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LGA concern at compromise by Pickles over home extensions

The Local Government Association has expressed reservations at how the Communities Secretary’s proposed compromise deal on home extensions will work in practice.

On Friday (19 April) Eric Pickles put forward a revised approach with a “light-touch neighbours consultation scheme” at its heart. This was after a significant number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs had rebelled against the original proposals.

The key elements of this revamped scheme are:

  • 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;
  • If no objections are made to the council by the neighbours within a set period, the development can proceed;
  • 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 expressed the hope that the new approach showed “that we have listened constructivey and made a targeted and common sense improvement”. 

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The compromise received the backing of the House of Lords this evening (22 April).

In response to the proposal, Cllr Mike Jones, chairman of the LGA’s environment and housing board, said: “We appreciate that the Government has listened and brought forward this revised policy in response to the concerns that councils and residents have raised about the home extensions free-for-all. 

“However, it remains our view that the existing system provides an effective means of balancing the interests of homeowners and their neighbours. The proposed changes introduce an additional unnecessary process that could cause confusion to residents and add pressure to council budgets.”

He added: “The Government’s revised policy acknowledges that neighbours have the right to a say on development and should not have to put up with the blight of large-scale unsuitable extensions being built unchallenged and without scrutiny in their communities. 

“It would have simply been completely wrong to infringe on people's right to have a say on building work near to their homes which, if badly designed, may block sunlight, invade privacy and even put a dent in the value of their homes.”

However, Cllr Jones expressed concern about how any new additional process would work in practice.

“If the Government is determined to go ahead with these proposals it is crucial that they confirm how the costs will be covered and engage councils in the detail of how the scheme will work,” he argued. 

“Collectively local authorities are facing a 33% cut in funding from government and we would seek reassurances that the new burdens that this policy would place on councils would need to be fully funded. Expecting local authorities to fund an additional, and ultimately unnecessary, layer of the planning process is unsustainable.”

The LGA also warned that planning services were already suffering significantly, and that the centrally set approach to planning fees meant that the system did not properly reflect costs.

It added that as a result, local authorities already operated at a loss of around 40%, equating to a public subsidy of around £110m.

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