Landlords in Kent and south east London look set to benefit from changes to Permitted Development Rights.

As the government looks to boost the economy to aid recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, two changes are imminent.

As of 1 August 2020, it will be far easier to gain approval for an extension of up two storeys to an existing block of residential flats.

Later this year, a secondary change will introduce similar provision for owners of detached and semi-detached homes, they too will be able to add two storeys to their property as long as certain criteria are met.

The secondary change will benefit those who need extra space for a growing family but are either unable or unwilling to move home. We will focus on this change in a future post.

However, the fast-tracking of development on residential blocks of flats may have a more profound impact by significantly increasing the region’s available housing stock.

Known as airspace development, the process of building on top of existing buildings has long been championed by central government - it has been mentioned in a past Government White Paper and also Written Statement.

In the White Paper entitled ‘fixing our broken housing market’ the government had this to say of airspace development:

“It is important that development uses the space that is available efficiently, and avoids building at low densities especially in areas of high demand such as London. The Government recognises that one of the ways to achieve this is to build up rather than build out, using the space above existing buildings to create new homes.”

However, the timing of the change has still caught many by surprise and there is a suspicion among many developers that the change to PDR has been somewhat rushed through in a bid to help kickstart the economy.

Planning Changes - Still Room For Interpretation

Whatever the reasoning, it is landlords and property owners in Kent and south east London who could benefit more than most.

In both areas it can be hard to find sites for new developments, this of course increasingly true the closer to central London we consider. Both areas also have property prices well above the national average - an ability to add extra dwellings to a property without altering its footprint could be extremely profitable to both landlord and developer alike.

It is though worth noting that the upcoming change still provides councils and planning officers some room to be subjective when considering proposals. The balance may have shifted towards the fast-tracking of developments but there may still be hurdles to be overcome. It will be interesting to see how different local authorities interpret the changes.

The criteria can be divided into those items that are fact based and those which are subjective - we will run through some key criteria below.

Fact-based criteria

To be eligible for a two-storey extension without the need for full planning approval, the project must:

- Be on a building that is at least three storeys in height.

- Create a finished build that is no more than 30 metres in height.

- Be undertaken on a building built between July 1948 and March 2018.

- Be an addition to a block of flats - it cannot be an addition of residential units on top of commercial premises.

- The floor-to-ceiling height of the new storeys cannot be more than three metres in height.

- On staggered builds, i.e. those which have parts of the overall build that are lower than others, the new storeys must be added to the higher part of the build. The development cannot be used to ‘fill in’ the property.

- The location of the build, specifically it cannot be close to an airfield.

Those conditions will be easy to tick off for any development, but nuance remains with others, specifically.

Subjective Criteria

The planning authority will consider:

- The impact of the development on local transport.

- Whether there will be adequate sunlight provision for the new dwellings.

- The external appearance of the finished development.

- Whether the completed build would impact upon a protected view.

- The impact the development would have both on existing residents of the building and also those in neighbouring buildings.

Given there remain these subjective criteria, it could be argued that the key change is to transfer the onus from developer to planning authority, to switch the balance so that a project gains approval unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise.

The hope will also be to fast track the process, airspace developers have in the past suggested that it can take two years to gain approval, that could now be cut to months, if not weeks.

Benefits for Landlords - And Existing Tenants

For people looking for affordable accommodation, there are clear benefits to be had from this change - the available housing stock in high-demand areas is likely to increase.

There are, though, also further benefits.

For the property freeholder there will be new dwellings to be sold or let, but this is not at the expense of those already occupying the property. The new development will see existing problems addressed as part of the build - the most obvious being a new roof.

On their website, airspace developers Click Above detail how they were able to install a new roof on a property that had previously required £700,000 in repairs - this would have cost residents in excess of £15,000 each.

Communal areas are also improved, for instance the lifts, storage and bins and any outside space. Cladding, of course an area of huge concern since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, can also be addressed as part of any airspace development - potentially dangerous cladding removed or replaced.

In many cases, the value of existing properties also increase, this because of the work done to improve the building overall.

A further, final selling point for existing residents is that many airspace developers are able to undertake much of the build off-site, building elements which are then simply installed on site.

With approval from central government, fast-tracking of approval and benefits for developer, landlord and residents alike, it looks as if the sight of buildings being extended upwards could be increasingly common around Kent and south east.

For local property owners, things could be looking up.