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The risk of endless disputes between neighbours over unsightly extensions to houses has reduced yesterday (Tuesday) after the government responded to a local MP’s concerns and promised to review a controversial policy.

Towards the end of last year, the Government announced plans that would see the size of extensions allowed to homes without planning permission (“permitted development”) effectively doubled. The size limits for single-storey extensions were set to increase dramatically, with extensions of less than 50% of the floor area of the house no longer requiring planning permission - for a period of three years. The intention was to provide a boost to the depressed construction sector.

However an amendment to the Growth and Infrastructure Bill tabled by Lord True and passed in the Lords with cross-party support, gave councils the power to opt out of this policy. The amendment was strongly supported by Wychavon District Council, but opposed by the Government.

Peter explained,

“I was very concerned about the Government’s plans. They would inevitably lead to ugly, intrusive and inappropriate developments that should not be built and so inflame tensions between neighbours. And every controversial extension would be the fault of the government too.

“Nor did I feel the measure would provide a real boost to construction as most applications for extensions already receive planning permission. Much of any extra activity would be very likely to be undertaken on a DIY basis, or in the cash economy and not by professional building firms.

“I supported the amendment put forward by Lord True as it gave councils the right to decide whether or not they felt this relaxation of the planning laws was appropriate for their area.”

In his speech on the amendment, the Secretary of State of Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, said he had listened to the concerns expressed by peers and MPs. He said he believed

"... even at this late hour we can actually establish a broad consensus on these practical reforms. I can announce today that in the spirit of consensus, we will bring forward a revised approach on the contentious question of permitted development rights for home extensions when the bill returns to the Lords.”

In the Commons yesterday Peter indicated he would support the search for a compromise and said,

“I think that the Secretary of State will recognise that the level of attendance in the House today for the consideration of Lords amendments shows how seriously many of us take the matter. I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. ...and I hope that he will return with substantive changes. Tinkering is not enough; we believe that the policy is seriously flawed.”

After the vote took place Peter commented,

“I was seriously considering voting against the Government on this issue, a decision I would not have taken lightly. However, in the end I abstained. I couldn’t vote with the Government as I did support the amendment but I am pleased that the Government are reconsidering their position and that MPs will get a chance to vote on their revised position.”

Eric Pickles was not able to say what changes would be made, but said that the Government would set out their plans by the end of the week. MPs will get a chance to vote again on them when the Bill comes back to the House of Commons next week.


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