Councils want more detail on Pickles’ planning compromise

22 Apr 13
Councils have called for further clarification on revised government proposals to relax planning restrictions for home extensions.

By Vivienne Russell | 22 April 2013

Councils have called for further clarification on revised government proposals to relax planning restrictions for home extensions.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles wrote to MPs on April 19 setting out ‘constructive improvements’ to the controversial planning changes.

As originally conceived, the changes would have permitted people to build extensions up to 26ft without applying to the council for planning permission. Intended as a boost for the construction industry, they attracted significant opposition from Conservative and Liberal Democrat backbenchers, some of who voted against the government’s plans last week.

In response to this, Pickles has brought forward some modifications to the policy. These would require homeowners planning extensions to notify the council with details. The council would then inform the adjoining neighbours to allow them the opportunity to object. If an objection was raised, the council would then consider whether the development would have an ‘unacceptable impact’ on neighbours.

Pickles called this a ‘light-touch neighbours’ consultation scheme’. His letter observed that this approach would still allow uncontroversial improvements to be fast-tracked and would help to build consensus between neighbours.

Responding to the changes, Mike Jones, chair of the Local Government Association’s environment and housing board, said: ‘Councils have been calling for the rights of neighbours to have a say to be protected, and we are pleased that government is listening.

‘However, there are serious questions to be answered as to how this new separate scheme will work in practice. Government needs to clarify how this new scheme, which will require planning department to dedicate a significant amount of time and resources, will be paid for at a time when local authorities are already facing significant cuts to their budgets.’

Clive Betts, chair of the Commons community and local government committee, has also raised several queries regarding the changes. In a letter to Pickles, Betts asked for ‘urgent responses’ to a number of points including: the financial benefits of the new proposals; whether local authorities will be able to object; and, how the proposals can be reconciled with the government’s policy that the planning system be financially self-sufficient.

The changes, which are included in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, will be considered by the House of Lords later today. Subject to approval by the Lords, the amendment will then go back to the Commons for a further debate and vote.

Pickles said: ‘I hope this shows that we have listened constructively and made a targeted and commons sense improvement.’


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