Principle cautiously welcomes flat block owners’ new right to add floors without permission

A government move to allow additional floors to be built on residential blocks of flats without planning permission has received a cautious welcome from Principle Estate Management.

The UK’s fastest growing residential estate management business was commenting after housing secretary Robert Jenrick said he would allow up to two storeys to be added to blocks from this summer.

Building upwards currently requires planning consent, which involves checks on how well designs fit with nearby homes and the potential overshadowing of neighbours’ properties.

Mr Jenrick has said the new right to build two floors on purpose-built flats without planning was a “bold and creative” measure that would “deliver new and bigger homes” and boost homeownership.

But critics fear this could risk a new generation of substandard homes and raising tensions between neighbours.

Joe Jobson, a director of Birmingham-based Principle, which looks after thousands of residential flats across the country, explained that estimates have put the number of new homes needed in England at up to 345,000 per year.

He said: “We are cautiously enthusiastic about these changes as another method of helping to solve the housing crisis, certainly on brownfield as opposed to greenfield sites.

“The new rights could have a hugely positive impact in transforming the skyline of residential areas and meeting the current unprecedented demand for housing.

“However, while the intention of the scheme is to provide more housing, there are some concerns that the control of the quality of stock might be affected, and there are many questions it raises for existing leaseholders.

“For example, what consultation would take place with current homeowners? Do they have any say in what is built? Over what timescales could the extensions be made? And without planning permission being needed, who would oversee the quality of the builds?”

Mr Jobson split his overall reaction into a carefully considered set of arguments for and against the new rules. The positives included the fact that the new scheme could help avoid building on greenbelt areas.

He said: “We certainly agree that we should be investing in our cities and existing properties, especially in the Midlands and northern cities, rather than building on greenbelt land.

“Developers quite often prefer greenbelt builds as there are not as many clean-up costs as existing buildings and brownfield sites, but this would help prompt interest in existing buildings.

“Another plus point is that we have seen that permitted development from office to residential has assisted in providing residential living to cities such as Birmingham quickly – and hopefully this will have a similar effect.

“The move would also assist in building city centre skylines, making our cities more attractive.

“It would help to meet housing demands faster because the existing infrastructure is already in place, meaning the total cost of the project could be less, and occupancy can happen sooner.

“And bigger apartment blocks mean the cost of maintaining communal areas are spread across more flats, meaning lower service charges for all.”

However, Mr Jobson also outlined the various potential negatives the new rules would have to overcome.

He said: “We must ensure that all work is completed to high standards. We wouldn’t want any under-sized homes, and as managing agents we’d be focusing on ensuring all life-saving equipment is linked to existing systems with all the appropriate servicing required.

“It is also vital that developers remain considerate of communities and that adequate affordable housing is built.

“For example, would this in some cases make areas that are already densely populated worse, causing additional strains on local resources like schools, hospitals and roads?

“And might there be an issue where existing properties lose value – for example, if what was a top floor penthouse suddenly gets two additional floors built on top this could result in devaluation.”

Mr Jobson added: “The point we are making at Principle is that if this new scheme is done properly, without any substandard construction and taking existing leaseholders and communities’ views into consideration, it could be a win-win.

“In short, more people would quickly get new homes, existing leaseholders would benefit from a new roof at no cost, there could be improved communal areas, perhaps even lift upgrades, and there would be more tenants to contribute towards the service charge costs.”