Monday, 1 October 2012

Time to measure up

Any planning policy and system is all about trying to resolve the competing interests of individuals and organisations, in the context of history, addressing current and future social, economic and environmental needs. It’s a tricky balancing act. One person’s nightclub is another’s noisy nightmare.

In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher thought that the solution to our economic challenges lay in us taking in each other’s washing. Now, David Cameron thinks that allowing everyone to build a house extension or conservatory is the answer to the UK’s lack of economic growth.

David Cameron has announced that everyone should be allowed to build large extensions to their homes without planning permission. Currently, homeowners can build a single- storey 10ft extension if they live in a terraced property and one of 13ft if they live in a detached house – all without planning permission. These limits came about after previous consultations had determined that this was about the right balance between individual freedom and the point where neighbours might reasonably expect their views to be taken into account. After all, any extension of most homes will have some impact on neighbouring properties, like access to light and overlooking. One person’s light is another’s darkness.

Now, the Prime Minister has decided that the limits for building without planning permission should be doubled to 20ft and 26ft for a three-year period only. And
Eric Pickles – the Coalition Government’s Environment Secretary - has gone so far as to declare war on councils opposing his planning free-for-all by urging residents to sue if they are not allowed to build large extensions in their back gardens. In a provocative intervention, Mr Pickles said those whose plans were turned down should seek damages against their local authority.

However, a growing number of  Conservative councils – including the planning minister Nick Boles’s own Lincolnshire council – have criticised the move, saying it will blight communities, slash house prices and set neighbour against neighbour.

Before you reach a view about whether the policy is good or bad, I suggest that you and your neighbours get your tape measures out and plot out 26 foot single-storey extensions for everyone.