Building up under permitted development rights has hidden impacts

Home Building Fund graphic
The government’s multi-billion pound Home Building Fund will part finance the scheme

Five properties in London will house 38 new rooftop homes later this year. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has confirmed the modular homes will mainly be built off site then, to mitigate disturbance to current residents, the homes will be winched into place on top of existing buildings by crane.

The government’s revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published in 2018, advised that planning policies and decisions should “support opportunities to use the airspace above existing residential and commercial premises for new homes”.

Homes England has agreed £9 million of funding with Apex Airspace Developments, which will eventually deliver 78 rooftop homes in Tooting, Putney, Wallington, Walthamstow and Wanstead, under a three year deal. The project is being funded from the Government’s £4.5 billion Home Building Fund, and Homes England said that all homes would be priced below the Help to Buy threshold. 

In 2016, Apex identified 14.5 million square metres of potential space in London where up to 180,000 new homes could be delivered. It offers freeholders a ‘significant financial payment’, and the opportunity to increase income from ground rent with improvements to the roof fabric and a reduction in property maintenance – a practice described by Henry Smith, projects and policy manager at the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), as a ‘give away to the private sector’.

However, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has voiced concerns over the use of Permitted Development Rights (PDR), saying that rooftop development exploits a loophole in planning law. The RTPI is now campaigning against PDR and last month signed an open letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, warning that the use of permitted development rights for upward extensions could put quality and affordability at risk.

Instead, the RTPI believes that the use of PDR should be limited to simple and minor changes to property and the delivery of large scale new home developments should be made through the local planning process and subject to full local planning scrutiny. Using research from Shelter and the LGA, the RTPI concluded that 10,000 affordable homes had potentially been lost over the last three years where PDR had been used to convert office space into residential homes.

The RTPI has warned that PDRs carry financial implications for local authorities which would be unable to collect planning fees and developer contributions for affordable housing and infrastructure, as contributions to affordable housing and local services such as schools and open spaces, are not required under PDR.

The TCPA said: “Considering that large sums of public finance are being used to deliver these proposals, it is odd that the homes would not be required to contribute at all to help support underfunded local services.”

If you’re buying a rooftop modular home, ask a Chartered Surveyor to provide you with a Building Survey to ensure the property has been built to current Building Regulations and provide you with a report detailing the structural condition of your new property.

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