Poll reveals concerns over changes to UK planning system

Poor design decisions could damage the built environment, say RIBA

Over half of people in the UK believe that the government’s plan to remove the need for planning permission for small extensions to houses would mean the quality of neighbourhoods suffering.

Some 54% of people polled by YouGov on behalf of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) reckon designs will get worse and only 7% think that it will get better.

The lack of public support for the measures mirrors RIBA’s concerns that the proposals go against the principles and commitment to quality design, as set out in the recently introduced and lauded National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

In light of the significant widespread public and professional concern over the flawed proposals the RIBA is calling on the government to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent poorly designed new extensions as part of its consultation on this proposal.

It also asks the government to consider the private cost to future owners of commercial space and home owners who may need to rectify mistakes of poorly designed extensions built without appropriate checks and balances.

‘The government’s new policy is rushed and if implemented could pave the way for poor design decisions which could damage our built environment for years to come,’ said Ruth Reed, chair of the RIBA planning group.

‘We agree that there is a need to reduce the red tape in our current planning system but as the British public have clearly expressed, this policy change must be more carefully considered to ensure we make our neighbourhoods better not worse,’ she added.

In addition to concerns over design quality, and despite the Localism Act heralding a new era of community engagement, the poll also revealed that the government’s proposed planning reforms have left half of public respondents worried about losing their influence over new extensions in their local area.

The poll found that some 20% were very worried and 10% were not worried at all. ‘People must be given the right to be consulted on the impact of significant development in their communities in a fair and efficient way. These reforms will create anxiety amongst communities who have been promised more local influence by this government, not less,’ added Reed.

Meanwhile, the Society of Licensed Conveyancers (SLC) warns that many home owners could find themselves in breach of building regulations, if they misinterpret these latest changes.

Far from kick starting the economy, the SLC fears that a lack of clear communication about the on going obligations for home owners wishing to extend their current home, could end up costing those who opt to take advantage of this temporary relaxation in planning rules thousands of pounds if they fail to secure the necessary building regulations approval.

The SLC is warning consumers that while they may no longer be required to apply for planning permission if their planned extension falls within these new boundaries, they are still bound by a series of obligations.

Any extension to a home will still be subject to building regulations approval and in addition, may also require ‘build over’ permission from the local water board, if the property or planned extension encroaches on a public drain or sewer. Failure to secure these necessary approvals could later lead to legal and remedial action, at the expense of the home owner.

‘It is very important for home owners to understand that these recent changes do not simply allow you to press ahead with a planned extension if it falls within the new permitted dimensions. You are still required to secure building regulations approval. Failure to do so could result in the council later requesting that you take down your extension, a costly and easily avoidable scenario, if you ensure you secure the necessary permissions up front,’ said John Clay, chairman of the SLC.

‘With the housing market remaining subdued and an increasing number of people looking to extend their existing home rather than incur the expense of moving, this latest relaxation of the planning regulations could significantly ease the process for thousands of home owners. However, we strongly urge home owners to ensure they have secured building regulations approval and any other necessary permissions, before commencing any works,’ he added.

The SLC is urging any home owners who are planning to add an extension to their property to contact their local council or to visit the Government’s planning portal for further information and clarification, before commencing with any planned building work.

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