Drop plans to allow home extensions without planning permission, MPs tell Cameron

Friday, December 21st, 2012


Prime Minister David Cameron should ditch plans to make it easier for householders and businesses to build extensions, MPs say.

The Communities and Local Government Committee found “little or no evidence"” that the Government had possible detrimental impacts on neighbourhoods of allowing people to build extensions of up to 25 feet without planning permission.

They said that Government claims that the change could save up to £100 million a year are based on “tentative, broad-brush” estimates which do not bear out predictions of massive savings.
The Government had failed to give adequate justification for its decision that any economic benefits outweigh possible environmental damage or increases in disputes between neighbours.
The proposals were announced by the Prime Minister in September as part of a package to boost economic growth, with the aim of encouraging small-scale building improvements, providing work for tradesmen and cutting the cost of red tape.
The Department for Communities and Local Government estimates that 40,000 families a year could take advantage of the move, each saving up to £2,500 in fees.

If only half this number build extensions, they could generate £600 million in construction output and support up to 18,000 jobs, the DCLG said.

But the proposals have sparked concern over a "free-for-all" which could damage the appearance of Britain's towns and cities. Planning minister Nick Boles has also said that, if successful, the three-year temporary measure could be made permanent.

In a report, the MPs said the assumptions on which the Government based its arguments are “so tentative, broad-brush and qualified as to provide little assurance that the financial benefits suggested will be achieved”.

An assessment of the possible impact of the relaxation of rules was “inadequate and does not provide a sound basis justifying the proposed changes” because it disregarded the Government’s own requirements to consider social and environmental factors, said the committee.

“We found little or no evidence that the Government had considered or addressed the social or environmental impact of the changes.

“It has ignored the detrimental effects of the change - increased neighbour disputes and any deleterious impact on the quality, design and amenity of the permitted development and the local area.”

The committee was "uneasy" about the three-year limit on the relaxation of the rules, pointing out that any extensions built during this period would have a permanent impact on neighbourhoods.

Committee chairman Clive Betts said the Government had to “go back to the drawing board.” He said: “The Government has produced very little hard evidence, and its impact assessment was not credible.

“It has ignored two of the essential requirements of its own policy on sustainable development as set out in its own National Planning Policy Framework: to take account of the environmental and social effects, as well as the economic.

“The committee found the Government's rationale for these changes unconvincing and asked it to reconsider.

“The effects of this temporary relaxation of the planning rules will be new development which will have a permanent effect on neighbours and localities.”

A DCLG spokesman said: "The planning system needs to strike a balance between the rights of the homeowner and their neighbours, avoiding excessive red tape whilst still protecting local amenity.

"Our practical proposals make it easier for thousands of hard-working families to undertake home improvements to cater for a growing family and for businesses to expand and grow, and the consultation we are currently running gives people the opportunity to comment on the reforms.

"The reforms would take the majority of applications which are uncontroversial and approved out the system, while some 160,000 applications will continue to be considered through the planning system."

By Christopher Hope

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