Interested parties have until mid April to return comments on a new proposal that would allow permitted development of up to two extra floors, on a range of buildings across London.
The idea is to make it easier to build up, reducing the pressure to build out as London struggles with housing supply. And the DCLG consultation suggests this could be created by putting in place a permitted development right, local development orders, or new London Plan policies.
“These three proposals could help increase housing delivery through upward extensions,” says the document. “They are not mutually exclusive, and have the potential to work together to provide certainty and promote building upwards to help meet the challenge of providing more homes in London.”
Analysis of official data suggests that in recent years, additional storeys have only delivered 400 new homes, or less than 2% of supply since 2008. Making it easier could encourage more such projects, it is suggested.
The idea is that extra floors could potentially be added to residential, retail and office buildings. For buildings in conservation areas, an additional prior approval would be needed, to ensure impacts were minimised.
One thrust is to encourage infill, with the idea that the right “would apply to premises within a single terrace, where the premises at either end of the terrace have a higher roofline than the rest of the terrace.” This also opens up the possibility of a whole street adding a floor, if premises at both ends are taller. The two storey limit is considered “appropriate”, but boroughs could always decide if further floors were appropriate in certain locations.
The consultation points out that, though permitted development rights would remove any upwards extension from the planning regime, there would still be other administrative hurdles. Building regulations would need to be met, while negotiations with adjacent neighbours under the Party Wall Act would have to be completed satisfactorily.
Permitted development rights could allow for up to two additional storeys to be added, to match an adjoining roofline; the additional space would need to be used for self-contained units. An accompanying “neighbour consultation scheme”, similar to that already in place for larger rear extensions, would be used.
Alternatively, a local development order would allow a borough to approve the extensions in a particular zone, street or area. It could take account of local plan policies, transport and highways impacts.
The third option, of including the proposals in the London Plan, would mean local authorities would still need to rubber stamp a planning application.
LPA Perspective: Will the proposed change launch a loft building bonanza, as Londoners switch their attentions from basement excavations? The wording seems to be limited to only providing additional separate residential units, not simply a master suite on the top floor.
Will this initiative deliver much more space? On some buildings perhaps, but certainly not for all. Once the loss of space from an additional staircase is factored in, plus the need to adhere to fire regulations and structural requirements when adding an extra floor, such projects can sometimes turn out to be too expensive to be worthwhile.
However, in central London, planners are not unused to handling applications to refurbish residential blocks, adding a further storey. In Westminster, this sort of proposal is a fairly regular occurence. It brings with it issues around daylight, and worries around the corralling of wind, overlooking and a reduction in street views.
But designed and delivered appropriately, it can simply add more flats to the top of an existing footprint, without causing grief for neighbours or adding an unsightly architectural blot on the landcape. That would be an efficient use of existing resources.
And planners often find themselves impotent, worrying about precedent in a street where neighbouring properties have already seen the addition of a further storey. In such instances, the proposals would effectively remove the need for hand-wringing by planning committee members.