COMMENT It’s not very often I say this, but the new permitted development rights for upwards extensions is a defining moment for the housebuilding industry. It is another step closer to making airspace development an asset class in its own right.  

The new rules, coming into effect in August, reduce the pressure to build on greenfield land by utilising the unused airspace on rooftops to develop new homes or other living spaces. Our research has shown this has the opportunity to deliver 180,000 homes in London alone.

The entire process of airspace development is one that seeks to make improvements to the existing building’s public realm without existing residents needing to vacate – one of the conditions of the PDR. Especially in very old buildings, repairs and refurbishments to roofs and other external structures can be a costly drain on resources, so by tapping into their airspace, local authorities and housing associations have a huge opportunity to create more genuinely affordable housing and improve a neighbourhood simultaneously.

Quality control

While homes built using the office-to-resi PDR have been criticised due to poor quality control, the government has recognised the positive benefits of PDR, especially in accelerating the delivery of new homes at pace.

To combat the issue of poor quality homes being built, the new proposals introduce five permitted development rights that  are exclusively focused on upward extensions and are subject to a number of limitations and conditions, including a requirement for prior approval from the local planning authority. This will act as a clear safeguard mechanism to ensure upwards extension using PDR will maintain quality control and allow planning departments to focus their time on assessing the quality and standards of the proposals for any new homes built, rather than having to contend with determining the basic principle of the development to take place.

Crucially, the bulk of the work sits with the applicant rather than the local authority, ensuring the homes are delivered in a timely manner and that finite resources of local planning departments are used efficiently.

Accelerating delivery

Developments must be completed within three years, which not only means the approval process is sped up but the build stage, too – resulting in more new homes faster while tapping into a previously untapped asset.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, the housebuilding industry will, undoubtedly, struggle to get up to speed and housing targets will surely be missed. Prime minister Boris Johnson’s recent promise to accelerate housebuilding is certainly welcome, and his pledge to “build, build, build” includes announcing some of the most radical reforms to our planning system since WWII, including this new PDR for upward extensions.

Looking beyond housebuilding, housing secretary Robert Jenrick recently announced a slew of measures to get building off the ground, including shaking up how high street premises are used to create a broad “commercial, business and service” use class.

Reviving the high street

The high street has traditionally been the core of the community but, with social distancing measures adding strain to our retail industry, creating spaces within upward extensions could support the high street revival.

With both retail and leisure industries adapting and a soaring demand for last-mile logistic hubs, airspace developments have the ability to provide flexible spaces – making a dramatic impact on our fledgling high streets and bringing value to property owners and occupiers.

This PDR is a major stepping stone in the journey of airspace development. With the momentum gathering, let’s make sure it really does help accelerate the delivery of homes and revive our communities – our future generations are counting on us.

Arshad Bhatti is founder and chief executive of Apex Airspace