Record planning applications to be rejected this year

Local councils' 'computer says no' attitude led to 18,500 unfair planning permission rejections last year – which are set to dramatically increase in 2016 if likely changes to planning law come to fruition, according to Just Planning, the UK's only householder appeals specialist.

The company has a 71% success rate in defending homeowners from the unjust decisions of council planning officers – who it equates to the Carol Beer character from Little Britain, famous for dismissing customers with the phrase 'computer says no'. Only 2,190 households managed to overcome these officers last year by successfully appealing to the national Planning Inspectorate on their own, thereby avoiding the significant costs of tearing down an extension or moving home.

House building 2 (PD)

However, Just Planning expects the number of unfair rejections to hit almost 20,000 households in 2016, a figure that will dramatically increase even further in 2017 if changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) currently under debate are enacted later this year. It believes these changes will further complicate the UK's chaotic system of local planning rules, overload planning officers and confuse householders. Households could also see a rise in the cost of applying for planning permission under recently released Government proposals.

The majority of Just Planning appeals were successful in 2015 due to the erroneous views of planning officers – confusion stemming from a clash between Government and local policies (see 'top five reasons' below) – followed by 'flawed design aesthetics'.

Martin Gaine, CEO of Just Planning, said:

'Further changes to national planning policy will only frustrate the system's already fragmented, light-touch approach to applications. Overworked planning officers who are confused between national and local planning policy tend to reject applications out-of-hand based on dated rules. But households who are strapped for space or cannot afford to move should not take this lying down.

'Everyone should appeal a refusal, even though many people aren't aware there is even a process in place. Sometimes they may have to resubmit an initial application, but the odds on a successful appeal are in their favour – especially given the number of "Carol Beers" in local councils. Our experts on planning appeals are here to convince households they have a fighting chance.'

The top five reasons for successful appeals:

1. Erroneous Case Officers

The erroneous or inflexible view of individual case officers is the basis for the majority of successful appeals, who have cited out-of-date policies in conflict with national planning policy or who have failed to objectively assess a submission. For example, many planners will reject an extension over three metres in depth, even though the Government raised this to six/eight metres under certain conditions in 2013. These types of refusals should always be appealed – Just Planning has a higher success rate of 75% on these cases – and the appellant may also win an award of costs in their favour. Such cases accounted for 35% of Just Planning appeals in 2015.

2. Flawed Design Aesthetics

A specific council may take objection to the aesthetics of an extension, such as non-uniform plaster or bricks used in its construction. However, due to the subjective nature of these decisions, councils have a particularly weak record on appeal where design is the main issue. Such cases accounted for 24% of Just Planning appeals in 2015.

3. Amenity Impact

The 'Amenity Impact' on neighbours, such as adverse noise or blockage of natural light is often cited by planners in rejections. Many applications fall foul of the '45 Degree Rule': this dictates an extension must not intersect a line drawn at 45 degrees from a neighbour's window. However it may be argued the window is not in common use and will not affect a neighbour's 'amenity'. Such cases accounted for 17% of Just Planning appeals in 2015.

4. Council-specific rules

A specific council's rules on certain parameters have been violated i.e. the London Borough of Waltham Forest Council dictates no extensions may be made to a "side-return" that might block natural light onto a neighbour's premises and the London Borough of Lambeth is particularly restrictive on loft extensions. Success in this kind of appeal depends on how strong and recent the policy is and whether it has been successfully challenged at appeal previously. Such cases accounted for 14% of Just Planning appeals in 2015.

5. Universal principles

Basic universal principles common across all councils may have been ignored; for example, almost all councils dictate a double-storey side extension needs to be set back a metre from the front of a main residence, so that it looks subordinate. In such cases, Just Planning advises changing and resubmitting the application. Such cases accounted for 10% of Just Planning appeals in 2015.

Even though approximately 90% of applications are granted nationally, there is a wide discrepancy in the number of cases granted by local planners, with the lowest (Newham council in London) granting only 53% of cases and six councils granting 100%.

Hoping to shine a light on the UK's planning complexities, the company found there is also a North/ South divide to planning rejections, with a higher proportion from councils in the South of England. The bottom ten councils for rejections have a 53-73% rejection rate, which are all located in the South East. Conversely, the top ten for approvals have a 99-100% approval rate, all located outside the South East. Homeowners in London come out worst: seven of the ten councils with the lowest approvals come from London boroughs.

Londoners are also at greater risk of enforcement notices – which may led to an extension being dismantled at extreme cost – as 55% of notices are focused there. However a significant minority at 43% are quashed on appeal.

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