UK Politics

Peers back revised home extension plan

Image caption Homeowners wishing to build extensions would notify their council who would then inform neighbours

The House of Lords has backed government plans to allow people to build bigger home extensions, after ministers made concessions.

The government amended its proposals to ease planning rules in England by giving neighbours the right to be consulted on building work.

Lord True, who had opposed the original plan, called it a "significant change".

Despite backing the new approach, peers raised concerns about the plan's details and urged further consultation.

Ministers announced last year that they wanted a three-year relaxation of the planning rules to allow single-storey extensions of up to eight metres for detached houses and six metres for other houses to be built without planning consent being required.

Following opposition from coalition MPs - who fear the plans may result in unsightly developments, over which local communities have no say - Communities Secretary Eric Pickles set out a "light-touch neighbours' consultation scheme".

'Social and environmental impact'

He said he wished to tackle "head-on" concerns about the effects the plans would have on "neighbours' amenity".

Under the revised scheme, homeowners wishing to build extensions under the new powers would notify their council. It would then inform neighbours.

If the neighbours did not object the development could proceed, but if they did raise concerns the council would have to consider whether it had an "unacceptable impact on neighbours' amenity".

Mr Pickles said this would allow ward councillors to be involved.

The application could also be considered by a planning committee - as is the case in the current planning process - if the council deemed it appropriate, he added.

When the Growth and Infrastructure Bill first came to the House of Lords, peers defeated the government and amended the bill to stipulate that individual councils should be given the right to opt out of the planning rules changes.

However, this was rejected by MPs, despite a number of Lib Dem and Conservative MPs voting against the government.

Conservative peer Lord True, the leader of Richmond council who led opposition to the original proposals, welcomed the government's revised approach as a "significant and considerable change" and said he would not continue to oppose the plan.

He said: "My view has always been, and remains, that faced with potentially overbearing developments, neighbours should have the right defend the value and amenity of a home."

'Textbook case'

But he said there remained "serious issues to resolve" on the details of the new approach, labelling the process as a "textbook case of how not to make policy".

Lord True said he was seeking the "clearest possible assurance that there will be full and meaningful and specific consultation of the details behind this proposal before final regulations are laid".

Lord Shipley, vice-president of the Local Government Association, said the new approach went "a long way" to improving the plans, but said he would like neighbours who can see the proposed development involved with consultations, instead of just those directly adjacent to it.

A number of peers asked for the period within which neighbours can object to be extended beyond 21 days and several raised concerns about the costs imposed on planning departments by the additional work involved with these cases.

It followed a letter from chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee Clive Betts to Mr Pickles in which he called for an "urgent clarification" of the revised plan.

Communities and local government minister Baroness Hanham said the revised approach was "not everything everybody would want, but we have moved a very long way since we started on the bill".

"The amendment gives local authorities a role where neighbours ask them to make a judgment, while allowing home owners across the country equal opportunity to make use of the new permitted development rights," she added.

Labour's Lord McKenzie warned that more debate and consultation on the details was needed, but said his party would not oppose the government's plans.

He welcomed Communities Secretary Eric Pickles' "uncharacteristic conversion to the spirit of consensus" and said: "Clearly the government have been forced to back away from their original position and this is to be welcomed."

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