Local councils try to scupper PM's home extension plan

Oct 12, 2012

Scene now set for battle between local and central government over ‘building for growth' proposal

LOCAL councils have dealt a "huge blow" to David Cameron's attempts to kick-start the economy by refusing to implement his plans to allow home extensions to be built without planning permission.

The Local Government Association [LGA] has backed councils who are opposed to the policy, because it believes it will "give the green light to unsightly development" and cause "friction between neighbours".

Cameron's initiative, announced last month, proposed to relax planning laws to allow extensions of up to eight metres to be built without the need to seek council consent.

But the scheme has not gone down well with planners. Mike Jones of the LGA explained: "Councils approve almost 90 per cent of householder planning applications. The approval rate is so high because the planning process works to ensure development is suitable for a local area and doesn't unduly impact neighbours. Loosening rules around extensions would eliminate this vital mediation process."

He added that it would be "totally wrong" if applications that had been refused by planners could now go ahead.

Conservative-run Richmond council had already criticised the plans, the BBC reports, and at their party conference the Liberal Democrat rank-and-file also voted against the proposals. Now, the full extent of the rebellion in local government is becoming clear, says the BBC.

The Daily Mail described the LGA stance as "a huge blow to the coalition's flagship housing policy". Only this week, Cameron repeated calls for "growth-friendly" planning changes in his speech to the Tory party conference.

The policy was designed to "boost the economy and persuade voters that the coalition is in touch with their aspirations," The Daily Telegraph explained. "But the changes are facing growing backlash from critics, who say it will be harder for residents to object to extensions that will blight their neighbourhood."

Even architects, who stand to get more work, are against the idea. "Last month, the RIBA also raised concerns over the relaxation of planning policy, calling for the government to 'ensure adequate safeguards are put in place to prevent poorly-designed new extensions'," revealed the Architects Journal.

What happens now? The LGA's intervention sets the stage for a clash between town hall chiefs and Eric Pickles, says the Mail. Homeowners could be given the green light to sue councils if they don't follow the government policy.

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