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An inspector's call

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TECHNICAL & PRACTICE: Recent cases show that while planners make good decisions and bad, they can sometimes be overruled

Any profound cultural change takes time and meets with resistance. Signs are now emerging that high-density, design-specific housing schemes are increasingly gaining approval, and being supported on appeal where necessary. A good example is architect PCKO's scheme for 14 one- and two-bedroom flats for the Chiltern Hundreds Housing Association on a former factory site in Rushden, Northants.

In general, the existing local housing comprises two-storey terraces with short front gardens, interspersed with the more dominant massing of old factory buildings. This is a largely residential area with lots of conversions and domestic-scale redevelopment.

Council officers supported the application, but the committee wanted a parking standard of 23 spaces rather than the proposed 16, while neighbours objected to the larger scale of the proposed blocks of flats compared with surrounding houses.

But the architect believed it had produced a design which, in its composition, features and materials, was sensitive to its context. For example, it had oriented the building so that the three-storey block at the back of the site lay on reduced ground levels, thereby minimising the scale, and it had proposed obscured glass for some windows to prevent overlooking.

On appeal, the inspector concluded that the scale of the flats was consistent with the mixed-built form of the area, and that it met the demands of PPG3 (Housing) for higher densities. Being close to public transport, the lower parking provision was also considered acceptable.

The inspector considered the boundary conditions as these affected the neighbouring properties and imposed conditions - such as screening on balconies and planting on the boundary - to ameliorate potential conflicts, and so overruled the planning authority.

This case demonstrates that higher densities often cannot be achieved with standard designs and have to be tailored with skill and sensitivity to the immediate context. Maybe this bodes well for more scope for valueadded design by architects.

This conclusion is reinforced by Winchester City Council's urban capacity study, which assesses housing land supply under the 'sequential test' required by PPG3.

The aim of the test is to exhaust brownfield sites before allocating any greenfield sites for development. The Hampshire structure plan requires Winchester to accommodate 7,295 new dwellings by 2011. The study identifies more than 500 small sites capable of redevelopment for housing and concludes that no greenfield land allocation is needed in the newlocal plan.

Housebuilders, many of whom have purchased expensive options on surrounding land, are not best pleased. The 500-plus sites are referred to in the study as 'design-led opportunities'. I predict that architects working in the area will experience a lot of intricate and time-consuming scheme proposals, and a log-jam in Winchester's planning department.

I recently warned of the increasing awareness among planning authorities of a 1997 appeal decision in Bristol where the inspector concluded, on the basis of a thorough review of the position, that extensions and dormers which are supported on the full width of a party wall do not benefit from permitted development rights, and therefore require planning permission (AJ 27.9.01).

For architects concerned by this ruling, I am delighted to report a contrary decision that was made in October. The council had refused to issue a certificate for a loft conversion, which involved raising part of a party wall of a semi-detatched house in Enfield on the grounds that the extension of the party wall would not fall within the General Permitted Development Order 1995 because part of it lay outside the curtilage of the dwelling. A lawful development certificate was granted on appeal.

The inspector reviewed various authorities 1in relation to the definition of 'curtilage'. He noted the three relevant characteristics 2: l that it should be confined to a small area around a building;

lthat it must have an intimate relationship with the land; and lthat it is not necessary for the land to be enclosed, provided that it is part of one enclosure with the house.

The inspector ruled it would be hard to imagine a structure having a more intimate functional association with the dwelling house than one of the walls that forms an integral part of its fabric. Its curtilage might overlap with the curtilage associated with the adjoining dwelling, but this did not invalidate his conclusion that the works would be permitted development.

Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership, tel 020 7828 6555, e-mail brian@bwcp. co. uk

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