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Planning storm heading councils' way

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Any planning policy 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.

The prime minister has decided that everyone should be allowed to build large extensions to their homes without planning permission. The current permission-free limits of a single- storey 10ft extension for terraced properties and 13ft for detached houses 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 on issues like access to light and overlooking. One person’s light is another’s darkness.

Now, Mr Cameron 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 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 somewhat provocative intervention, Mr Pickles said those whose plans were turned down should seek damages from their local authority.

Unsurprisingly, a growing number of councils – including the planning minister Nick Boles’s own Lincolnshire CC (www.LGCplus.com/5050069.article) – have criticised the move, saying it will blight communities, slash house prices and set neighbour against neighbour.

Before reaching a view about whether the policy is good or bad, I suggest that you and your neighbours get your tape measures and plot out 26 foot single-storey extensions for everyone. It provides an excellent opportunity for a little community engagement. And, if you were feeling really adventurous, you could strap a few gazebos together just to aid the visualization process. Big Society rules, OK?

Clive Betts MP, chair, CLG select committee

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