The current "permitted development" legislation for householders (Part 1 of the GPDO, as amended on 01/10/2008), contains a very significant level of ambiguities.  For example, even almost 2 years after the legislation came into force, there is still no correct answer to a number of very basic questions, such as “can I replace my timber windows with UPVC windows?”, or “is a single storey rear extension with a flat roof limited in height to 3m or 4m?”, or "how close can an outbuilding be to a house?".

Furthermore, the legislation is far too permissive in some respects, and yet far too restrictive in others.  For example, it is permitted for a house to install a full-width rear dormer, despite the fact that most people find this type of development very ugly, and yet it is not permitted to install a normal rooflight (i.e. clear glass and opening) on a side roofslope, despite the fact that very few people would object to this type of development.

Ideological arguments as to whether the legislation should be "more permissive" or "more restrictive", as if the answer is either one or the other, miss the point.  The key point is that the overall “quality” of the legislation needs to be improved.  It is a secondary point that this would involve making the legislation more permissive in some parts and more restrictive in others.


1 – Above all, the legislation needs to be unambiguous and clear, not only to planning officers, but also to members of the public.  It is unacceptable that people will be subject to enforcement action because they have wrongly interpreted ambiguous and unclear legislation, including phrases such as “so far as practicable” and “of a similar appearance”.

• The legislation must not prevent acceptable development for artificial reasons.  For example, it is unacceptable that the owner of a house that has been converted into two flats must apply for permission from the Council to change their front door.  Councils must accept that they should not be allowed to control development unless there is a good reason to do so.

• The legislation must not allow unacceptable development for the sake of the “ideal” of being “more permissive”.  For example, it is unacceptable that a hip-to-gable extension can be constructed on a semi-detached property, even though it will destroy the appearance of the pair of properties.  Developers must accept that there are a number of situations in which there are good reasons for Councils to control development.

Why is this idea important?


• The legislation must not assume that every property is a two-storey house, with four walls in a simple square shape, with the same building lines as its neighbours, on level ground, etc.  For every section of permitted development legislation, other situations must be examined, such as the following main examples:

Different types of property – e.g. houses, houses converted into flats, purpose-built flats which look like houses, purpose-built flats which look like blocks of flats, flats above commercial properties within shopping parades, etc.
Different numbers of storeys – e.g. bungalows, properties with original roof dormers, properties with semi-basement levels, properties with half-level changes between the front and rear, properties with original single storey projections, etc.
Different positions – e.g. properties on a corner with two highways, properties turned so that the main architectural elevation does not front a highway, properties built further forward or behind the building lines of their neighbouring properties, properties built at right-angles to their neighbouring properties, etc.
Different shapes – e.g. properties with two-storey rear projections, properties with slightly stepped elevations, properties on triangular corner plots, properties with more or less than 4 main walls, etc.
Different levels – e.g. properties on ground that slopes from front to back, properties on ground that slopes from side to side (i.e. with higher and lower neighbouring properties), etc.
Different from original – e.g. properties which already have extensions, properties that have already changed some or all of their original materials (including the rendering of brickwork), etc.

• In an ideal world, the legislation would be short and concise.  However, it is important to accept that, in reality, this is not practical.  For example, it is not possible to reduce the rules for a single storey extension into a list of (say) 5 items, and still ensure that all such extensions will be acceptable in terms of appearance and neighbour impact for all of the above situations (e.g. different types, heights, positions, shapes, levels, etc, of property).  The most important aim is for the legislation to be clear and unambiguous, and the second most important aim is for the legislation to allow acceptable development and prevent unacceptable development.  Neither of these aims should be sacrificed for the sake of producing a short and concise document.

• It needs to be accepted that the legislation should be separated into more Classes.  For example, it makes no sense that a person wishing to change a door must read through the entire Class A, which makes no mention of the word “door”, trying to work out which of the limitations and conditions would be relevant to a door.  The legislation would work better with more Classes, as this would allow the heading, limitations, and conditions of each Class to be more specific to the particular type of development.  As an example, no-one would suggest that ground floor extensions should be recombined into a joint Class with roof extensions (as they previously were) – similarly some of the current Classes, such as Class A which combines ground floor extensions with windows and doors, should be split into separate Classes.

• The legislation must not come into force without associated definitions and an associated guidance document.  For each Class of the legislation, the associated guidance document should contain illustrations of what is permitted, illustrations of what is not permitted, and a list of answers to predicted frequently asked questions.

• Following the introduction of the legislation, it is vital that regular reviews are carried out.  Where questions of interpretation arise that were not previously predicted, the associated guidance document should be updated to add answers to these questions.  Where it is found, for example by the Planning Inspectorate or by the courts, that the legislation can be interpreted in a way that is different from what was intended, then the legislation should be updated to correct these mistakes.  It is not acceptable for legislation to be introduced that is found to allow development with an unacceptable appearance or neighbour impact, and then for such mistakes to be allowed to continue for 10-20 years until the next major review, during which time significant amounts of such unacceptable development might be constructed.

• The production of this type of legislation needs to be reviewed.  The current Part 1 of the GPDO, as amended on 01/10/2008, took over 7 years to produce, involved significant amounts of financial resources, was subject to a number of stages of public consultation, and presumably involved a number of stages of checking.  And yet the end result was a piece of legislation that contains a significant number of ambiguities, and which has been highly criticised across the board by Councils, agents, and members of the public.  Any future review of permitted development legislation must involve people with a high level of experience of the legislation, as we must be careful not to allow a knee-jerk reaction to poor quality legislation to simply result in it being replaced by another piece of poor quality legislation.

One Reply to “PLANNING – Permitted Development (Part 1 of the GPDO) …”

  1. There should be restrictions on dormer windows that overlook neighbouring houses and bungalows as they are within permitted development at the present time. They are not only unsightly but take away privacy from homes and gardens and are far more invasive than a first floor window.

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