UK govt relaxes planning rules for homes, shops and businesses

The UK property industry has broadly welcomed a relaxation of planning rules announced today (Thursday 06 September) by the Prime Minister David Cameron aimed at resurrecting the building industry and kick starting the economy.

Home owners will be able to build big extensions and add on large conservatories without planning permission as part of a raft of measures for tackling the current housing crisis.

They are part of a set of temporary rules that will come into play next month and last until 2015. The government hopes that the temporary change in rules will encourage home owners to bring forward plans to spend money on improvements.

Currently single storey rear extensions and conservatories can be constructed without planning permission as long as they do not extend beyond the rear wall of the original house by a set distance. For semi detached properties the limit is three metres and for detached homes it is four meters but these will now be doubled.
It means that many extensions currently requiring permission could go ahead immediately but they will only apply to single storey extensions and not to loft extensions.

Also under the new legislation the Treasury will underwrite up to £10 billion of borrowing by property developers and housing associations, in an attempt to bring new finance to the sector and businesses will be allowed to expand their premises significantly without planning permission. Shops will be free to add another 1,076 square feet of working space, and industrial units twice as much.

It takes on board the recommendations by Sir Adrian Montague set out only two weeks ago in his review of the private rented sector to kick start a viable build to rent market and releasing public sector land for build to rent developments.

'This Government means business in delivering plans to help people, build new homes and kick start the economy. We're determined to cut through the bureaucracy that holds us back. That starts with getting the planners off our backs,' said Cameron at the launch of the changes.

He wanted to help the people in their 30s living at home with mum and dad desperate for that starter flat or house and the package of measures would mean an extra 70,000 houses and 140,000 jobs being created.
Nick Jopling, executive property director of Grainger and a member of Sir Adrian Montague’s review group, described the announcement as good news for the future of the UK housing market and better news for the millions of individuals that will be renting.

'With the support announced today, we can help lead the way to creating a viable built to rent sector, attracting institutional investment. Building quality homes for long term rent will be a game changer for the UK housing market, and it will address the huge, and growing, demand for privately renting,' he explained.

'It is imperative to the UK economy and housing market that we provide enough homes, and the right type of homes. Today’s announcement recognises this, and particularly recognises the importance of the rental sector in the UK housing market,' he added.
The British Property Federation welcomed the announcement and it said that along with accepting the Montague Review recommendations and its commitment to invest £200 million in housing sites to ensure high quality rented homes are available to institutional investors quickly there is a lot of help for struggling developers and builders.

It said it is an opportunity to develop a new model for building homes in the UK that will help bridge the gap between what is being produced and providing enough homes to meet increasing demand but it raised concerns that taking major developments out of the planning system could place additional pressure on planners.

Karen Charles, director of development at DTZ, said that any attempt to relax stringent planning controls to help boost the economy should be welcomed by the development industry.

‘Although I would question the real benefits of today’s Government announcement around the temporary extension of permitted development rights to allow businesses to expand shops and industrial units. This is likely to offer little in the way of a boost to the economy or development industry or a lifting of the workload within planning departments,’ she explained.

‘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. The viability of development remains a key challenge on many developments and greater flexibility on the level of developer obligations and affordable housing would offer this significant boost. There is little doubt that providing quality homes for those on lower incomes, and requiring development to contribute to essential social infrastructure is important. However, if this is at the expense of development taking place, this should be bought into question and greater flexibility shown by local planning authorities,’ she pointed out.

‘Prioritising the determination of major planning applications, speeding up the sale of public sector land for development, and a reduction in unnecessary planning conditions would also help speed up the delivery of development and boost the economy,’ added Charles.

Chris Wojtulewski, director of the planning consultants Parker Dann, said that the relaxation of planning rules for home owners will go down well and the announcement is welcome news for developers.

‘With demand for housing weak, many developers who bought land in the boom times are holding back on building in the hope the market will improve. The relaxation of the Section 106 rules may just tip the balance in their favour and get some of these schemes underway,’ he said.

But he warned it could have side effects. ‘Everyone agrees on the need to build more homes but building more homes at the expense of social housing schemes will come at a political cost for the government. The idea that the private sector will step in to replace council housing schemes dates back to the Thatcher era. Now, that orthodoxy is being put on hold in an attempt to kick start the stalled construction sector,’ he explained.

‘The trouble is that in a stagnant economy, the need to build more homes is greater, and so is the need for more social housing,’ he added.