I don’t imagine you had today marked in your diary as a Red Letter Day for UK planning legislation.   However today’s debate on the   Growth and Infrastructure Bill could see a change that would allow local planning authorities to opt out of one of the main aims of the Bill, the temporary relaxation of permitted development rights for domestic premises.

The Bill as it stands includes a  temporary change to Permitted Development Rights for domestic properties, removing the need for full planing permission for extensions of 8m for detached homes and 6m for all others, as long as more than 50% of the garden remains.

This may sound like a minor change but according to the Local Government Association the average of 22,000 applications per year that are rejected  for valid reasons such as flood risk or the  impact on neighbours would be allowable  under the new legislation.  Restrictions in protected areas such as Conservation Areas or National Parks will remain but the changes would apply to all unprotected areas.

Details were first released by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Rt Hon Eric Pickles last September

I am announcing today a further package of simplification measures to remove red tape and ease the burden on local authorities. We will consult shortly on changes to increase existing permitted   development rights for extensions to homes and business premises in non protected areas for a three-year period. This will mean less municipal red tape to build a conservatory and similar small-scale home improvement and free up valuable resources in local authorities.

 It struck me from the start as an odd policy –   temporarily lowering your standards in tough economic times.   If we felt substantial extensions to   homes and businesses deserved the scrutiny and accountability of the local planning process during the good times, why would that change during an economic downturn?   And why three years?

I’ve tried to find a similar example of standards being lowered with no success, apart from perhaps the emergency powers allowing the acquisition of land and property implemented during the First and Second World War.

Whilst the Local Government Association is broadly supportive of the Bill they are encouraging their members to lobby MPs to accept an amendment proposed by the House of Lords that will give each local authority the option to dissaply the changes to Permitted Development.

Amendment 7

Lords Amendment 7 would amend section 61 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to enable local planning authorities to limit the operation of new national permitted development rights created by the Secretary of State for the benefit of householders. Permitted development rights grant planning permission for specified development without the need for a planning application. They are given effect by the Secretary of State making a development order which is subject to negative parliamentary procedure. The amendment would enable local planning authorities to disapply in their area any new permitted development right relating to development within the curtilage of a dwelling house.

palace of Westminster showing finial and the Elizabeth Tower containing Big Ben

The Local Government Association argues that it is a myth that the planning system is holding up the building of new homes, as there are over 400,000 new homes that have planning permission but have yet to be built.

You could argue that local authorities are bound to resist a reduction in their responsibility and a potential loss of planning fees.   They do however make many valid points, especially that this change seems to be at odds with the localism agenda.   The amendment is also supported by Civic Voice, the national charity for the civic movement in England.

I’d be interested to know if any of you have clients who will be helped by this change in planning – a quick trawl of recent decisions by my own authority shows a steady stream of approvals for housing extensions,   all within the   allowable   timescale.     My suspicion is that lack of finance and uncertainty over house prices is as much an issue for home owners as planning approval.