Over the last 12 months I have been gutting an unmodernised terraced house in London. As well as a total refurbishment I have extended up into the loft and the side return — fairly standard improvements for this type of London terrace. Strangely, to extend into the loft does not require planning permission, but extending the kitchen area does.
Re-modelling an old house is stressful enough, what with trying to keep the builders on budget, keeping the neighbours happy and ensuring cars don’t park where you have reserved space for the skip. But the thing that increases the stress and frustration beyond all else is the planning process. Their sheer incompetence is one thing, but the complete lack of urgency on the Council’s part as they seem not to care or realise that time is money is infuriating. Waiting up to six months for planning approval for such standard work is sheer madness.
Last week the Government launched its initiative to overhaul the planning process, for example to allow property owners to extend their properties by up to 8 metres without planning permission and relaxing the need for developers to build affordable housing as part of their development.
On paper, the idea of overhauling planning at first glance looks appealing, but I would like us to pause and look at what may happen if the planning laws become too liberal. We can see evidence of this ‘relaxation’ from previous generations. Many roads up and down Britain have been blighted by ugly brick cladding facias, or pebble dash, and don’t get me started on UPVC double glazed windows. All of which have contributed over the years to destroying the look of perfectly decent streets.
I think there are areas in planning that should be speeded up and perhaps what the Government should be looking at is a fast-track system for standard conversions like the loft or side return I mentioned before, and if Councils fail to pass those plans in an agreed period of time there could be a fine imposed.
But other more major developments need careful consideration as to their potential impact on the wider community. Near my farm in Devon, Tesco was given planning permission 10 years ago to build (and now extend) a massive supermarket on the outskirts of Launceston. This has been great success for Tesco, but this one development has destroyed the town centre. There are many examples of how our town centres are living (or should I say dying) examples of where planning has failed to look at the impact that granting such permission may have on the wider economic community.
I hope this Government understands that even though they are desperate to kick start the economy, they must not allow an ‘anything goes’ culture to develop. I fear that the new planning rules might create a situation that we will live to regret some years down the line. As far as I am concerned the worst decisions in life are usually made in desperation and I fear these new planning rules may be just so.