Planners turn and face the strain of changes
The latest changes to planning rules could be good news for homeowners and developers but is stability what we need? Sharon Dale reports.
PLANNING policy changes are guaranteed to grab attention and politicians know it.
So in a bid to get Britain building, boost the economy and cut red tape, the government wants to relax planning rules for three years before reassessing the situation at the end of 2015.
At first glance, the proposals appear to be good news for home owners, developers and tradespeople.
Permitted development rights on single storey extensions will be doubled. This means you won’t need planning permission for an extension up to eight metres long on a detached house or six metres long on a terraced or semi-detached property, though building regulations will still apply.
Developers, meanwhile, will be able to renegotiate 106 agreements and planners will be forced to consider amendments. Section 106 compels developers to fund local infrastructure such as social housing in return for planning permission.
Many builders have found them too onerous and argue that sites they bought in the boom are no longer financially viable, which is why the Home Builders Federation has welcomed the move towards leniency.
But despite the fanfare, Kathryn Jukes, of Harrogate-based Directions Planning Consultancy, says the impact of the changes is likely to be minimal.
“Anyone who wanted to build a big extension and has been refused will be able to take advantage of the three-year loophole and that could lead to some very unhappy neighbours,” she says.
“But I don’t think there will be a rush to build extensions at all because the real issue is the cost of them. Funding is where the problem lies for most people.”
Lack of finance is also a problem for housebuilders but even those who can afford to develop can’t do so immediately.
Kathryn says: “If the new rules apply from December and they manage to renegotiate a 106 agreement then it will still take at least eight weeks for a planning decision and 20 if they are refused and want to appeal. So it will be six months to a year before they can start work on site and many may choose to wait until economic conditions improve.
“It’s going to take a while before we see any effects.”
While politicians believe a relaxation of rules will speed up the planning system, few in the industry concur.
An eight-week deadline for determining applications was imposed and closely monitored by the previous government, which also applied penalties on councils that failed to comply.
The Coalition has decided not to check whether local authorities have met targets and , now the stick has been removed, anecdotal evidence suggests that applications are already taking longer to process.
That could be because hardpressed local authority planning officers are still getting to grips with the new Localism Act and National Planning Policy Framework.
They may soon have to contend with more change and a new planning minister Nick Bols, who once said he believes in he believes in chaos and not central planning.
Joe Ridgeon, chair of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) North East and senior planning consultant at George F White, says: “I know from working with planning authorities and developers, that organisations have only just begun to get their heads around recent changes.
“What is needed now is a period of time for the new system to bed in, rather than yet more change, leading to uncertainty and disruption and triggering longer lasting, deeper problems.
“In my opinion, the government needs to decide where it stands on issues.
“Changing their mind at every given opportunity does not help anybody and can often cause more problems. The last thing business needs is the uncertainty that comes with endlessly rewriting planning rules.”
Kathryn Jukes agrees “It’s awful. Since I started my career in the 1990s, we have had three versions of the Planning Act. There have been so many changes recently that it has knocked the confidence of planning officers trying to make decisions..
“Every time the government makes alterations it means you have to learn your job all over again.
“Understandably, that means decisions are slower coming through.”
She believes that stability is needed as is a change of culture.
“We went through a period with the last government where planning was restrictive and more about control. I’d like to see a more positive culture where the default answer to development is ‘yes’ unless there are very sound reasons why it should be ‘no’.
“I’d also like to see local authorities be more strategic and less bothered about the detail.”
Useful Contacts: The Government’s planning portal includes updates on planning policy and details permitted development and advice on seeking planning consent.www. planningportal.gov.uk.
Directions Planning Consultancy, Harrogate, www. directionsplanning.co.uk
PRESTIGIOUS ADDRESS: Middlethorpe Manor, close to the Knavesmire racecourse, is one of York’s finest homes. It dates from the 1600s but most of its features are Georgian, and its owners have given it a fabulous makeover with the help of interior designers Plaskitt and Plaskitt.
GROWTH PLAN: The government wants more new homes, like this from Miller Homes, to be built, as well as making it easier to extend properties.