DEVELOPERS are set to be able to build almost three dozen flats on top of a former office building — without needing permission from the council to do so.

The development would see two extra floors added on top of the Lavenir building on Opladen Way, which was built as office space in 1988, in order to add 35 extra homes.

Despite this being a fairly significant development, applicants will not need typical planning permission from Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) to go ahead with the additions.

Why not?

The 35 flats could be built on top of the former office space, opposite Bracknell Leisure Centre, due to a planning loophole called ‘permitted development’.

READ MORE: Council refuses 45 homes at former office block

This scheme allows offices to be converted into homes without the need to go through typical planning processes whereby local authority officers and perhaps eventually councillors judge the plans.

This does not mean developers can add anything they like to the site, however.

Bracknell News:

They still have to meet a number of requirements set out by permitted development rights, but these will not necessarily be the same standards the council uses to determine applications.

Is this common?

It appears so.

Back in 2017, BFC tried to halt a “surge” of permitted development schemes in the borough.

This flurry of housebuilding plans included proposals set out by owners of Lavenir, who have used the loophole once already.

Permitted development (also known as ‘prior approval’) was granted to convert the office space into 69 flats.

READ MORE: Dismay over plans for new flat development on edge of town

These apartments are now "nearing completion" according to developers. 

It has not been all smooth sailing for the applicants, however.

Bracknell News:

In August 2019, developers were refused permission to build 45 flats on top of the building after going through the normal planning process because the extension would have been “out of keeping with the character of the area” and because of a lack of affordable housing at the site.

More than 60 residents objected to the plans.

This proposal was then thrown out by the Planning Inspectorate in June of this year.

But now the developer has returned with an application for 35 homes, arguing in correspondence to the council that the proposals meet the requirements for permitted development.

Can’t the council do anything?

Planning experts writing on behalf of the applicants argue the proposal is “wholly in accord” with permitted development rules.

Bracknell News:

But the council can tell applicants all or part of their plans do not meet permitted development requirements and will instead need to go through the normal planning process.

Local authorities can also issue an Article 4 Direction against multiple prior approval applications, which can remove permitted development rights if the character of an area of importance would be threatened.

READ MORE: Politicians opposed to new government planning reforms

But BFC said it would not be able to use the Direction in this instance.

Max Baker, Head of Planning at the council, said: “Article 4 Directions are not made in response to individual applications and the timescale for the process, which includes securing approval from the Secretary of State, would not allow for this.

“However, under the prior approval process for the additional units at this site, the council can consider its impacts on the amenities of neighbouring properties which were the basis of the previous refusal.”