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Votes on neighbours extensions

People will be able to vote on property extensions in their area as part of new planning reforms, the government says.
Planning Permission For Extension
Votes on neighbours extensions

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Ministers pledge votes on neighbours’ extensions, but leave question mark over housing target

Minister Michael Gove said his plans would help “build communities that people love and are proud of”.

But he steered clear of re-committing to the government’s existing housing target, instead saying they would do everything they could to reach it.

In its 2019 manifesto, the Tories pledged to build 300,000 homes a year in England by the mid-2020s.

But in its first year in office, only 243,000 new homes were supplied, according to the House of Commons Library – falling to 216,000 in 2020/21, partly because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Research conducted by the BBC in 2020 found the difference between the housing stock in England and the number of homes needed was more than one million.

Extension Planning Permission

Mr Gove agreed more homes were required, but told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it would be “no kind of success to simply hit a target if the homes that are built are shoddy, in the wrong place, don’t have the infrastructure required and are not contributing to beautiful communities”.

His predecessor, former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, warned against missing the target, saying: “People are homeless today because we’re failing to build those houses.”

Housing is a big challenge for the government

Housing is a big challenge for the government, and making it easier to approve developments was a key part of its initial strategy after Boris Johnson won the 2019 general election.

The original proposals, led by Mr Jenrick, would have introduced a zonal system where local councils in England had to classify all land in their area as either “protected”, for “renewal”, or for “growth”.

Councils would then have had to look favourably on developments in “renewal” areas, while in “growth” zones, applications conforming to pre-agreed local plans would automatically gain initial approval.

Ministers also wanted to introduce binding local quotas.

But the plans sparked a significant Tory backlash, including from former Prime Minister Theresa May, who called them “ill-conceived”.

Some in the party said the policy had contributed to by-election losses in former Conservative heartlands – including Chesham and Amersham – fears that would only have been exacerbated by last week’s local elections results.

Now those proposals will be dropped in favour of a new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to be published on Wednesday.

Planning and house-building are often controversial.

Michael Gove was confronted by fury inside his own party over planning reforms put forward by his predecessor.

So he’s junked them.

Instead, there’s a set of measures designed to give people more say over development in their areas.

Mr Gove has suggested communities will be more open to new housing if it’s not imposed on them – if it’s “beautiful” and “democratic”.

But having ditched more radical reforms, the government may well struggle to meet its own target for building new homes.

All the while, there are tens of thousands of people on housing waiting lists, families living in unsuitable or temporary accommodation, and many others unable to afford to get on the property ladder.

There are other measures in the Queen’s Speech designed to improve the housing market – giving renters more protection and suggestions of a clampdown on empty second homes.

It’s a complex problem of which the planning system is only one part.

But the reality is that the country is facing a housing crisis, and so far successive governments have failed to find a solution.

Extension Planning Permission Rules

Mr Gove will promise communities control over what is happening in their area, with measures such as “street votes” allowing them to decide whether new extensions and other developments can go ahead.

Other new policies will include:

  • Design codes to let see local communities set rules about the layout of new developments and materials which could be used
  • A new infrastructure levy – to be determined locally – to increase funds for projects such as schools, hospitals and roads by basing the sum on the value of the property when it is sold, rather than when it gets planning permission
  • Digitising the planning system, making plans more accessible online rather than relying on notices on lampposts

Mr Gove said communities had been “understandably resistant” to new developments when factors like the appearance of the buildings and the supporting infrastructure – like GP surgeries and schools – were not included in the plans.

But he believed more people would be in favour of new housing under his proposals, adding: “People, when it comes to housing development, should be partners. It shouldn’t be a case that we impose.

“It is important that even as we seek to improve housing supply, we also seek to build communities that people love and are proud of.”

Labour MP Clive Betts – who chairs the housing select committee – called the voting plan a gimmick, telling the BBC it was not possible for communities to “decide absolutely everything” about urban planning in their area.

He told the BBC the process of building new housing should be simplified, with local people involved in decisions about where homes might be placed much earlier than at the planning permission stage.

Extension Planning Permission

Mr Gove admitted the government would not hit its annual housing target of 300,000 this year, telling Today: “Ultimately, when you are building a new dwelling, you are not simply trying to hit a statistical target.”

But Mr Jenrick – who lost his seat in cabinet to Mr Gove after the 2021 reshuffle – raised concerns in the Commons that the number of homes built under the prime minister’s first year in office would be the “high-water mark” for “several years to come”.

And he said the government would continue to miss its manifesto pledge “by a country mile” if more action was not taken.

“We’ve got to get those homes built because we’re letting down hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens,” the former minister added.

“People are homeless today because we’re failing to build those houses. Young people’s rightful aspiration to get on the housing ladder is being neglected because we’re not building those homes.

“The only way in which we will get back to 250,000 homes a year and exceed it is if we together, on a cross-party basis, agree that that is not good enough and that we need to build more and find ways of doing that.”

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