The owners of housing blocks are to be granted new rights to build additional storeys on their properties without planning permission, thanks to a new Government incentive announced by current Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick.
Designed to increase available housing in the UK and boost home ownership, this innovative strategy which is due to get the green light in the summer, appears more likely to provoke lively neighbourhood debates, than general acceptance of a way to achieve much-needed housing.
Owners of a block, will be allowed to build up to two storeys on top of their current property without the designs needing approval from the local planning authority.
Building upwards in this way, has no two-storey limit, but currently requires planning consent, which will assess how well the new design complements and reflects nearby homes, whilst considering the risk of overshadowing neighbours’ properties.
Blocking natural light to windows of surrounding properties, or casting a previously sunny patio in shadow, can halt a project and severe loss of light as might be expected with the addition of many new storeys can also fall foul of right to light legislation, which is separate from planning.
According to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), this new right will help deliver new and bigger homes, whilst increasing housing density in line with local character and making the most of local infrastructure.
Before home-owners and property developers get too excited, the new scheme will apply only to purpose-built blocks of flats and not individual houses.
This scheme was announced as one of a number of measures being considered to help resolve the housing shortage in the UK. Also included, was a consultation on allowing developers to demolish vacant commercial and residential blocks to replace with housing, all without planning consent.
There are some who believe developers will ignore the need to make new units compliant with the national planning policy framework and deliver undersized homes that maximises return on investment.
But this is unlikely to become a building free-for-all and funding could be an issue, given the nature of the properties in question and the likelihood of local disputes with neighbours if the building work is not undertaken sympathetically.
As an alternative lender, providing short-term property finance to developers and property owners, this is certainly a story we will watch develop with interest.
At this stage we would be not be sure whether the development of further storeys on blocks of flats would be considered heavy refurbishment or new development (ground up), but it’s a question to keep our lending team busy, until the scheme comes into effect in the summer.
And of course at this stage we have few real details, so the question of whether semi-commercial properties, with shops at street levels and flats above, would fall into this category is yet to be answered.
But despite the criticism, any innovation that tries to speed up the creation of more housing to address the current shortage should be welcomed, even if it only starts a debate that elicits a better outcome eventually.