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Permitted development rights exist as exceptions to the planning permission system. If a proposed development falls within the permitted rights exceptions applicable in that area and to that property, then the landowner or developer will be able to carry it out without first obtaining full planning permission. In effect the development is fast tracked through the planning system, requiring only ‘prior approval’. 

However, even if a development could be fast tracked in this way, it does still need to adhere to the relevant building regulations. Controversial changes earlier this decade allowed some non-residential property, such as those in the category of light industrial and office buildings, to be converted into housing under an extension of the permitted development rights, allowing such developers to side step the planning permission process. 
The permitted development rights were extended because Britain faces an acute housing shortage. All those involved in the property sector will be familiar with the shortage of decent homes to rent. The aim in fast tracking conversions to homes through the planning process was to improve the supply and delivery time of new housing. 

The changes brought in by the government did allow new homes to be provided quickly by converting property originally intended for other uses, however, the impact of the rules led to concern and criticism. Some homes were created from office buildings which were unsuitable for long term occupation, for example, the rooms were very small and had little natural light.

What are the national space standards?

The national space standards contain a set of rules governing the minimum space requirements for dwellings which are designed to ensure a minimum reasonable living space for the number of occupiers the property is due to contain. For example, for a flat with one bedroom, the minimum size is 37 square metres if a shower room is provided instead of a bathroom, based on the size required by a single occupier. 

Prior to the recent reforms, councils could choose to adopt the national space standards for new homes as part of their planning guidance. However, homes provided through the permitted development rules fell outside the scope of the planning process and therefore even in areas which were subject to the national space standards, such standards had no impact on the homes created. Some developers took advantage of this situation to create homes which were of poor quality, and in particular homes which fell short in floor space of the requirements of the national space standards. These developments were often at the cheaper end of the market, having an impact on people who had very little choice about the homes they were forced to live in. 

How have the permitted development rights changed?

On September 30, 2020 the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, announced that homes provided through the permitted development scheme would have to meet the national minimum space standards. The reform was designed to ensure that the abuse of the system by a minority of developers, resulting in substandard housing, was brought to an end. Mr Jenrick also announced that homes converted from buildings with other previous uses must also have sufficient natural light, something which had been lacking in some developments.

It is an unusual situation that in some areas homes which are created by converting other property will be subject to space standards due to these government reforms, whereas new build properties will not be unless the local authority has adopted the space standards. However, the general impact will be an increased awareness of the need for sufficient space in properties whether these are for the owner-occupier or rental markets. Insufficient living space can have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of the people living in the property. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that it is more important than ever that people have a safe place to live which gives them and their family adequate space for day-to-day life. Property managers who find themselves responsible for property inspection and property management of rental property will need to be aware of the challenges insufficient space can impose on tenants and the impact this can have on wear and tear.