George Clarke’s recent Council House Scandal on Channel 4 highlighted an office block in Harlow that had been converted into tiny flats, using Permitted Development Rights (PDR); in other words, no planning permission was required.
One of the more extreme recent examples of PDR was in Watford where a single-storey industrial building is being converted into 15 “homes” of which seven have no windows. The flats will range in size from 16.5 to 21 square metres. There’s no parking at the scheme and residents will not be allowed to apply for a residents’ parking permit.
Watford Council sought to block the conversion, noting that the flats “would not provide any meaningful outlook, daylight or even appropriate ventilation”, and that the upper floors “would have no means of escape in case of fire” and that “the oppressive environment” would have “a serious impact on the health of future occupiers”.
But a government-appointed planning inspector allowed the scheme to go ahead, arguing that none of the council’s objections were relevant to PDR.
“I recognise that the proposed units are small” he said, “and that, for example, living withouta window would not be a positive living environment” but the creation of “cramped living environments with poor outlook and the lack of windows” was irrelevant because the PDR made no mention of these matters.
So, PDRs are allowing homes to be created that are cramped, unsafe and basically unliveable. In the centenary year of the Addison Act, which set out generous space standards for new homes, we seem to be heading back to the 19th century.
It’s worth rehearsing how this appalling situation has come about.
Since 2013 the government has sought to liberalise planning laws to encourage the use of empty buildings and stimulate the construction sector. This started when homeowners were given greater freedoms to build house extensions. This was followed by PDR for taller mobile masts, click and collect services in shops, and suchlike. It’s now been extended to a wider range of developments.
For planning purposes, properties are categorised into four main classes: