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Amalgamation of two flats into a single unit - High Court clarifies stance

The High Court has rejected the appeal made by the London Borough of Lambeth for the refusal of the amalgamation of two flats into one.  

The council refused planning permission and a lawful development certificate arguing that the amalgamation would result in the loss of a self-contained unit and could not identify any exceptional circumstances. 

On appeal, the inspector granted both applications concluding that the applications would not amount to a material change of use. The council appealed to the High Court on 6 grounds stating the inspector’s decision was ‘irrational and an error of law because it contained a fundamental contradiction’. All grounds of appeal were dismissed by the High Court. 

The ruling confirms the principle that a London borough should specifically prohibit or limit the amalgamation of smaller units in its development plan, as the London Plan does not forbid such actions.  A local planning authority outside of London can also benefit from the decision's helpful advice on how to evaluate applications for amalgamations of smaller units in the development plan and how to treat such requests.

Of the 6 grounds of appeal, the main ground related to the inspector’s interpretation of the Lambeth Local Plan Policy H3. The council stated that the inspector had not recognised that ‘[the Lambeth Local Plan Policy H3] positively safeguards existing self-contained C3 housing stock, and therefore restricts amalgamations, to the extent allowed for by the London Plan’.

The judge disagreed and decided in favour of the inspector’s interpretation that C3 housing is to be safeguarded in accordance with the London Plan. 

London Plan Policy H8 highlights that the loss of existing housing should be replaced by new housing at existing or higher densities with no less than the equivalent level of overall floor space. According to Lambeth, amalgamations were restricted by H8 because there would be a loss of density (a decrease in the number of units from two to one would result in a loss of density). The court determined that as Policy H8 did not define or offer direction on what density meant, the decision-makers planning discretion should be used.

To conclude, the decision is most helpful to our council clients who must ensure their local plan specifically deals with an amalgamation policy and how to assess whether it is a material change of use. 

If you have any queries or would like assistance with drafting your local plan, please do not hesitate to contact the planning team - PlanningTeam@anthonycollins.com.