By Bea Patel, TLE Property Editor and Director of Shop for an Agent
Local councils’ ‘computer says no’ attitude led to 18,500 unfair planning permission rejections last year. According to Just Planning, the UK’s householder appeals specialist, this is set to increase in 2016 if likely changes to planning law come to fruition.
In 2015, Just Planning had a 71 per cent success rate in defending homeowners from the unjust decisions of council planning officers – who it associates to the Carol Beer character from Little Britain, famous for dismissing customers with the phrase ‘computer says no’.
Only 2,190 households overcome planning officers last year by successfully appealing to the national Planning Inspectorate on their own, avoiding significant costs of tearing down an extension or moving home.
In 2014 to 2015, the number of applications increased by six per cent. If the same increase occurs in 2016, Just Planning expects the number of unfair rejections to hit almost 20,000 households. And this figure will increase even further in 2017 if changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) currently under debate are enacted later this year. It believes these changes will further complicate the UK’s chaotic system of local planning rules, overload planning officers and confuse householders.
Households could also see a rise in the cost of applying for planning permission under recently released Government proposals. The proposals were to allow top-performing councils to raise their fees to households, in an effort to compel under-performing councils to improve their practices.
The majority of Just Planning appeals were successful in 2015 due to the erroneous views of planning officers – confusion stemming from a clash between Government and local policies, followed by ‘flawed design aesthetics’.
The top five reasons for successful appeals include:
- Erroneous Case Officers
- Flawed Design Aesthetics
- Amenity Impact
- Council-specific rules
- Universal principles
The erroneous or inflexible view of individual case officers is the basis for majority of successful appeals. They have cited out-of-date policies in conflict with national planning policy, or have failed to objectively assess a submission. For example, many planners will reject an extension over three metres in depth, even though the Government raised this to six/eight metres under certain conditions in 2013. These types of refusals should be appealed. Such cases accounted for 35 per cent of Just Planning appeals in 2015.
A specific council may take objection to the aesthetics of an extension, such as non-uniform plaster or bricks used in its construction. Due to the subjective nature of these decisions, councils have a particularly weak record on appeal where design is the main issue. Such cases accounted for 24 per cent of Just Planning appeals in 2015.
Planners in rejections often cite the ‘Amenity Impact’ on neighbours, such as adverse noise or blockage of natural light. Many applications fall foul of the ‘45 Degree Rule’. This dictates an extension must not intersect a line drawn at 45 degrees from a neighbour’s window. However, it may be argued the window is not in common use and will not affect a neighbour’s ‘amenity’. Such cases accounted for 17 per cent of Just Planning appeals in 2015.
A specific council’s rules on certain parameters have been violated, for example, the London Borough of Waltham Forest Council dictates no extensions may be made to a “side-return” that might block natural light onto a neighbour’s premises, and the London Borough of Lambeth is particularly restrictive on loft extensions. Success in this kind of appeal depends on how strong and recent the policy is and if it has been successfully challenged at appeal previously. Such cases accounted for 14 per cent of Just Planning appeals in 2015.
Basic universal principles common across all councils may have been ignored; for example, almost all councils dictate a double-storey side extension needs to be set back a metre from the front of a main residence, so it looks subordinate. In such cases, Just Planning advises changing and resubmitting the application. Such cases accounted for 10 per cent of Just Planning appeals in 2015.
Even though roughly 90 per cent of applications are granted nationally, there is a wide discrepancy in the number of cases granted by local planners, with the lowest (Newham council in London) granting only 53 per cent of cases and six councils granting 100 per cent.
The bottom ten councils for rejections were:
London Borough Newham (53 per cent)
LB Hillingdon (65 per cent)
Southend-on-Sea (69 per cent)
LB Enfield (70 per cent)
LB Croydon (71 per cent)
LB Harrow (71 per cent)
Luton (72 per cent)
Brighton & Hove (73 per cent)
LB Hounslow (73 per cent)
LB Waltham Forest (73 per cent)
The top 10 councils for approvals were:
North-East Lincolnshire (100 per cent)
Northumberland National Park (100 per cent)
Gloucester (100 per cent)
Redditch (100 per cent)
Gosport (100 per cent)
Darlington (100 per cent)
North Warwickshire (99 per cent)
Rushmoor (99 per cent)
Broadland (99 per cent)
Scarborough (99 per cent)
Just planning also revealed there is a North/South divide to planning rejections, with a higher proportion from councils in the South of England. The bottom ten councils for rejections have a 53-73 per cent rejection rate – and are all in the South East. The top ten for approvals have a 99-100 per cent approval rate – and are all outside the South East. Homeowners in London also come out worst, with seven of the ten councils with the lowest approvals coming from London boroughs.
Londoners are also at greater risk of enforcement notices, which may lead to dismantling an extension at extreme cost – as 55 per cent of notices are focused there.
Martin Gaine, CEO of Just Planning, said: “Further changes to national planning policy will only frustrate the system’s already fragmented, light-touch approach to applications. Overworked planning officers who are confused between national and local planning policy tend to reject applications out-of-hand based on dated rules. But households who are strapped for space or cannot afford to move should not take this lying down.
“Everyone should appeal a refusal, even though many people aren’t aware there is even a process in place. Sometimes they may have to resubmit an initial application, but the odds on a successful appeal are in their favour – especially given the number of “Carol Beers” in local councils. Our experts on planning appeals are here to convince households they have a fighting chance.”