One giant leap

As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing it appears that planning has made one giant leap backwards. Get this: in Hertfordshire an appeal has been allowed and approval granted for change of use from light industrial to windowless flats under the provisions of Schedule 2, Part 3, Class PA of the GPDO (DCS Number 400-022-545).

The council argued that the quality and size of the proposed studio units fell short of the basic standards for internal floor areas and would result in oppressive and cramped living environments with poor outlook. Furthermore, several of the units would not have any windows. The inspector reasoned, however, that the size of dwellings to be formed by the change of use and whether they would have windows or ventilation was not a condition of the GPDO for such a change of use.

The council also maintained that the poor level of accommodation was such that the units would not be dwellings and therefore would not constitute permitted development under Part PA. The inspector acknowledged that the units would be small, but ruled that it had not been demonstrated that they would not form self-contained dwellings with day-to-day living facilities. He recognised that living without a window would not be a positive living environment. He concluded, however, that the provisions of the GPDO require decision-makers to assess the impact of the proposed development solely in relation to the conditions given in paragraph PA.2. He allowed the appeal.

Understandably, the mayor of Watford has urged the secretary of state to review permitted development rights for conversion to residential use in light of the inspector’s ruling. Here on the Blog we also have expressed concern about substandard residential accommodation resulting from change of use permitted development rights: We said that and Sauce for the goose. In this particular case, however, there must be a case in any eventuality for siding with the council’s view that the units are simply not dwellings. The leading authority on the identification of a dwelling is Gravesham BC v SSE & O’Brien [1982]. In this case the judge set out that the distinctive characteristic of a dwellinghouse is its ability to afford to those who use it the facilities (cooking, washing and toilet facilities) required for day-to-day private domestic existence. The judge did not mention daylight or air, but surely only because the need for light and air ought to be taken as read. If not, we currently face the prospect of further approvals for dwellings which can in no way be described as habitable.

Never in this world.

Section 4.3423 of DCP Online sets out Part 3 permitted development rights.