Query: Being in lockdown has given us time to think about improvements we can make to our home. We live in a semi-detached house in Dublin and have already extended out the back so the house is just under 1,300sq ft. We are thinking of doing an attic conversion which will involve building higher than the gable wall, raising the roof and putting in dormer windows at the back to create extra space. We are also thinking of putting in dormer windows to the front of the house which will effectively give us an extra floor. There are plenty of attic conversions with dormer windows to the rear in our estate but none to the front. Would I have difficulty getting planning permission to do this and is there anything else I should consider?
Answer: In recent years we have become accustomed to reading about a housing shortage in Ireland together with debates about reasons for the shortage and action that should be taken to mitigate it. Under these circumstances it makes perfect sense for homeowners to look at accommodation they already inhabit and investigate ways in which smart design might be used to expand or improve it in response to their needs and aspirations.
One popular way of utilising untapped potential in existing houses is the conversion of attics to habitable space. Compliance with Building Regulations is crucial when creating habitable rooms and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government advises that it is good practice for such rooms to have a minimum ceiling height of 2.4m, while also providing technical guidance about heights of attic rooms in particular.
Thus the addition of dormer structures is frequently necessary for attic conversions to be regarded as properly habitable as well as spatially and economically viable.
Some homeowners who would like to transform their attics find it difficult to decide upon the exact scope of conversion due to concern about controversy that a new dormer might cause and how their planning authority might respond to design proposals when the requisite planning permission is sought.
Factors that a planning authority will usually weigh up in relation dormers include potential overlooking and loss of daylight in neighbouring properties along with the visual impact of a new dormer in the context of the surrounding built environment.
With reference to the latter, applicants for planning permission are generally discouraged from proposing dormers on the rear roof of a house which is higher than the existing main roof ridge; although in some instances these can be permissible where dormers are set back behind the ridge so as to minimise visibility from the street. Cases like these are often decided on the basis of individual merit so careful design is important.
As for dormers on front roofs, a well-designed dormer can enhance an existing house and add a new dimension to its appearance; there is, however, a balance to be struck between respecting the original character of a house and transforming it into something new and potentially at odds with neighbouring properties.
Registered architects frequently advise homeowners about appropriate design concerning attic conversions and dormers along with relevant aspects of the planning process and the best way to achieve the outcome they desire.
Planning authorities normally encourage engagement with them in pre-planning consultation before a formal application for permission is made.
Advice offered by planning authorities in this context is typically informal and, while it may not provide certainty in relation to the outcome of the planning process, where an authority does give clear pre-application guidance it is always prudent to heed it.
Research into previous applications for similar proposals nearby can also be informative and show not only how a planning authority reacted to similar previous designs but also whether there were any objections, how decisions were made and whether they were appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
Query: My siblings and I inherited the family home last year. As the Court Services are in lockdown the probate or grant thereof are in abeyance until further notice. The house is a corner house on a site and a half according to the property documents. I was considering putting in for planning permission for an extension over the garage and possibly even extending out to the boundary wall, which would be suitable for a family member apartment, but not for a separate building for sale. Outline planning for such a concept should enhance the value of the property. Could you please give me any guidelines on this proposal?
Answer: Another popular way of exploiting the potential of larger properties is the sub-division of existing plots for the creation of additional dwellings. Some homeowners may want to create such a new dwelling for a family member, a sensible strategy in the context of a housing shortage.
Others, however, may want to avoid undertaking and funding such development themselves and instead simply create the potential for an additional dwelling by obtaining planning permission for another future owner to implement, thereby perhaps increasing the market value of their overall property.
In relation to the latter scenario architects often alert homeowners to the option of initially seeking outline permission rather than full planning permission for the new dwelling they have in mind.
Intended for use primarily in the development of land, the purpose of the outline planning process is to establish whether or not a particular proposal is going to be permissible in principle.
An important limitation of outline permission is that while it establishes the principle of permissibility it does not in itself authorise carrying out of any development to which the permission relates until a subsequent full planning permission is obtained.
A compensating benefit, however, is that where an application for full planning permission is made on the basis of an existing outline permission, a planning authority may not refuse the grant of full permission provided the development in question is within the terms of the outline permission.
The process of applying for outline permission is similar to that of applying for full planning permission. Information to be provided with an application for outline permission needs to be sufficient to allow a planning authority to make a decision and ought to be less detailed than information required for an application for full planning permission. Thus, in theory, the outline planning process ought to require less investment initially on the part of the applicant than the full planning process.
Where outline permission is obtained it will remain valid for three years unless a planning authority decides this can be longer, up to a maximum of five years.
Figures published by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government indicate, perhaps surprisingly, that very few applicants choose to follow this procedural route, with applications for outline permissions in recent years comprising less than 1pc of the overall number of applications for permission nationally.
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Advice provided is for guidance only and readers are advised to seek professional assistance for any proposed project.