Permitted development rule changes throw caution to the wind

Permitted development rights will allow two additional storeys to be added to your home

In a surprising announcement that included restrictions on the ability of local councils to prevent unwanted or unsightly development, the government has made changes to the rules around permitted development.

From 31st August 2020:

  • It will be possible for existing commercial and residential buildings to be demolished and new homes built in their place, following a simplified process of prior approval.
  • Homeowners will be allowed to build more bedrooms or flats above their property – up to an additional two storeys – without the need for full planning permission.
Demolition of existing commercial and residential buildings

Under the new permitted development rule changes, property developers will be able to demolish existing unused commercial and residential properties and build residential properties in their place.

Buildings that fall under the new rules must have been vacant for at least six months prior to an application for prior approval. They must also be built before 1990 and have a footprint smaller than 1,000 sq m and be less than 18 metres in height. Buildings within conservation areas, sites of specific scientific interest (SSSI), national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty must still go through the full planning process.

Once prior approval is given, the new building can be up to two storeys higher than the original building, as long as it remains below 18 metres in height. In line with the full planning approval process, all the work must be completed within three years from the date of prior approval.

The government’s aim is to quickly repurpose redundant spaces within town centres and High Streets under the scheme.

Upward extension of existing homes

The new permitted development rule will allow existing properties to be increased by one storey for single storey properties and up to two storeys for properties with two or more existing storeys. The existing buildings can be flats or houses but any additional storeys must be flats.

To be eligible, the building must have been constructed between 1st July 1948 (the date on which the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 came into force)and 5th March 2018 (the date on which the introduction of a permitted development right to build upwards was first announced).

Both detached and adjoined homes, including terraces, are included but the new build must be on the main part of the building and below 18 metres in height and terraced properties cannot be over 3.5 metres taller than the next tallest in the terrace. Buildings that have already been extended upwards, or are listed or within an SSSI, must go through the existing planning application process.


The government’s last attempt to repurpose disused property by amending permitted development was not wholly successful. The amendments allowed commercial buildings to be converted into residential housing but resulted in the failure of some developers to provide homes that met national standards. Some of the ‘flats’ created had no windows and did not meet minimum space standards.

The new permitted development rule changes will make it difficult for anyone to challenge or prevent the building of unsightly or inappropriately sized extensions. While the move ‘cuts out unnecessary bureaucracy’, the deregulation of council powers could lead to local people having little or no say in changes made within their neighbourhood.

The character of some neighbourhoods could be altered beyond recognition and the Royal Institution of British Architects has said it could be damaging for the planning system.

RIBA president, Alan Jones, described the extension as ‘truly disgraceful’ and said: “there is no evidence that the planning system is to blame for the shortage of housing and plenty to suggest that leaving local communities powerless in the face of developers seeking short-term returns will lead to poor results”.

As spokesman for the Local Government Association, David Renard, put it: “It risks giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas with communities having no way of ensuring they meet high quality standards, provide any affordable homes, or ensure roads schools and health services are in place.”

Providing additional space to make room for growing or multi-generational families could well help the government in its target to provide additional housing, but this must surely be balanced by a consideration for the appearance of the building and area, and the impact it will have on neighbours. Simply reducing the powers of local council authorities to ensure that buildings are safe and built for purpose could ultimately affect the health and wellbeing of future occupiers and neighbours alike.