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Profit from planning changes

Published on 1st November 2018

Extending buildings upwards without planning permission could be possible under a proposed widening of permitted development rights while high streets could see a change of use revolution, thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Will you be ready to take advantage of the new opportunities this represents for your practice?

Adding extra floors to the top of an existing building is an old idea. A look at city centre buildings going back to Victorian times will show plenty of examples where owners have extended upwards to accommodate a thriving business or create more lettable space. Of course, such initiatives were scaled back when planning permission – not to mention a more scientific understanding of structural loading – came to the fore.

Now the idea is increasingly being looked at as a possible way of helping solve the country’s housing crisis. Local authorities are seeing it as a viable alternative to greenfield sites, where greenfield sites even exist, and the government seems to be looking at the potential for answering pressing social needs.  

Since the budget, prospects for roof extensions look even more positive. It’s not the only initiative that could see a great deal of extra work for architects.

Going up in the world

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is considering that permitted development exemptions could also apply to rooftop additions, and proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to make it easier for owners and developers to add up to two storeys to existing buildings.

Last November, property consultant Knight Frank used a combination of Ordnance Survey and Land Registry data and concluded that rooftops in London’s fare zones one and two had enough space to provide for 40,000 new homes. A separate study carried out in 2016 for rooftop developer Apex Airspace, suggested that the potential across the whole of Greater London would be closer to 140,000 homes.

“The private rented sector market will be especially keen on the idea of adding floors and retain ownership of them to increase rental income”

The details of what is being proposed are not yet finalised – adding a floor to a steel framed office block is a very different proposition to raising the roof on an existing dwelling – but both could, in principle, become easier to do.

“Cutting down commuting by bringing people and homes back in the heart of cities is better for the environment, for overburdened transport infrastructure - and those people involved.”

There should be plenty of interest from homeowners looking to make the most of their existing structures, as well as from small landlords seeing opportunities to create new lettable properties. However, the most exciting developments might be putting domestic units on top of existing commercial structures. These rooftop extensions would probably be constructed using prefabricated materials, minimising disruption for the building’s existing users, and reducing weight – in some cases, lightweight modular solutions can be used, putting less stress on the existing structure, and with modules simply craned on.

However, there are technical challenges to be overcome. Not all existing structures that appear suitable will actually prove to be so, and the need to provide separate access for new domestic units on top of commercial buildings may mean a few headaches, but these can usually be dealt with - feasibility studies should be part of every project brief.

A new look at the high street

In the budget, the Chancellor looked at various measures to breathe life back into the high street. He seemed to be acknowledging that there may be overcapacity of retail space and suggested making reforms to the planning rules which would allow shops to be converted. This would involve the creation of more leisure and community uses such as gyms and libraries, as well as creating more homes.

If your practice has experience of commercial to domestic conversions, you may be looking forward to plenty of additional briefs, and some exciting challenges.

Are you looking for finance to grow your practice, or could finance help your clients agree to build designs without the capital worries? Find out more about finance for architects, or learn more with Rangewell.

Creating a home from a shop which may itself have begun its life as a home in Victorian times may be a simple enough exercise, and one that is already being seen in many older towns. Repurposing mixed retail and commercial structures from the later years of the 20th Century may be more of a challenge. The conversion of a supermarket space might be a real test of creativity, although the potential for uses such as sports halls should not be overlooked.

“The traditional high street scene of bustling, independent shops has been replaced in many parts of the country with boarded-up properties that invite vandalism and do nothing for economic regeneration. Converting them would provide homes and improve the street scene at the same time.”

The government has launched a consultation about the need and benefits of boosting housing density in areas of high demand such as our town centres and high streets. The introduction of a permitted development right which would support this initiative could mean plenty of demand for your services.

The opportunities for you

If these proposals are brought into practice, it seems there could be plenty of opportunities for property owners, developers and architects. All these opportunities will require funding, which is where Rangewell can help.

As an architect, you may be approached by a property owner or developer with a project, but without the funding to carry it out.  You may also see opportunities yourself. Finding the necessary funding may be key to moving the project forward.

At Rangewell, we can help you and your clients find the finance required for all types of development. Small refurbishment loans can be available for under £20,000, while for large projects with multiple homes and mixed-use masterplans, sums of £15 million or more can be arranged.

We make no charge for our services - in fact, we could provide a valuable source of additional income for your practice. Perhaps even more exciting, by helping your clients find the finance they need, you may be in a better position both to secure projects, and ensure that your client can build them to the specification you want.

Whatever the size of the project, at Rangewell, we can provide the scale of funding it needs.


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Richard Mitchell

Richard Mitchell

Content writer
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