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Councils rebel over planning concession

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Liberal Democrat councillors have condemned the government’s relaxation of planning rules, in an emergency motion for their party’s conference next week.

Their move came as Conservative controlled Richmond-upon-Thames LBC and its Lib Dem neighbour Sutton LBC both vowed to try to find ways to defy the changes, which would allow house extensions of up to eight metres to be built without planning permission.

In its motion, the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) says this step would be “against the spirit” of the Localism Act and would “ignore local democracy [and] fail to protect local communities and will encourage more neighbourhood disputes”.

Delegates at the Brighton conference will vote on which emergency motions to debate, but the ALDC’s one stands a good chance of being chosen given the organisation’s influence in the party.

When communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles announced the concession earlier this month, he said it would “strengthen individual homeowners’ right” and also mean “less municipal red tape…and free up valuable resources in local authorities”.

But Richmond’s deputy leader Geoffrey Samuel (Con) said that when the regulations concerned are issued, its officers would “trawl through them with a fine tooth coomb to identify any flexibility”.

He said the relaxation would leave “neighbours powerless over large extensions that might blight their gardens, threaten their privacy and severely risk reducing the value of their homes”.

“In the meantime we will continue to press the Government with utmost vigour against these proposals, which in our view go against their widely admired commitment to localism,” Cllr Samuel said.

Sutton’s leader Ruth Dombey (Lib Dem) said the planning relaxation would be “a recipe for disaster, they have not been properly thought through”.

Owners of mid-terrace homes could find their rear windows “flanked by six metre extensions on both sides, plunging them into darkness for most of the day - and they would have no opportunity to object”.

This would “set neighbour against neighbour and split communities for years to come”.

A spokesman for adjacent Labour-run Hounslow LBC said: “I’m not sure we’re following Richmond but there is not a lot of support for [the government’s proposal] this side of the river.”

Planning minister Nick Boles is reported in newspapaers today to have said that councils would not be bound by the concession on home extensions as regulations allowed opt-outs in various unspecified exceptional circumstances.

Shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods, said: “Just a fortnight ago Eric Pickles announced that this relaxation of planning rules would apply across non-protected areas.

“Now it’s become clear that many councils are very unhappy, the planning minister has u-turned and said that it will be for individual councils to decide whether or not to apply them. This shows that ministers are making it up as they go along.”

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