No light? No problem!
Published: 15 Jul 2019

It is difficult to imagine a building without any natural light. Watch any television programme about home development and renovation and you'll see interior designers constantly seem to be making great efforts to maximise the amount of natural light that enters a premises. It seems bizarre, then, that planning law can be used to permit the development of bedsits which have no windows.

In October 2018, an application for prior consent was made to Watford Borough Council to change the use of a building from a light industrial class to a residential class. The building was last used as an upholstery workshop but the developer wanted to convert it into flats. According to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order SI 2015/596, this kind of development is allowed without planning permission, although prior approval to carry out the development is required and several conditions must first be met.

Watford Borough Council denied prior approval on several grounds, including:

  • the proposed floor areas of the flats were less than half of the minimum standards required;
  • seven of the proposed flats had no windows, meaning there is no daylight or ventilation and the living environment would therefore be poor;
  • there were no clear details submitted about sanitary facilities, or about internal layout in general;
  • the refuse and recycling storage required to meet the demands of the development would likely compromise the visual amenity of the area, which is in contradiction with local policies.

During the appeal, the inspector considered the main points of the refusal. The appeal decision states:

  • whilst the living area will be small, there is nothing to suggest that the units could not "form a self-contained dwelling with day-to-day living facilities";
  • information supplied by the appellant regarding bin and recycling storage shows that it wouldn't cause any disruption to highways. In addition, there are no details provided to suggest the impact or harm the bins would cause on the visual amenity;
  • the proposal would not have an adverse effect on highways or transport;
  • there is no parking provision proposed, though the area is easily accessible and a car-free development could be acceptable;
  • the appellant has submitted a Unilateral Undertaking regarding parking which addresses some concerns.

Although the inspector has acknowledged that the living space would be small and that living without windows would "not be a positive living environment", the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order SI 2015/596 only requires the decision makers to assess the impact of the proposed development against the conditions given in that Order for that specific permitted development right. In this case, dwelling size and provision of windows are not actually a condition of the permitted development right.

As a result, the Inspector had to approve the development.

For more information, see the:

  • Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order SI 1987/764;
  • Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order SI 2015/596.