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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 15:41 GMT
Householders await planning simplicity
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The government's review of planning regulations for England has recommended a massive overhaul of the system.

And the nation's burgeoning army of loft extenders, extension builders and driveway tarmac-ers may soon not need to wade through red tape.

The Barker Review says household applications for simple home extensions should be fast-track approved if there is no opposition from neighbours.

The government is already looking at the issue in its Householder Development Consents Review, which aims to make planning permission necessary only for work that has an impact on third parties.

Planning consents for householders have rocketed in recent years, and there are now around 122,720 minor consents a year.

The review suggests that the British system might be made more like New Zealand, where agreements made between householders and their neighbours can eliminate the need for a planning application.

The local people have got the best interests of the environment at heart
Peter Sevenoaks

In a typical scenario, neighbours might agree to a householder putting an extra storey on his house, as long as they would pay for opaque glass to be installed in the neighbours bathrooms to protect privacy.

Peter Sevenoaks, from Chobham, in Surrey, is one householder who would very much like to see this system implemented.

Mr Sevenoaks, a consultant, says he started work on approved plans to refurbish his house earlier this year only to run into an obstacle that required the roof to be raised.

Despite securing permission from all the neighbours, he says his adapted plans were turned down after two months by his local authority on the basis they were "unneighbourly". He is currently appealing.

Bureaucracy cost

"There's no roof on the building because I'm told if I put it on the planning people will go ape. It is very frustrating."

Having hired a planning consultant to help him with the plans, Mr Sevenoaks says he would not be surprised if the whole affair had not cost him as much as 10,000.

"The local people have got the best interests of the environment at heart. If they have objections that are realistic then the application wouldn't go through. Instead, we end up with bureaucracy and cost and no houses being built."

122,720 minor consents a year
90% of household consents processed within eight weeks
97% within 13 weeks

As it stands, the Department for Communities and Local Government says 90% of householder applications are dealt with within eight weeks and 97% within 13 weeks.

But lifting the simplest applications out of the system could free up officials to assess the more contentious proposals more quickly.

Householders are also hoping the review will bring more accountability in the system.

Retired policeman Ian Bateman, from Reading, said an application to rebuild and slightly enlarge a poorly-built extension ran into trouble.

"The planning officer just didn't like the look of the plans. I could either redraw the plans or appeal to a tribunal which would cost 3,000-4,000 and take 18 months."

After very slight changes the plans were approved by a different planning officer, but the process had cost Mr Bateman 1,700 and he remains unclear as to what was wrong with the original plans.

"We need a simpler, clearer system and to make planning officers more accountable."

The review also suggests that the installation of electricity generation facilities like David Cameron's microturbine should be made easier.

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