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A landmark high court challenge that could have boosted the chances of thousands of homeowners winning planning con...
A landmark high court challenge that could have boosted the chances of thousands of homeowners winning planning consent for extensions has been dismissed by the high court. The court had been asked to consider the legal definition of 'floorspace'.

In a sign-post ruling on Thursday, Mr justice Sullivan held that, in calculating the total internal floorspace of a building in order to see how much of an extension will be allowed, extra 'rooms' such as cellars and lofts should not be taken into account just because they have a boarded or even a carpeted floor.

He held that the planning definition of 'floorspace' was distinct from the ordinary dictionary definition, and said: 'It is plain that the mere existence of a floor is not sufficient.'

Kenneth Morrison claimed that the area of his existing loft in Ringwood, Hampshire, should be taken into account in the calculation of the increase in floorspace that would result from his application for permission to raise his roof and create two bedrooms and a bathroom in his roof area.

In doing so, he relied on the Oxford English Dictionary definition of floorspace, which was 'the lower surface of a room, on which one may walk.'

But rejecting the challenge, the judge said: 'In deciding what is meant by the total internal floorspace, I consider that dictionary definitions are only of limited assistance. Not because words do not have to be given their ordinary and natural meaning, but because words used in planning policies should not be construed in the abstract but in context.

'Thus total internal floorspace must be given its natural and ordinary meaning in the context of policies which seek to restrict further development in the New Forest in order to protect its particular qualities.

'It is plain that the mere existence of a floor is not sufficient.'

He said that the correct approach was, as had been done by the planning inspector in this case, to consider all the circumstances of the loft - such as the permanence of the flooring, access, use of the loft and standing room - in order to decide whether it could be 'properly regarded as floorspace for the purposes of the policy'.

He said: 'There may be cases where the loft or cellar has been so adapted that it would be reasonable to include the space therein within an internal floorspace calculation.'

But he said it would be a 'question of fact and degree that would depend very much upon the judgment of the person who carries out the inspection,' and that the approach of the inspector under challenge in this hearing had been 'eminently reasonable'.

The judge granted Mr Morrison leave to go to the court of appeal with his case, which his lawyers said would have had a 'dramatic' effect on planning applications if he had won.


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