David Cameron

Should the government have relaxed UK planning laws?

The UK news have extensively reported on the new year long relaxation of UK planning rules, in order to kick start the construction industry, and proposals aimed at “lightening the burden on home-owners” but it has been met with some apprehension by many.

Is it a good or a bad thing?

UPDATED: This article was written back in 2014

A few years back, ex Prime Minister David Cameron (Pictured) announced  what he called an “emergency”  free-for-all in domestic building works, mainly house extensions, and proposed that UK home owners would be able to extend their house into the garden up to 8 metres from the original dwelling boundary, but WITHOUT the need for formal planning permission from their local council.

UK planning laws.

In general, home owners, and of course people who build extensions, have welcomed the move, however grave concerns are coming to light from many local councils across the UK. Some business related building work, for example offices, shops and factories, also seem some relaxation, but local councils are not happy.

What the men in suits say about planning law relaxation.

The first of many dissenters comes from Coventry councils chief planning officer Councillor Kevin Maton, who said ……

……”new laws were completely flawed and would lead to neighbour disputes……..”

He also went on to suggest

……….Planning rules are in place to protect the applicant and the near neighbours – and this free-for-all will, I am sure, lead to more neighbour disputes and inappropriate development………

However further south in Bristol, a more positive tone came from Anthony Negus, the Lib Dem councillor in charge of regeneration in the city seemed to be in favour of the relaxation of rules, especially where commercial and industrial building is concerned and stated that the Government was relaxing planning regulations to try to help the construction industry to weather the economic recession.

But he said the council had been working with developers for years to help them overcome planning issues so that new schemes could go ahead. He said there were examples where the council had relaxed Section 106 contributions in order to allow new development to start however UK planning laws are there for a reason and a backlash from other local authorities is expected.

And that is just 2 opinions from 2 councils, and as the UK has around 150 local authorities, boroughs, unitary authorities and metropolitan counties, this is going to be the tip of the iceberg.

What do the new (12 months) planning rules entail?

The new laws, called the Permitted Development Rights would make it far easier for people to install conservatories and loft extensions without going through weeks of planning bureaucracy.

If the plans go ahead, then full local council planning permission which is usually required for extensions of more than 3 or 4 metres from the rear wall of any house would then only be needed for extensions reaching beyond 8m for detached homes and 6m for others.

Rules that restrict an extension to no more than 50% of a property’s garden will remain.

So the home owner can significantly extend their house without going to the local council.

Mr Cameron’s enthusiasm and belief in these proposals were last week outlined on ITV when he said

“We’re determined to cut through the bureaucracy that holds us back. That starts with getting the planners off our backs, getting behind the businesses that have the ambition to expand and meeting the aspirations of families that want to buy or improve a home.”

So the prime minister is suggesting that in cutting red tape, the stimulus for a revival in the fortunes of the building industry will prevail, however many do not agree with him.

In addition, one of the key policies of the both this administration, and the previous Labour one, was the obligation to developers, to build more “affordable” housing, an obligation which has also been relaxed, to appease the builders.

However in response ex  Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that over 16,500 1st time buyers are to get help in getting on the housing ladder under an extension of the FirstBuy scheme, although on the face of it, thats not a lot of people.

We saw what councils think, but what about home-owners?

Largely it seems a split between the YES and the NO camps, and only today (September 2oth) Richmond council in South east London has raised formal objection.

The government said councils still had powers to block developments.

The BBC covered this story extensively and allowed people to submit their opinions on the new scheme, some of which were published on the BBC news website. Here are a few of those opinions.

Al Blake said :

“I am very concerned about this. We do live on a small island; with a limited amount of land to house our growing population, as well as the wildlife that we hold dear. If we want to make sure this all fits in in the future we have to vet developments and plan ahead. The combined effect of everyone building without consideration for their neighbours, and the environment is worrying.”

“Pam” highlighted a good point:

Generally people build extensions because they cannot afford to move to a larger house. So why not change the level of costs, making moving more financially easier? Landlords will be flocking to add extra rooms they can extortionately rent out! Bad move by the Government all round really and it will cost them as well as the man in the street. No confidence in any political party any more!!

Whereas “Chris” said:

“This will cause all sorts of problems. It’s not just extensions blocking views and casting windows and gardens into shadow, it’s about the destruction of the remaining green spaces in our towns. There are currently plans to build over 1,000 houses in my village despite the fact that the roads are already gridlocked and the schools are full. Unfettered house building is this government’s poll-tax.”

….and the above is just THREE views from the public’s comments which number in their thousands.

What is the opinion of the building trade?

It’s pretty obvious that this IS going to create (a bit..) more jobs and will enable some money to be swished around the place but it remains to be seem as to whether this will create the work that the government think it will. One drawback with the relaxation of the laws is the risk of home owners having shoddy work done, and also complaints from neighbouring homes about loss of privacy and light, something that the planning laws were put into place to avoid!

It should provide some localised boosts in building work, but with many people these days pretty much strapped for cash, it remains to be seen if people will really go for this or not.

Will it work?

This appears to be a desperate measure by the government and not everyone is convinced this will work, not least the council themselves. Many people in the public domain are suggesting that the UK is too small to build any more on, and perhaps we should consider reducing the population instead!?

In addition, there is still some confusion about how long this will last.

Many of the papers have reported 12 months, however the BBC seems to think this will be a 3 year journey.

There are of course other players in the game and a spokesman for the Local Government Association says it is a “myth” that the planning system was stopping house-building.

It released figures in response to the proposals, which show a backlog of 400,000 prospective homes which have planning permission granted by UK councils, but have not yet been built. It says these “conclusively prove” the planning system is not holding back development.

So, what WILL work?

I don’t think this on its own will make a massive difference but it would appear people have more confidence in extending or improving their own home, rather than planning to purchase a brand new one, or even planning to move elsewhere.

The consumer confidence is just not there, and with the continuing uncertainty in the economy, no one seems to want to do anything drastic, so extending your home, and giving your house more value, can only be a good thing?

Concerns still abound on building on our “green and pleasant land” and it would seem the public in general are not all that keen on it.

Unless they plan to extend their house soon.

This was an original news item by property surveyor Guy Alexander Bell. Bsc.(hons).Pg.DP.

Scroll to top