Planning law relaxations – can you take advantage?

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Relaxation in certain planning restrictions have been announced (but not yet enacted) by the Government.

Permitted development rights – the ability to extend existing buildings without planning permission – for both residential and commercial properties will be extended. The government hopes to raise activity in the construction sector.

Homeowners will be able to build single storey extensions at the back of their properties up to 8 metres deep without requiring formal planning consent, double the current 4 metres. Commercial premises will be able to extend by 100sqm for shops and 200sqm for industrial units. Councils may be given the power to restrict both these relaxations in conservation areas.

Separately, from October up to two flats can be created above a shop without planning consent. The current maximum is one. Remarkably this change, which will likely have greater effect and is permanent, was announced without fanfare. Owners of mixed (residential over commercial) premises may well be able to generate higher returns on existing premises.

There will be no change to building regulations, which would apply to almost any extension, and there is no change to the separate protection given to listed buildings. Further, some buildings have a condition on their original planning consents that no permitted development rights apply, and so cannot be extended

Leasehold owners should always check that there is no restriction on their development in the lease. It is unusual in any but the longest leases for the landlord not to retain some degree of control over the development of their building. The proposed planning changes do not alter that.

Relaxed planning laws do not automatically relax any restrictive covenants on a freeholder’s title either. Many properties, especially on newer developments, have a number of covenants in favour of neighbours which might prohibit these works.

Neighbours may even have a right to light or air that the development would impede, though this is unlikely with a single-storey development. Putting a second flat into a building may mean that fire and asbestos documents need updating. Finally, it goes without saying that you will not be able to build beyond the boundaries of the land you own. If the proposals are implemented, then, homeowners and businesses alike still need to take proper advice from their lawyers, surveyors and architects when contemplating an extension.

Slee Blackwell Solicitors have experienced specialists available for both commercial and residential property, and work closely with professionals of other disciplines in the South West.