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Permitted development controversy

2 August 2019

"Presently, decision makers hands’ are tied and prior approvals only need to pass the required tests above to be considered acceptable."

Watford Borough Council, Town Hall Building. Image: Google

Earlier this month, a controversial conversion of a light industrial building (B1c) to residential (C3) under permitted development rights was granted at appeal, despite seven of the flats lacking windows and the planning inspector acknowledging that the units provided would be small.

The inspector’s conclusion overturned Watford Borough Council’s original decision, made in December 2018, when a change of use application which sought permission to alter a site the town centre from light industrial to “bed-sit/studio accommodation”.

In his final paragraph, the inspector concluded that “Overall, I recognise that the proposed units are small and that, for example, living without a window would not be a positive living environment. However, the provisions of the GPDO [General Permitted Development Order] 2015 require the decision makers to solely assess the impact of the proposed development in relation to the conditions given in paragraph PA.2.

The conditions to which the inspector refers set out in the GDPO 2015 (as amended) are as follows:

  • Transport and highways impacts of the development;
  • Contamination risk in relation to the building;
  • Flooding risks in relation to the building; and
  • Where the authority considers the building to which the development relates is within an area that is important for providing industrial services or storage or distribution services or a mix of those services (which includes, where, the development relates to part of a building, services provided from any other part of the building), whether the introduction of, or an increase in, a residential use of premises in the area would have an adverse impact on the sustainability of the provision of those services.

Presently, decision makers hands’ are tied and prior approvals only need to pass the required tests above to be considered acceptable. Consequently, the standard of accommodation provided is not a determining factor. What this latest appeal decision does is highlight a need to provide a balance between complying with the necessary tests and the sensitive need to provide suitable housing, helping to bring a subjective element to permitted development rights.

However, whilst bringing in additional tests that applicants must pass makes for a more robust process, it would increase the burden on developers by adding time and costs, undermining the original policy objective underpinning permitted development rights, i.e. speeding up the delivery new homes. However, in order to provide quality residential units that are needed for current and future generations, some sort of quality control mechanism needs to be added.

Following the decision, the Mayor of Watford wrote to the Secretary of State to say that the Council would be looking at options – including building regulations – to overcome the inspector’s verdict.

Whilst the current permitted development rights remain in their current form, there may be more decisions similar to this latest appeal, which may prompt further calls for the rights to be amended.