In the words of the prime minister, it’s time to get the planning system “off people’s backs”, while reviving the economy at the same time.

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For many people in Norfolk, the closest they come to the planning system is having to navigate it to get permission to build a conservatory or an extension and it’s surely no coincidence that the government has honed in on that very element.

As part of announcements made yesterday, people will be allowed to extend their homes by up to eight metres (just over 26ft) without having to seek full planning permission.

Downing Street said a month-long consultation on allowing larger extensions without planning permission will start next week with an aim of the measures being in effect by the end of the year, to run for a “time limited period”.

But that has sparked concern in the county, with critics warning such a free-for-all could see ugly and overbearing extensions put up with no thought for the impact on neighbours.

Claire Stephenson, leader of the opposition Green group on Norwich City Council, said the changes would not produce the economic boost the government craves, but would diminish democracy.

She said: “I think these proposals are extremely worrying. There’s a tried and tested planning system at the moment and there are very good reasons for it.

“It’s a democratic system and if somebody objects to their neighbour’s extension plans, their views will be taken into account.

“These changes mean people could potentially build quite large extensions without having to go through that process and that could have an effect on people who live around them.

“I think the government is being quite short-sighted, as I don’t think that’s going to deliver the economic boost they say it will.”

Ministers have also decided that developers will no longer have to wait five years to apply to change affordable housing requirements if they are making sites “commercially unviable”.

The government says such measures will boost the economy and Norfolk supporters of the move say it will be a shot in the arm for the local economy.

Prime minister Mr Cameron said: “This government means business in delivering plans to help people, build new homes and kick-start the economy. We’re determined to cut through the bureaucracy that holds us back.

“That starts with getting the planners off our backs. Getting behind the businesses that have the ambition to expand. And meeting the aspirations of families that want to buy or improve a home.”

The move was welcomed by John Fuller, Conservative leader of South Norfolk Council, although he insisted it did not mean the planning system in the county was broken. He said: “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that people already have permitted development rights for conservatories and extensions already, so this is really just building on what is already there.

“I don’t think we should get carried away with the notion that planners have not played their part because we have and we are.

“We know that for every house built that creates 2.1 jobs, not only with the building of the home, but in people getting kitchens fitted, carpets put in and so on.”

On the issue of affordable homes, he said councils already negotiated with developers over ratios and insisted the changes would not make councils a soft touch when it came to dealing with them in the future.

Indeed, the changes are specifically targeted on sites which have got permission, but have yet to be developed because the obligation on the percentage of new homes makes sites “commercially unviable”.

However, Caroline Davison, from the Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “It’s not the planning system which is getting in the way, it’s the economy, and we’re not sure how these ideas are going to make it any better.”

The Local Government Association said it was a “myth” that planning departments were the reason houses were not being built.

The association yesterday published figures which revealed a bumper building backlog of 400,000 new homes which have received planning permission but have not yet been completed, with building yet to start on more than half of approved plots.

And Paul Clarke, from the Norwich office of property consultants Bidwells, said, while there were major delays in the planning system, the problem went beyond town and city halls.

He said: “Builders won’t build unless there are people with mortgages who can buy the homes and landowners won’t sell land without an incentive to do it and I still don’t see a huge incentive for landowners to part with their land. “While all these measures in the round are for the good, something more needs to be done with the planning system. It does need to refresh itself so it is a lot more open and transparent, because you cannot have decisions taking so long to be made.”

The government also announced another 16,500 first-time buyers are to receive help getting on the housing ladder under an extension of the FirstBuy scheme, while new legislation will provide government guarantees of up to £40bn of major infrastructure projects and up to £10bn of new homes, including a move to guarantee the debt of housing associations and private sector developers.

The government also unveiled proposals to put the worst planning departments into ‘special measures’ if they have failed to improve the speed and quality of their work and allowing developers to bypass councils.

dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

9 comments

  • hasn't Cameron got bigger issues to address?people on estates should be careful building extensions as everyone lives on top of each other these days.

