Privacy is a common concern among local residents opposed to development proposed in a planning application or planning appeal. Do you have a right to privacy and, if so, what does this mean in practice?
Privacy is an emotive issue, but it’s important to stay objective. This article will help you understand how planners assess privacy and whether your objections are likely to be upheld.
There is an important distinction in planning between public and private space. Obviously, the street is a public space, but it follows from this that there is a lower expectation of privacy to windows that overlook the street. The same applies to front gardens, particularly if they are open to the street. If these spaces already lack privacy, it’s going to be difficult to sustain an objection about overlooking from an adjacent development.
On the other hand there is a higher expectation of privacy to rear windows and in private rear gardens, which usually enjoy a greater degree of seclusion. Even here, however, complete freedom from intrusion is rare. There is usually a limited degree of overlooking. For example, most rear gardens are overlooked at an oblique angle from the upper floor windows in the neighbouring buildings.
It’s therefore important to manage your expectations. Some overlooking occurs in most residential environments. The reality is that most new developments will overlook existing homes and gardens to some degree. In planning terms, the critical judgement is whether or not that impact falls within acceptable limits, having regards to the general standards of the area and any relevant planning policies or guidance.
Most local authorities have planning policies that seek broadly to protect the residential amenities or living conditions at existing residential properties. However, because each proposal must be assessed on its merits, those policies can’t be overly prescriptive about what might, or might not, be acceptable in any given situation.
What local authorities can do, however, is produce guidelines. These are normally set out in Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) or Supplementary Planning Documents (SPD). These provide guidelines for minimum separation distances in different circumstances. For example, a 20m back-to-back distance is commonly applied between habitable room windows in two storey dwellings.
Where such guidelines are in place, they provide a very useful starting point, but it’s important to keep in mind that they are only guidelines. Many factors might justify using a longer or shorter separation distance. For example, the land may be sloping, there may be trees or other features that provide a degree of screening, or the windows might be orientated at an oblique angle to each other.
Habitable rooms are the main living spaces in the dwelling. These include the living room, dining room and bedrooms. A kitchen might be classed as a habitable room if it also includes a dining area. There is a reasonable expectation of privacy in these rooms and they will be afforded the most protection. Bathrooms, halls and landings are not habitable rooms and do not enjoy the same level of protection.
Similarly, some garden or amenity areas are more private than others. Usually, the area closest to the rear of the dwelling is the most important area, as it is the most secluded and most frequently used. However, garden areas to the front or side often have less privacy and may even be completely open to public view. As with the interior space, it’s the private spaces with the greatest amenity value that will merit the most protection.
Independent professional planning advice
Most local authorities have times when a duty planning officer is available to provide advice and answer questions. This can be very helpful. Just remember it’s not their job to defend your position or protect your interests. If you’re concerned about privacy or any other aspect of a planning application or planning appeal, you should seriously consider securing professional planning representation to ensure your objections are made correctly and accorded the appropriate weight in the decision-making process. Contact me without obligation for advice and a fixed fee quotation.