I hate to say it but London is suffering an existential crisis. There are just not enough new homes being constructed to accommodate the growing population or even make a dent in the housing crisis.
In order to ensure that growth is accommodated throughout the built areas of London, the government have proposed relaxing planning regulations, and in particular, building upwards rather than outwards.
This article is going to summarise the main points of ‘building up’: what it is and what it means for you.
We’ll touch on the political backdrop of building up and the hope for future change.
We’ll also explore the good (design), the bad (design) and the ugly (planning) to discover how building up can be beneficial.
And in the end, we will briefly touch on some key points to consider if you’re looking to pursue your own upward extension.
HM government have suggested that, through the extension of existing properties and the development of current brownfield sites, the housing market could flourish. Building up has been suggested by a number of politicians in the past few months, including Philip Hammond. Former housing secretary, Sajid Javid, announced via a press release in February that the government will back the effort to build upwards, enabling current householders to open up additional space.
According to the press release, an additional two storeys could be built on top of existing properties. In July of 2018, this new policy was integrated into the updated version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which urges councils to “allow upward extensions where the development would be consistent with the prevailing height and form of neighbouring properties.”
Going one step further at the Conservative Party conference on 1st October 2018, Current Housing Secretary James Brokenshire publicly announced that the government will consult on a proposed plan to institute a permitted development right for upward extensions. In a 1st October press release from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the department doubled down on Brokenshire’s statement, announcing its intention to: expedite the planning system, “make better use of land and vacant buildings”, and facilitate upward extensions on shops, offices and blocks of flats.
Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard harbingers of this sort. In 2016, the government made a similar gesture, proposing three options that would allow developers and homeowners to build upward. In “Consultation on upward extensions in London”, a document compiled by the Department for Communities and Local Government and Mayor of London, the following options were suggested:
Alas, none of these options were given final approval because, it would seem, consulting parties were not thrilled with the idea of such a sweeping policy change. This, despite the fact that the proposal provided specific restrictions for protected areas.
Nonetheless, there may be cause for hope…
On 29th October 2018, as promised by Secretary Brokenshire, the MHCLG opened a consultation regarding a number of proposals, including one for permitted development (PD) rights pertaining to upward extensions. In the consultation document, entitled “Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes”, the Government have proposed a new permitted development right (subject to prior approval) specifically for additional storeys on certain types of buildings.
The document recommends that upward extensions be permitted for uses that are already “compatible with C3 residential use”, such as shops (A1), buildings used for financial and professional services (A2), offices (B1(a)), restaurants and cafes (A3), betting shops (sui generis), and mixed-use buildings. In the report, the Government even suggests including health and community centres on the list of compatible uses.
Moreover, the Government specifically state that the proposed PD right would not apply to Article 2(3) land, which includes conservation areas, National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. With this unambiguous prohibition in place, this consultation may be more successful than the one three years prior.
In the end, of course, the aim of the proposed policy is to deliver more homes to the people of England. If you would like to voice your support for building upwards, visit the MHCLG website and follow the directions for submitting a response. You have until 11:45pm on 14th January 2019, at which point the consultation will close.
For now, it is quite difficult to get planning approval for mansard extensions and proposed extensions for one additional floor, as there are many restrictions placed on key design elements, such as design and location.
As planning laws and regulations become less restrictive, building regulations and structural engineers face increased pressure to ensure the works can be constructed safely.
Additional floors will ensure that homeowners, developers, and landlords have the ability to maximise the space they own. The potential to build upwards could also reduce the number of extensions and help foster much-needed gardens and green spaces in the city. (Pollution is also a major issue in terms of losing garden spaces and greenery.)
Moreover, by building skyward, one can avoid the restrictions applied to both rear and side extensions.
There are many examples of both good and bad design. In terms of planning, councils will want to restrict certain designs and forms. Good designs will be aesthetically pleasing, clean and fit in with the existing house. Bad designs can look ugly and have a negative impact on the street.
Additional floor extensions need to be well designed, both structurally and visibly. To that end, the design of an additional floor should adhere to the same rules as an outward extension. It must be site-specific, reflecting the character of the area, the design of the host building and the current acceptable designs in the borough. Specific planning rules would be found under the planning regulations for the local planning authority. It’s imperative to consider planning policies when producing any design.
It’s also important to think creatively. To illustrate my point further, I would like to highlight a design proposed by Urbanist Architecture for a recent competition centered around the concept of “building up.”
We began with the notion of a living organism.
Think of a vine in your garden.
Every summer, you can watch this plant wind through your property, using the surrounding space as its structural support. A wall here. A washing line there. It doesn’t matter what the object is. As long as it’s structurally sound, the vine will use the object as a leaning post. Using this basic principle, we designed a residential building that can grow organically on top of existing units. We proposed a box that could be arranged and rearranged in (seemingly) infinite ways. Using the existing walls and columns, the building can grow upward, providing much-needed housing for the residents of London.
As the building changes, so too does the interior. The facade morphs, extends and, in the process, tells a story about each unit.
We also considered the environmental impact of our plant-like design, adding a rain screen on the north-west wall that would provide moisture and sunlight for oxygen-producing vegetation. On the south-east wall, we put floating conservatories to receive much of the morning sun. With infinite flexibility and an environmentally-conscious concept, we designed a sustainable building that could be used for years to come.
Not all buildings are designed with such care and attention. Those that fail to meet certain requirements must suffer the consequences.
Many poorly designed additional floors receive enforcement action, served as a notice from the Local Planning Authority (LPA). These are legal documents that require specific action to rectify a breach of planning control. This might involve the removal of works which have been undertaken without the correct planning permission or have failed to meet the design conditions.
Planning permission is not a choice; it is a requirement by the LPA to ensure the development is lawful. For now, additional floor extensions are not, and will not, be covered under permitted development rights; therefore, a full planning application will most likely be required.
First of all, if you own the freehold of the property, this will make the process much easier to make any alterations. If you are a leaseholder, you would have to get the permission of the freeholder to undertake any works. Only then can you begin planning your development.
An end terrace or end of row property is seen as a bookend property, which makes it a little easier to gain planning permission. This kind of property would offer the perfect opportunity for you to propose an additional floor extension. Just remember to check whether the property is in a conservation area, as development in this type of area is more restricted in terms of scale and design.
A good architect will take into consideration the policies of the LPA and should be able to either create a new design or develop your own design to suit these. A great architect will help you understand the potential of your property and the best way to achieve success. A great architect is also an innovator, always aiming for the most sustainable and forward-thinking design for any given project.
Keep in mind, professionals do this day in and day out. They will aid you through the process and ensure your project is feasible at every stage.
In the coming months, the Government will address National and London Policies for additional floor extensions. We must wonder what type of policies will be released to allow for these types of extension and how the local London boroughs will integrate these into their own set of policies.
It’s likely that as density increases, the need for these types of extensions will increase as well, though conservation areas and listed buildings may be exempt under these circumstances. Of course, we can only speculate until the policies have been approved and implemented.
All in all, additional floor extensions will free up much-needed space for London householders and allow London to begin meeting the need for additional homes during the housing crisis.
By building up, we can also retain key green areas and much-needed trees. Now it is a waiting game to see what the future holds and how we will re-design and evolve our homes in the face of a never-ending housing crisis.
Onwards and upwards, quite literally.