If the footprint of the old building exceeds 1,000 square metres;
  • If the height of the old building above ground level is greater than 18 metres;
  • If the building has not been vacant for a period of at least 6 months immediately prior to the application for prior approval;
  • If any footprint of the new building falls outside the footprint of the old building; and
  • If the height of the new building would at any point exceed the lower of 7 metres above the height of the old building; or 18 metres.

Development under Class ZA is permitted subject to the developer applying for prior approval from the Local Planning Authority (LPA). A prior approval application allows the LPA to consider the proposals, their likely impacts in regard to certain factors and how these may be mitigated. In the case of Class ZA, prior approval applications will need to have regard to an exhaustive list of matters including transport and highways impacts, contamination, the external appearance and design of the new building, impacts on amenity, heritage impacts and plans for landscaping.

Our view
There is a fine balance when it comes to permitted development rights of this nature and it seems that the Government has sought to provide LPAs with a degree of control, particularly through the prior approval process, to ensure previous mistakes regarding the quality of development created through PD aren’t replicated. However, this may negate the effectiveness of the PD right and how widely it is used. Nevertheless, there are opportunities for landowners to review underutilised assets and take advantage of the opportunities presented. 

These changes intend to support the delivery of housing and facilitate economic growth as we transition into a post Covid-19 world, diversifying opportunities for investment whilst seeking to provide developers with the assurance of a more streamlined planning process. Perhaps an early demonstration of the Government’s broader promise to reform the planning system.

Notwithstanding the obvious economic motivations, the changes further facilitate the redevelopment of underused brownfield sites, supporting the ever growing narrative of developing and densifying previously developed land to encourage more sustainable patterns of development whilst protecting the Green Belt and countryside.

Given the track record of PD, there is the risk these changes could lead to unintended consequences. Such as LPA’s not having the means to sufficiently control design and quality, broader planning implications for town centres as commercial uses are lost, poor residential environments for future residents and an incentive for landowners to keep properties empty. Ultimately the prescriptive prior approval process may somewhat emulate a planning application.

These are certainly the thoughts of professional institutions, including the RTPI, RIBA, RICS and the CIOB, who have jointly penned a letter to Robert Jenrick MP criticising the changes and warning about the potential negative outcomes that may arise.

As is generally the case in planning, the ultimate success or failure of this legislative intervention will become apparent as landowners, developers and LPAs deal with the practical implications for the planning system and built environment.

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Guy Kaddish

Partner, Planning

Guy is head of one of the largest planning teams in Cambridge, and planning representative in our science and technology leaders group.

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