Thursday, 18 November 2010

Headaches for householders

I have fulminated more than once in this blog about the complexities and ambiguities in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO, which sets out the Permitted Development rights for development within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse. Stephen Ibbitson has analysed these provisions in far greater detail than I have had time to do, and has made a brave attempt to make sense of the rules in graphic form on his website However, as Stephen readily acknowledges, even this does not resolve some of the difficulties and uncertainties which the re-writing of Part 1 has thrown up.

I cannot express the frustrations of trying to make sense of Part 1 better than Stephen Ibbitson has done in the note which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce below, and with which I am in entire agreement.

Stephen writes:

The provisions on permitted development within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse are continuing to cause endless difficulties for householders. Since the government published 'guidance' on the new rules (on the Planning Portal),the meaning of its provisions has become even more inconsistent; so much so that its now all but impossible to advise clients what they can and can't do. Interestingly, the areas I identified which were open to interpretation---and clearly flagged up as such in my 3D Guides themselves---have been confirmed by a number of inspectors in the same manner as my own views. At the same time, other inspectors have made conflicting decisions on the same subjects! I have never seen such inconsistency and floundering by PINS in the last 23 years or so I've been involved in the subject. I used to complain to PINS about these (and copy the complaints to Grant Shapps) but they no longer even bother to reply.

The Planning Portal PD guidance document notes (perhaps wisely) that it was drawn up under the previous administration in, it appears, an attempt to distance the coalition from what the guidance is actually saying. To my mind that is a poor excuse - it is still CLG output and officials have provided interpretations which are simply not on all fours with all the consultation evidence used to draft the amendment of the GPDO, let alone the intention to liberalise the householder PD regime. Most notable is the interpretation of 'side elevation' which means that simple, single storey rear extensions on typical 'rear wing' style terraced housing in conservation areas are now barred as PD. Previously (under the original version of the GPDO) they were not even barred in Article 4 areas within conservation areas!

What gets my goat the most about the amended PD is the near contempt displayed by both central and local government about who it’s all for. Householders are treated as though the state is doing them some sort of favour by allowing a piddling little rear extension (where permitted at all). “Be a good little boy and we'll let you have a little bit of what you'd like.” The patronising misanthropy of it all is almost palpable.

When a Victorian terrace, to cite a ubiquitous example, gets a Class B rear dormer extension done, it is common to replace/renew the slates/tiles on the front roof slope at the same time -Class C; it is economic and efficient to do so. It is not uncommon either, when such works are undertaken, to find, and have to replace faulty rafters which have part rotted and/or become worm-infested; a job which, to my certain knowledge, would take a competent carpenter about 3 or 4 hours - a repair, not 'development'. In such a job there is a short time interval, therefore, during which there may be almost no 'roof' left. Yet according to one inspector's construction it would be outside the scope of PD! Why would parliament want that to be the case? It would be absurd, and self-defeating of the purpose of the legislation being there in the first place.

The problem is that appeal decisions get seized upon by LPAs to justify refusals of LDC applications either for something they don't like or just to create a planning application and the fees thereon, thus defeating the whole purpose of PD in the first place. Yes, planning controls are designed to operate in the public interest, but the concept of Permitted Development is part of the public interest equation.

The revised version of Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO has been the complete opposite of the liberalisation trumpeted by Caroline Flint when introducing in 2008. CLG, their private sector consultants and PINS between them have turned Part 1 into a dysfunctional, scrambled mess which the rest of us are now having to live with. Part of this mess is due to the failure of CLG, their consultants, PINS and LPAs to properly understand the basic geometry (floor plans) of our housing stock, particularly how types/styles follow predictable patterns. It should be remembered that Victorian 'pattern books', upon which the bulk of that era's stock was based, invariably used an almost universal floor plan. Behind the vast kaleidoscopic variety of facades, they're basically all much the same. The same is true of inter-war housing - the ubiquitous hip-roofed semi.

This brings me to the vital point that CLG et al are missing a crucial trick: the opportunity to link liberalised PD to 'eco re-furbs' of the existing stock - a matter of acknowledged importance and a subject on which they are floundering. Refurbishment of the existing housing stock is far more important than the tiny handful of zero carbon new builds which won't amount to hill of beans in the big picture.

Way back in the Autumn of 2007, when CLG published their draft provisions for the revised GPDO for consultation, I implored them in my response to take this on board, and to put the potential link between pattern-based refurbishments and PD at the forefront of the amended Part 1. I literally spelt out to them how to do this and how pattern-based measures would fit neatly into the so called 'impact based' system they were trying to devise. Alas, my efforts fell on deaf ears.


Stephen has also commented on the fees payable by householders for those developments which fall outside the PD rights under Part 1, and I propose to publish his further note in a future post in a day or two’s time.

[An anonymous contributor has kindly drawn my attention to another source of help on the GPDO and other planning legislation. This is a website compiled by Steve Speed which can be found at It includes some comments on the ambiguities found in Part 1, and analyses the relevant appeal decisions which have been issued by PINS. This is all part of the growing consensus among planning professionals that Part 1 is in dire need of overhaul. The current anomalies, ambiguities and downright silliness of some of the resulting interpretations of Part 1 cannot be allowed to continue. Ministers must get to grips with the problem as a matter of urgency. MHG]

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