Most people would say that an ‘extension’ is a structure that is physically attached to an existing building. However, as a ground-breaking High Court ruling made plain, at least in planning policy terms, that would be too narrow a view.
The Court’s decision provided a decisive answer to the debate over the true meaning of Paragraph 149(c) of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which provides an exception to the general rule that new buildings in the Green Belt are to be viewed as inappropriate. The provision applies to ‘the extension or alteration of a building provided that it does not result in disproportionate additions over and above the size of the original building’.
The case concerned an application to demolish a disused wooden structure in the garden of a listed 17th-century cottage and replace it with a new garden room-cum-home office. The local authority refused to grant planning permission for the project, citing Green Belt policy. However, the would-be developers successfully appealed to a planning inspector who granted consent.
Notwithstanding that the structure concerned was 20 metres away from the cottage, the inspector found that what was proposed was an ‘extension’ that fell within the ambit of Paragraph 149(c). She noted that the structure was originally a garage serving the cottage and could reasonably be considered a normal domestic adjunct to the property. The new building would be relatively close to the cottage and would be used for purposes clearly related to its occupation.
In challenging the inspector’s ruling, the council contended that she erred in law and that it was not open to her to conclude that a structure which was not physically attached to another building could be an extension of that other building.
Ruling on the matter, the Court acknowledged that the council’s interpretation of Paragraph 149(c) accorded with a natural reading of the provision. In upholding the planning permission, however, it found that the inspector’s interpretation was also tenable and made more sense when viewed in the context of the NPPF, read as a whole, and the stated purposes of Green Belt policy.
To read the provision as permitting extensions which are physically distinct from the building being extended was, the Court found, not obviously harmful to the Green Belt. There was force in the argument that a physically separate structure may have less impact on the openness of the Green Belt than a physically attached extension.
The Court noted that the interpretation advanced by the council could lead to artificial and arbitrary consequences which would do nothing to further protection of the Green Belt. The presence or absence of a physical connection between the original building and the new building was arguably of minimal relevance to the degree of impact on the Green Belt.
In dismissing the council’s appeal, the Court was satisfied that Paragraph 149(c) is not to be interpreted as being confined to physically attached structures but that an extension for the purposes of that provision can include structures that are physically detached from the building of which they are an extension.