I have spent the last week or so working as the planning expert for Grand Designs Live at the London ExCeL. I hope the week has been a productive one for those who have visited and with regard to the many people that I have discussed planning with there appears to be a consistent theme with regard to small scale development and or the development of new build dwellings. As such I provide commentary on the 5 most common points of discussion below for the benefit of consideration for ongoing householder or small scale projects.
1) Householder Development: Permitted Development or Planning
There appears to be a running theme of attempting to take advantage of Permitted Development Rights as opposed to the submission of householder planning applications. On discussion the predominant concern with a Householder Planning Application is the whole idea of the application process, but in particular the likelihood of resistance from the local authority or objections from neighbours. Whilst this is understandable, I have made a number of points in relation to the inflexibility of Permitted Development Rights and played down a number of concerns in relation to the householder application process. You must remember that Permitted Development and Householder Planning Applications sit under two statutory instruments and as such they are looked at in completely different ways. Permitted Development with regard to householder applications provides an advantage with regard to a lack of consultation with the local authority in certain circumstances however this comes at a cost; namely an inflexibility with regard to the amount of development and the type of development that can be done. This often leads to extremely compromised spaces or unsatisfactory design quality, purely on the basis of attempting to avoid any discussion with local authorities. There is a requirement in any instance above certain thresholds to request an opinion of prior approval from a local authority which to a certain level defeats the purpose of the point and as such I have consistently eased fears with regards to the approach local authorities would take in regard to Householder Planning Applications.
The vast majority of the time where proposed extensions have been put in front of me this week they have made common sense and as such in most cases little resistance could be expected from the local authority in terms of there implementation. It is clear to me then that whilst Permitted Development is useful in some circumstances this should not come at the expense of encouraging householders to undertake the application process for the benefit of delivery of more considered and higher quality design. It may therefore be up to local authorities to ease fears locally with regard to their internal processing and decision making with regard to the small scale developments.
2) Custom / Self Build
The exhibition clearly provides significant enthusiasm towards prefabricated development and development that facilitates the delivery of custom and or self build properties which in turn fit hand in glove with custom and self build legislation that first appeared in 2016 and subsequently evolved into 2017. In principle I concur that the delivery of custom and self build development is important both in regard to the aesthetic variety such development provides to areas but also to incrementally improve the standards of energy efficiency and technologies associated with this type of development. It should be noted however that one of the key themes of my discussions over the course of the week has been the expectation from clients that because they intend to undertake a custom / self build development they will automatically be in a position whereby the local authority will support such a scheme. To be clear whilst the previous white papers provided a legislative underpinning of the legitimacy of the custom and self build markets there is at the minute nonetheless a lack of graspable policy that can be used to offset any particular resistance a local planning authority may have with regard to the development or the site on which it is located. As such whilst the custom / self build element should be considered a material consideration of some weight; where planning balance needs to be found to support an application nonetheless at the minute the policy position does not provide an ability for the weight to significantly outweigh any other policy position with regards to the site’s designation or potential impacts upon surrounding receptors. As such whilst I fully support the custom and self build growth and trust that at some point appropriate development management policy will appear to underpin the movement, it is important to note that at the present time it is not a theme from which to base the narrative of a planning argument at the expense of another.
3) Passivehaus and Paragraph 55
The exhibition has presented a number of high quality and alternative solutions with regard to the delivery of energy efficient and modern building construction methods which have as a result brought the issue of NPPF paragraph 55 back to the front and centre with regard to discussion of building outside of settlement boundaries and within designated countryside land. My position on paragraph 55 and how it should be interpreted at the present time is predominantly influenced by an appeal decision of March 2017 in relation to an application made to Rochford District Council (Appeal Decision 3159712) which at this time best surmises the consideration of what constitutes the phrase “truly outstanding or innovative” as defined by paragraph 55. The conclusion is that as paragraph 55 provides an ever rising standard which must be met as the architectural principles and credentials with individual sites creates an ever rising benchmark, it is such that a number of technologies and principles that upon implementation of the NPPF in 2012 would have been acceptable under paragraph 55 no longer meet the current benchmark. The most predominant consideration of this is the Passivhaus movement for which at one point a truly Passivhaus would in most cases have met the definition of paragraph 55 development. However as noted in paragraph 13 of the decision whilst the standard should be encouraged in energy efficiency terms it is too common place in 2017 to be any longer considered rare and as such in themselves can no longer be described as truly innovative.
The point raised is that whilst Passivhaus principles should be applauded and any implementation should be greatly encouraged, that alone does not provide the mechanism for which to accord with the principles of paragraph 55 in NPPF terms in 2017. As such development that looks to take place in the Open Countryside and wishes to base a case not upon planning balance but instead upon the interpretation of paragraph 55 can be expected to be in receipt of a decision that is unlikely to be favourable for the most part unless the design is completely bespoke in its nature.
4) Developing Outside of Settlement Boundaries
Developing outside of settlements and as such in the Open Countryside or another designated or protected parcel of land requires a demonstration that material considerations have been provided to outweigh the lack of accordance with the Development Plan. It is the fact that in most cases development that takes places outside of a settlement boundary starts from a position of inappropriateness in Development Plan terms. As such material considerations need to be developed to outweigh harm that can be prescribed to the inappropriateness. I draw your attention to a short video found upon the NextPhase website that further discusses matters in relation to planning balance.
5) Lack of 5 Year Housing Supply in relation to Small Scale Development
A common theme in discussing potential applications with prospective applicants at the exhibition with regard to building on Greenfield land was the fact that their local authority did not have an existing 5 year housing supply. Whilst the principles of the lack of a robust 5 year housing supply and its relationship to paragraph 14 of the NPPF is clear, it is also important to remember in individualised terms that a demonstration of lack of harm to the surrounding environment needs to be identified before paragraph 14 kicks in in any instance. It is unlikely that a single dwelling built in the Open Countryside can demonstrate that it will not cause any harm to the surrounding countryside that is sufficient to outweigh bullet points associated with paragraph 14 where no significant housing supply can be identified. As such whilst the lack of appropriate housing should be an important material consideration within a collective identification of material considerations to support an argument in planning balance, the implementation of paragraph 14 with regard to an individual dwelling simply cannot carry the same material weight to outweigh the impacts to environmental harm as a major application for a significantly higher volume of housing.
For further information on any of the themes above or any other questions in relation to planning please feel free to contact one of our planning officers.
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MRICS BSc (Hons) RICS Accredited Expert Witness
NextPhase Development Ltd.