Planning shake-up to scrap red tape

A nod from the neighbours could be enough to allow homeowners to extend their properties under a proposed shake-up of the planning laws.A government-commissioned report published yesterday suggested scrapping much of the red-tape surrounding domestic planning applications for the likes of loft conversions or conservatories.

A nod from the neighbours could be enough to allow homeowners to extend their properties under a proposed shake-up of the planning laws.

A government-commissioned report published yesterday suggested scrapping much of the red-tape surrounding domestic planning applications for the likes of loft conversions or conservatories.

But the proposals, by economist Kate Barker, also called for the most controversial applications, such as waste incinerators, motorways, windfarms and other large projects, to be decided by a new independent Planning Commission after full consultation.

Critics warned that this would erode local democracy - speeding up the planning process and cutting costs at the expense of giving councillors and the public time to fully debate controversial proposals.

Adrian Gunson, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for planning and transportation, said:

“The report is very light on the democratic accountability of planning committees and the impact of full public consultation and understanding the local community.

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“Overall, where I accept the need to speed up the planning process, I am convinced that the government has delayed it by introducing regional planning into the local government framework.

“By altering the system now it will simply heap confusion on confusion.”

Ms Barker, a member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, says business, developers and communities face high costs when the planning system is unnecessarily slow, unpredictable, expensive and bureaucratic.

The report also calls for improvements in the local plan making processes, so schemes can be drawn up in 18-24 months and not the current 36-42 months.

And it says household applications for simple home extensions should be fast-track approved if there is no opposition from neighbours.

It is suggested the proposed changes could save local authorities £100m over a three year period.

David Bradford, chairman of Norwich City Council's planning committee, said: “Our view is that if it takes a bit longer to get it right then that is far better than to go forward at speed and regret it in years to come.

“My immediate concern is that a Planning Commission would take away more power and autonomy from local authorities. Also who would be controlling the controllers?”

Ms Barker was asked to comment on criticism that local communities will feel that their fears about big schemes on their doorsteps could be “steamrollered” by the new Planning Commission.

She told a news conference in London: “We know there is a fundamental difficulty. We know that we need to have things in the UK placed somewhere like large energy projects, waste projects.

“We know that these are the kind of developments that communities, at first sight, are not likely to welcome near them.

“Equally it is in the national interest that these are proposed and provided somewhere.”

She said that ministers would express an “up front” view of why these projects are needed, in a statement.

“That would be after considerable public consultation. We are not recommending that government just produces this out of a hat.”