Council blocks developers from adding storeys to flats without planning permission

CGI image of Welwyn Garden City's rejected BioPark housing flat development.

A CGI impression of Welwyn Garden City's rejected BioPark development. - Credit: HG Group

Developers will be blocked from adding extra storeys to flats in Hatfield without planning permission as Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council cracks down on loosened planning rules.

Last year, the Government extended Permitted Development Rights to allow the owners of existing blocks of flats to extend by up to two additional floors without needing to apply for planning permission.

However, WHBC has confirmed they will remove the right for developers to add the extra storeys without going through the planning process from July.

Permitted development rights aim to take the strain off the planning process by automatically allowing building owners to make mostly uncontroversial changes. These rights include homeowners being able to build extensions, or commercial landowners can convert offices into residential units without seeking permission.

However, councils can make Article 4 Directions to remove specific rights on identified sites if they believe it could present issues. The borough council said the move is necessary to prevent affecting the town’s heritage assets, in particular, Hatfield House and Park.

The move was first proposed in July 2021, and following a public consultation over the summer, the change will come into force on July 7 2022.

The consultation took place across six weeks between July and August, and despite just 13 responses to the council, it indicated there was support for the measure.

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The decision was confirmed at a meeting of the borough council’s Cabinet Planning and Parking Panel on Thursday, November 11.

Matt Pyecroft, senior projects officer, explained the delayed start was to limit the risk of the council having to pay compensation payments to landowners. That means any developers who wanted to complete work to add the extra storeys before the new date would be able to.

Mr Pyecroft also confirmed that there were no plans to extend the Article 4 Direction to Welwyn Garden City at this time. The officer added that concerns about recent development in Welwyn Garden City were being dealt with through the planning process, while the council had an existing evidence base suggesting there was a greater need for the direction in Hatfield.

The change of rules does not affect how planning applications are determined by councillors or council officers but will ensure that planning permission needs to be granted by the council before work can begin. 

Councillors voted to delegate approval to the Executive Member for Planning, which will allow the changes to come into effect next year.

Prior to this decision, the borough council have enacted a number of other Article 4 directions in the past two years, including removing the permitted development right enabling offices to be converted to residential uses in parts of Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and Cuffley which came into effect on 12 October 2020. 

A second Article 4 was approved by members in June 2021 to remove the right to demolish existing employment buildings and replace them with residential units on the same site, which will come into effect in February 2022.