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NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT IN LONDON

The government has recently finished consulting on planning reform to support the high street and increase the delivery of new homes that could have a significant impact on the UK property market. New permitted development rights could allow greater flexibility for change of use and use the airspace above existing buildings for additional new homes and extensions. A new right could also allow for the demolition of existing commercial buildings and their redevelopment as residential. The outcome of the consultation is expected later in 2019. Here we consider what these changes could mean to property developers.

Proposals would allow upward extensions of some existing buildings for housing without planning permission. At this stage there is a lot of ambiguity and a number of ideas have been consulted on; these include being able to increase the overall height of buildings by up to 5 storeys from ground level if other buildings within the terrace are taller. Alternatively, there could be a cap on height relative to the local area (up to 5 storeys above ground.) In some instances this could provide a significant uplift on many typical 2-3 storey blocks where adjoining buildings are significantly taller.

If current office to residential permitted development legislation is anything to go by; it is unlikely that there will be any space standard restrictions on residential units (unlike national policy which requires a 1 bed unit to be 50 sqm minimum). This creates a huge opportunity to maximise the number of dwelling and address the shortage of affordable housing. Small homes need not be poor quality homes. There are numerous examples of well designed micro-homes (20-40 sqm). Similar policies have been successfully implemented in some of Europe’s most densely populated cities such as Paris and Barcelona.

There will be a number of factors with this type of submission, this list is by no means conclusive but considerations include:

  1. Unlikely that conservation areas will be included – many high streets are part of conservation areas so unlikely to fall within this new legislation if it is brought forward.
  2. Consider the existing use and mixture of units in the area – including the height of adjoining buildings in the terrace. The use of the existing building at lower levels if retained, may have an impact on any conversion; particularly if occupants of those uses are under long tenancies.
  3. Structurally the building will have to be in a position to take additional levels; early engagement with a structural engineer is likely to be key and you may want to undertake some early investigations including trial holes to establish existing depth of foundations. There may be alternative ways to overcome this; including timber frame or modular units but this would be dependent on the outcome of the structural investigations.
  4. Fire and escape provisions to meet compliance may involve some significant changes to the existing layout or additional fire engineering strategies to be adopted. A lot of this will depend on the nature of the existing access and egress points.
  5. 5. The existing use of adjoining buildings may also be deemed too noisy to have residential units close by; seek out blocks that have some residential in and around them if buying above shops and offices if possible
  6. Party wall matters will be inevitable if properties are mid terrace, understand the number of stake holders of neighbouring units and the implications of this relative to what you are trying to achieve.
  7. Parking and proximity to local transport services; some parking allowance is likely to help with any highway considerations that may be imposed.
  8. Raising units may lead to an increase in risk in relation to rights to light claims, rights to light legislation sits outside of the remit of planning but you should not neglect this when considering raising the height of a unit as you may need to factor in the offset of this financially.

Ultimately; the full scope of these new changes will not be known till later in the year; and with details limited, any decisions made on purchasing what may be considered to be suitable units would be done so at risk. If this approach is one that you are considering then you may wish to consider if it works for you commercially irrespective of any future permitted development legislation that may be introduced.

You can access the full consultation document here.

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