Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has set out a proposed compromise in a bid to reduce opposition to the relaxation of householder permitted development rights.
Earlier this week the Government won a vote to reject an amendment that would have allowed councils to opt out of the relaxation.
The amendment had previously been backed in the House of Lords. There was also serious disquiet among a number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs over the reforms in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill.
During the debate in the House of Commons, Pickles promised “in a spirit of consensus” to introduce a revised approach.
In a letter to MPs, Pickles has now written: “I believe colleagues’ key concern has been about the potential effect on neighbours’ amenity, and the lack of any say for those neighbours.
“I propose we tackle this head on. We will seek to move ahead with these new permitted householder development rights, but introduce a new light-touch neighbours’ consultation scheme.”
This consultation scheme would work as follows:
- Homeowners wishing to build extensions under the new powers would have to notify their local council with the details;
- The council would then inform the adjoining neighbours – “this already happens for planning applications”, the letter said;
- If no objections are made to the council by the neighbours within a set period, the development can proceed (the Communities Secretary’s emphasis);
- If objections are raised by neighbours, the council will consider whether the development would have an unacceptable impact on neighbours’ amenity;
- "This is a form of ‘prior approval’ process which allows for consideration by ward councillors, and (if the council wishes) by a planning committee"; and
- There would be no fee for householders to go through this process.
The Communities Secretary suggested that these proposals were similar to a policy originally recommended by Zac Goldsmith and Lord Deben (then John Gummer) in their 2007 Quality of Life report. Goldsmith is one of the Conservative MPs to have voted against the Government this week.
Pickles argued that the benefits of this process were that uncontroversial improvements would be fast-tracked, and that it built consensus as it encouraged homeowners to talk informally to their neighbours in advance.
He added that neighbours’ amenity would be protected, “with the council and councillors acting as independent arbiters”.
The Communities Secretary also said the move would save homeowners’ money as it would be cheaper to extend their home. “There is no need for residents to purchase a lawful development certificate from the council to provide certainty that they have the rights to extend their home,” he argued.
Finally, he claimed that the proposal was consistent with growth and with localism. “We are cutting red tape and devolving power to the lowest appropriate level. We are decentralising power from the state down to local residents.”
The letter said a Government amendment to primary legislation to help facilitate the reforms had been laid before the House of Lords for consideration on Monday (22 April). If approved by the Lords, the amendment would then go to the Commons to consider.
Pickles concluded: “I hope this shows that we have listened constructively and made a targeted and common sense improvement.”