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    bookworm

    Friday, September 7, 2012

  • Cameron like Blair is ill-advised by Whitehall when it comes to a sustainable economic future for the UK. The high command of the conservatives has from the start thought that utopia was to be found through bulldozing through planning regulations and building extensions and houses. But history shows that this thinking by most probably a twenty-something Oxbridge brain, will fail and where this was not the case even in the good times of the 2000s when banks were lending as though there was no tomorrow. Indeed if we look back throughout history again, only in the two decades after WW2 did this country see a continuous sustainable economic growth through the building industry. But this realistically was also combined with the great spur from British industry who had in many ways the upper hand then with most nations including decimated Germany. Today we have no advantage and in fact have the economic might of China and the far east to contend with. This perceived government economic blueprint dreamt up by so-called whizz kids will therefore fail as all those that have done so previously. What this nation needs is an economic strategyblueprint that creates new technological industries that forty of the world’s leading scientists, engineers and technologists told Blair & co in 1997 after extensive consultation. Unfortunately Cameron it appears is just as deaf and as uninformed as Blair and where government still does not recognise our greatest asset, the British people’s creative thinking that according to international studies is the best in the world (studies by Japan & Germany in the 80s and 90s respectfully). Therefore this stupid strategy to relax planning laws et al will get us nowhere except destroy our beautiful countryside and in another decade’s time, we shall be deeper in the economic mire than we are today. The big question is, when will Whitehall start to listen to world-leading external wisdom such as that given to Blair fifteen years ago but totally ignored instead of leaving it to twenty-something non-performers in the sheer hope that something will happen. A hope that has failed miserably as history again has clearly shown. In the final analysis we need firm economic foundations to build on and where only the creation of new technological industries in the long-term can give us what we clearly seek. Not mere extensions and houses that will never provide any meaningful long-term economic dynamism for a sustainable Britsh future. Get real is my advice to our political leaders or where our future generations will suffer tremendously at your cretaive neglect. Indeed economic wars are far more deadly than conventional wars as they go on indefinitely. Dr David Hill Chief Executive World Innovation Foundation

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    david hill

    Friday, September 7, 2012

  • Excellent points by David Hill. For a decade now industry and tehcs have lamented the decline in engineering and our lack of R&D compared to other countries. Shareholders have to realise that dividends are not forever, that it is wiser to take less and invest more in modernisation, in making systems more sustainable and reliable. This old fashioned measure might serve the housing industry, but it fails to answer to the realities of our current situation. 1stly, who has the money to spare to do these alterations, when the economic situation is on a down turn and a housing slump could make this a futile gesture. Britain needs to get its energy supply in house, we need to exploit alternative energies and come away from Russian gas and french nuclear power. We have to safeguard and improve our agricultural self reliance, import less and invest in engineering, IT and modern design. bricks and mortar alone will not get us out of this slump.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Friday, September 7, 2012

  • Has anyone given anything any thought at all? Just jump in both feet - you're bound to land on something eventually!

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    Sandy.L

    Friday, September 7, 2012

  • So when someone starts building an extension that planners would previous have considered would impose on the property next door, then what happens? They either have enough money to put into the legal system to fight it, work stops for 5 years so lawyers can bleed both sides dry, or they have to put up with it? Cameron and his advisers have simply lost the plot, this is yet another poorly thought through move.

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    Honest John

    Friday, September 7, 2012

  • wonder if the "affordable homes" relaxation will at last unlock the scheme for the St Anns Wharf site in King Street, Norwich which has lain derelict or vacant for many years.

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    JCW

    Friday, September 7, 2012

  • Has anyone given any thought to the cost of heating and lighting all these fancy extensions. I keep hearing people moaning about the cost of gas and electricity and I find it expensive enough to heat our modest semi-detached property (without extension). With gas and electricity only set to go up in price have people given any thought about how much more it would cost if you nearly double the size of your house? We were brought up in a small terraced house as a family of 4 and never even considered it to be cramped, why have people always got to have huge extensions, most of which make roads look an eye-sore as they are mostly all different and go right up to the boundary of the property which in turn turns a road of semis into a row of terraces.

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    smithy

    Friday, September 7, 2012

  • Extensions up to 26ft? Who has room to expand that far unless you're sitting on lots of land? Cameron has no clue on the economy.

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    Jeffrey Osborne

    Friday, September 7, 2012

  • Has anyone given any thought to the cost of heating and lighting all these fancy extensions. I keep hearing people moaning about the cost of gas and electricity and I find it expensive enough to heat our modest semi-detached property (without extension). With gas and electricity only set to go up in price have people given any thought about how much more it would cost if you nearly double the size of your house? We were brought up in a small terraced house as a family of 4 and never even considered it to be cramped, why have people always got to have huge extensions, most of which make roads look an eye-sore as they are mostly all different and go right up to the boundary of the property which in turn turns a road of semis into a row of terraces.

    Report this comment

    smithy

    Friday, September 7, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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