Coalition Housing Plans Come Under Fire from Industry

The coalition government's latest hat-trick (as in trick pulled from hat) has come under fire barely a day after it even became an intention...

The coalition government's latest hat-trick (as in trick pulled from hat) has come under fire barely a day after it even became an intention.

The government announced September 6 plans to relax planning laws in the UK, allowing most of the single-storey extensions, conservatories, garages and garage conversions will no longer need planning permission to go ahead.

Currently such works need planning permission if they are to extend more than a given length from the existing home's rear wall (3m for semi-detached home, and 4m for detached), the new laws double this. The government also announced a further 16,500 places for first time buyers in its share-equity home-buying scheme, as well as relaxed planning laws in  the commercial sector and 100 billion in Treasury funding for housing associations and developers.

To the mainstream masses these look like great measures, and some in the industry have praised them.

A spokesman for Taylor Wimpey said the measures were "significant and sensible initiatives which try to make it easier for people to buy the homes they want, and for the industry to build them".

Meanwhile lobbyist CBI called them "a much-needed tonic for the construction sector, getting diggers on site and people into work".

However, the criticism looks to carry more weight. According to Giles Ferin, planning principal at law firm EMW the government has ignored the main issue. He said:

"On the surface this might be seen as a 'developer's charter', but access to finance on acceptable terms, not the planning system itself, remains the major obstacle in the way of development. The Government has ignored the main issue."

Meanwhile Karen Charles, director of development at DTZ, said: "What is really needed, and essential to provide much needed jobs and homes, is a financial incentive to the house building and commercial development industry."

Worse than it falling short in the industry's eyes, others say that removing planning officers could lead to more disputes between neighbours.

"If planning officers are no longer to have any input on certain types of extension, this is likely to lead to an increase in neighbour disputes – something which the courts have tried hard to discourage in recent years," said Emma Humphreys, partner at Charles Russell law firm.

Strategists for the government talked about hopes that the focus on home improvements will persuade voters that the Government is in touch with their hopes and ambitions. It is just unfortunate that this attempt to jiggery poke voter sentiment looks to have been the main driver behind the latest legislation, rather than a desire to make the right decisions to actually solve the problems in the housing market and economy.

- Friday 07 September 2012

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