Tell us what you think: Will government’s new planning rules kick-start the economy or open the door to unwanted developments?
PUBLISHED: 09:41 06 September 2012 | UPDATED: 14:02 06 September 2012
Planning restrictions on home and business extensions are to be eased by the Government as part of a package of measures to help kick-start the economy, David Cameron and Nick Clegg announced today.
Mr Cameron pledged to get the planning system “off people’s backs” and revive the economy by easing restrictions for homes and businesses.
Tens of thousands of families will be allowed to extend their properties by up to eight metres without gaining full permission, and rules on shops and offices expanding will be loosened.
Obligations for including affordable housing in new developments could also be waived where they are holding projects back.
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 negotiate with developers over ratios and insisted the changes would not make councils a soft touch when it comes to dealing with them in the future.
But Labour insisted the government was “kidding itself” that the package would shake the country out of its malaise, while the Local Government Association said it was “a myth” that the planning system was blocking house-building.
Under the changes, full planning permission - required for extensions of more than a few metres from the rear wall of any home - will only now be needed for those beyond six or eight metres, depending on whether it is terraced or detached.
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”.
However, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg insisted the change would be more than compensated for by extra government investment to support the building of more affordable homes.
Mr Clegg said of the change in social housing restrictions: “Instead of having developers sitting for five years on useless land where nothing has happened, no young people are being employed on construction sites, no affordable homes are being built, no new houses are being built for first-time buyers, we are saying ‘Let’s undo that knot at an earlier stage’.
“Our calculations are that there are some sites where they will be able to proceed without building affordable homes. That is why we are putting up £300m to more than make up for any loss.
“The net effect of all of these proposals, let me be very clear, is more, not less, affordable homes.”
The prime minister 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.”
Mr Cameron said he wanted to help the people “in their thirties living at home with mum and dad desperate for that starter flat or house”.
However, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the treasury Rachel Reeves said: “With our economy in a double-dip recession and a serious housing crisis, the government are kidding themselves if they think these announcements are up to the scale of the challenge.
“We need to get Britain building again, but the government has slashed the housing budget and the number of affordable homes being built is down by 68pc. And they have failed to deliver many of the infrastructure projects they announced last year.
“If ministers really want to help homeowners and small firms, why don’t they listen to our idea to cut VAT to 5pc on home improvements, repairs and maintenance?
“And why do they refuse to repeat the bank bonus tax to fund the building of 25,000 affordable homes and 100,000 jobs for young people?”
And the Local Government Association (LGA) has said it is a “myth” that the planning system is blocking house-building.
New research published today by the association reveals 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.
The LGA says the current rate of construction it would take developers three-and-a-quarter years to clear the backlog by building all of the new homes local authorities have signed off.
To find out what this could mean for Norfolk see tomorrow’s EDP.
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