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Government to ‘revise approach’ to home extensions

A controversial bill containing provisions that would make it easier for people to add extensions and conservatories to their home may be reworked after it sparked a rebellion among Tory backbenchers yesterday.

Sponsored by Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Growth and Infrastructure Bill seeks to extend permitted development rights, allowing home extensions of up to six metres (for terraced and semi-detached houses) and eight metres (for detached houses) to be built without planning consent. Opponents argued that this measure, which effectively doubles the current permitted development limits, would take away neighbours’ rights to have their say on a potentially intrusive structure and could turn English gardens into an ocean of concrete.

So when the bill reached third reading stage in the House of Lords, peers approved an amendment allowing councils to opt out of the policy. As the bill returned to the House of Commons on April 16, Mr Pickles sought to overturn the Lords’ amendment, which, he said ‘would introduce a wholly new principle, allowing local planning authorities to view the changes as completely optional, which would constitute a significant extension of state power over private property rights.’

However, this caused a rebellion among backbenchers, led by Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park, who maintained that ‘given that 90% of applications are already successful, surely removing people’s right to object will simply guarantee that the remaining 10%-the most contentious, un-neighbourly, antisocial developments-proceed as well, causing unnecessary conflict between neighbours.’ With part of the Tories voting with Labour to uphold the amendment, the Government only narrowly won the vote by 286 to 259.

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Nonetheless, the result caused dismay among campaigners opposing the bill, such as the Local Government Association (LGA). ‘We are hugely disappointed that MPs failed to listen to the concerns of residents and local authorities about the Government’s national free-for-all on home extensions,’ said Cllr Mike Jones, Chairman of the LGA’s Environment and Housing Board. ‘Imposing this across the county risks opening the floodgates to thousands of unsightly and unsuitable extensions.’

A compromise that assuages at least some of these fears may well be on the cards. Yesterday’s vocal opposition prompted Mr Pickles to announce he would ‘introduce a revised approach’ when the bill makes its way back to the Lords next week. ‘Given the discussions I have had with colleagues who have concerns, I believe that the problem is eminently bridgeable. I would like the opportunity to build that bridge.’

This may prove the wisest course of action, according to Philip Selway of The Buying Solution. ‘When the proposals to change the planning rules for property extensions were announced last year, we did comment that they could lead to an increase in disputes between neighbours due to the noise, building work, parking suspensions and general inconvenience caused (particularly in London), so it’s not surprising to see that these plans are set to be debated further and that Eric Pickles has announced a “rethink”.

‘While I believe that most people will be pleased to see changes that will cut down on the planning process, they do need to be thoroughly considered.’

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