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Fast Track Extensions On The Way

Home improvement programmes abound on television these days – and they make it look so easy! Planning permission issues, if mentioned at all, are normally dealt with in ten seconds flat – even if it might have taken months, it doesn’t seem that way. Those homeowners who do apply for planning permission know that renovations are not usually so simple.

However, new government rules are being proposed to make the planning process simpler and less frustrating. This could allow for more extensions and renovations that will not need planning permission.

The government White Paper has been called a charter for easy extensions, and it outlines plans for a new test for home developments. These will be based on the impact of the development rather than the current rules which limit developments to a proportion of the building’s original size.

The result of the new law should be that minor developments such as loft conversions, and even more extensive projects like conservatories and even wind turbines will probably be able to be completed without resorting to applications for planning permission. That will still be needed if they are in a Listed or Conservation Area or impose significantly on neighbours.

Homeowners will reap the benefits here, improving their rights for development, which are currently restricted to minor home improvements in limited proportions.

The easing of renovation rules will be seen as a good thing, but there are also reforms to the planning application process which have been the subject of concerns. The current process can take from six months to a year if permission is rejected even for the smallest details.

New proposals aim to simplify the planning forms and add the possibility for amending previously submitted applications. All applications will have to be dealt with within eight weeks rather than the current period of 16 weeks. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is concerned that a speeding up of the process will lead to more speed, but less quality in planning and design. Although RIBA support the easing if the whole process, they would prefer to look at cutting the bureaucracy associated with the smallest of applications, so that enough attention can be given where it is needed. They are reluctant to support a process which may allow poor design and planning to slip through the system, for the sake of quick turnaround.

A major concern of the new process is the impact test. It is not strictly defined. Your small extension may be your neighbour’s eyesore. There are some indications about imposition of buildings and the blocking of light, but it is not clear what is allowable and what is not. This will surely need firmer definition.

A less popular aspect of the White Paper will be new powers for the government to push through developments such as nuclear power stations, airports and housing estates. A government will be able to override local objections if the project were judged to have economic benefits. Whether enough concern is given to the environment, climate change and quality of life is open to debate.


Tom Smith
16th June 2007

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