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Compromise on home extensions

The Government has proposed a compromise on a controversial bill that relaxes planning restrictions on home extensions, offering neighbours the opportunity to raise any concerns.

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill aims to extend permitted development rights by allowing people to build home extensions of up to six metres (for terraced and semi-detached houses) and eight metres (for detached houses) without planning permission.

The measure, which doubles the current permitted development limits, met with strong opposition both among campaigners-the Local Government Association labelled the Bill a ‘national free-for-all’ that would ‘open the floodgates to thousands of unsightly and unsuitable extensions’-and in Parliament.

When the Bill reached third reading in the House of Lords, peers approved an amendment, introduced by Lord True, allowing councils to opt out of the policy. This was rejected in a subsequent vote in the Commons-but only narrowly. The Government won the vote by 286 to 259 as Tory beckbenchers led by Zac Goldsmith-who said the Bill would cause ‘unnecessary conflict between neighbours’-joined forces with Labour to uphold Lord True’s amendment.

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To assuage fears, Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who sponsored the Bill together with Baroness Hanham, promised to revise the approach to the Bill and reach ‘a sensible compromise.’ This came in the form of what Baroness Hanham, speaking to the Lords on Monday April 22, and Michael Fallon, speaking to the Commons on 23 April, called ‘a light-touch neighbourhood consultation’ scheme.

‘A homeowner wishing to build an extension will write to the local planning authority providing plans and a written description of the proposal,’ explained Mr Fallon. ‘The local authority will then notify the adjoining neighbours-for example, the owners or occupiers of properties that share a boundary, including those at the rear. Those neighbours will have 21 days in which to make an objection, the same period as under existing planning rules. If no neighbours object, the homeowner will be able to proceed. If any neighbour raises an objection, the local authority will then consider whether the impact of the proposed extension on the amenity of neighbours is acceptable.’

Although several peers called for further debate on the issue, and numerous MPs remained unconvinced by the revised proposal, the amended Bill was backed by both Lords and Commons, and looks set to become law.

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