In amongst the spin and spew of Thatcher’s Not-A-State Funeral and the awful Boston Bomb, the rebellion in the Commons over proposed new changes in planning law was quietly overlooked by most media, but the danger hasn’t gone away.
In late 2011 the Localism Act was introduced, which did away with more than a thousand pages of planning law and replaced it with about fifty. Where previous planning legislation was all about strategic placement of developments and the prevention of inappropriate build, the new Act is all about empowering development; every part of it is pro-development.
Before we have even understood the ramifications of the Act – and local authorities have been bending their minds over it ever since the Bill was made available – the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has tried to relax planning even further by extending Permitted Rights – the amount by which one can extend the buildings on a pice of land without needing to seek authority through the planning system.
Thankfully the proposal failed this time, but only by 27 votes!
I suppose if you live in a large plot of land, with neighbours you can wave to only with binoculars the expansion of your home’s footprint is inconsequential. I don’t know how big either of Mr Pickles’ homes are but I doubt he’s in a small terrace. If, on the other hand, you are in a small detached house and your neighbour to the south decides to extend his ground floor 28′ into the back garden you’re going to notice, and object… but, oh, you wouldn’t be able to.
With garden shaded and plants wilting, or with a carbuncle your only view where before it was open countryside, it’s not going to be long before neighbour falls out with neighbour. Communities die from lesser evils. Imagine your own home, and now imagine what your neighbour could build on his or her land if the mood took them, and how it would affect your enjoyment of your own home. Don’t worry that you and your neighbour get on; neighbours change. A twenty-eight foot long extension? Single story might still mean up to four metres high with a pitched roof.
One of the most significant parts of Parish Council work is reviewing and commenting on Planning Applications before they go to the Local Authority for a decision – to be allowed, conditionally allowed, or refused. It’s not a simple matter, and relies largely on the local knowledge that Parish Councillors have of their area. It’s not always a comfortable job either, telling someone in your community that you think their ideas for their home are unacceptable.
This hasn’t gone away. A person’s home is one of the most important things they have, whether it be owned, rented or borrowed. Messing with it is more than sensitive, it can affect your relationships and your mental health. Keep an eye out for it, along with badger hunting, currency devaluation and improbably expensive funerals. As far as the lauded Localism goes of course, this is its exact opposite – taking any control over planning away from the very people it affects.