Skip to main content

Treehouse of Horrors or just another little dig at permitted development rights?

Just last week the popular press has reported on a tree house in Lincolnshire being threatened with planning enforcement. The summer months boil on and the traditionalists argue for a return to soap box go-karts and tree houses rather than the ready made soup of holiday TV and smart phone games.

However should our kids (and Grandparents) in this instance take proper planning and legal advice before venturing back outside to the "good old days"? 

Even the Independents extract from the Dangerous Book for Boys*& contains a Legal Update reminding us that new Permitted Development rules came into force from 1 October 2008 which state that no verandas, balconies or raise platforms can be built without planning permission, with raised being defined as anything over 30cm.

What permitted development rights exist to construct a tree house?

Treehouses are not covered specifically by the Permitted Development ("PD") rights.  

The closest we could find is either PD for outbuildings - a single storey with a maximum eaves height of 2.5 metres and a maximum overall height of 4 metres with a dual pitched roof, or 3 metres in any other case.  

Or provisos in relation to temporary uses - which would raise the additional legal query - if the land use is entirely "in the air", mounted in a tree is it a temporary use of land anymore?

Raised platforms such as decking are PD provided they are no higher than 0.3m, so again this wouldn’t cover a tree house.  No verandas, balconies or raised (defined in GPDO as over 0.3m) platforms are allowed without planning permission.

In general, Planning Permission will be needed for most treehouses.  If the property is listed you may also need listed building consent. The local planning officers are likely to take into account whether your treehouse will have an impact on your neighbour’s privacy – for example where the treehouse overlooks their garden or allows you to look through the windows of their home, which may come into play in this case. You may also have to provide drawings and Ordnance Survey maps with the application to detail where the treehouse will go.

One retailer tried to insist that their treehouses are all ‘temporary structures’ but this is unlikely to be a successful argument.  And in fairness it is hard to see how safe a child's play space a tree house could be whilst passing any legal test to be temporary.  And whilst the British summer is rarely all that long if you can only have the treehouse for 28 days in a calendar year how quickly will it become that childs sanctum?

Why in this instance does it appear the LPA are considering enforcement?

Unusually for a tree house, and whilst we haven't been invited on a site visit, the structure appears to be floor mounted (to the extent the ground floor is a platform is unclear).  It is the second storey with the staircase weaving around the tree trunk which has likely gotten Grandad in hot water.

It would appear the reality is that tree houses can proceed at ground level only.  In other words its a shed or a den not a tree house.  Or you would need to apply for planning permission first.  Potential tree developers should also consider Tree Protection Orders and the impact of living in a conservation area first too - before their actions are seen to unwittingly damage a protected tree.

So it turns out that our progressive permitted development rights with all the relaxation of the last few years under the Conservatives still prevent good old fashioned summer fun.  

Should there be a genuine exemption for the under 12's who may not over-look their neighbours gardens in quite the same way as the older nosey neighbour might.

*& - disclaimer - co-written by a University Theatre co-member who I bumped into at a friends wedding a few weeks ago who now runs a theatrical tea company in Vauxhall.

... a tree-house is still one of the best things you could possible have. It's worth the effort, the sweat, the cost, even the blood, if whoever builds it is careless with power tools. It is a thing of beauty. It really should have a skull and crossbones on it somewhere, as well.
-Conn & Hal Iggulden - the Dangerous Book for Boys.”