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Never mind the planners - it's the law that counts

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Keith Evans' contribution to the discussion about permitted development rights and party walls (AJ 4.10.01) needs some clarification.

The case concerned was not in Wandsworth, London, but in Bath; Wandsworth is just one of the planning authorities which has noticed it and, urged on by its legal department, will not give lawful development certificates to extensions involving raising party walls.

The Bath case arose from an appeal by the building owner, against an enforcement notice issued by the planning authority against a loft extension. Presumably the authority considered it objectionable, otherwise it would have given it retrospective planning approval. The inspector addressed both the issue of its lawfulness and its awfulness - that is, its architectural (de)merits - and found it wanting on both counts. A subsequent case in the London Borough of Merton followed the same line.

The general development order (GDO), which defines permitted development, is a legal document and, like any other, its interpretation is ultimately a matter for the courts.

Whatever the government intended, and whatever Chris Chope (a former Wandsworth councillor, as it happens) said it intended, does not matter a bit if the parliamentary draftsmen mucked it up. Whether a planning inspector's view should be given the weight of a judicial decision is another matter, but it is very difficult to argue with the logic of his argument. Either someone has to challenge the matter in the courts (who is volunteering? ) or the GDO must be amended.

Brian Waters remarks that it may prevent a lot of undesirable loft extensions. Well, if we go back to Wandsworth, its design guide for those loft extensions which do fall under its control - up to now, mostly in conservation areas - clearly and reasonably prefers loft conversions to be contained in the roof, with discreet isolated dormers contained within the roof slope.

That does not meet the ambitions of householders, particularly as much of the borough's housing stock has 35degrees pitched roofs over a span of 7-8m, giving limited headroom.

Wandsworth's fallback position favours mansard roofs extending from party wall to party wall, rather than the massive boxes set within the party walls often favoured by loft conversion specialists - a solution which is still permissible as it does not involve building on the neighbour's side of the wall.

Other authorities have similar guidance.

If Bath has won a victory it is a pyrrhic one.

Alan Kennedy (again! ) London SW12

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