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HOME REFORMS

PLANNING

Householder applications - house extensions, fences, trees, hardstandings and so forth - have been growing in numbers in the past eight years while other categories have remained steady. They absorb a disproportionate amount of resources and committee time and it is accepted by government that the process is not very 'user friendly'.

In the words of one local authority planning officer: 'I didn't join this profession to spend the bulk of my time sorting out neighbour disputes.' The government response is the Householder Development Consents Review (HDCR), announced by John Prescott in January 1 and reaching report stage this week. The recommendations are awaited with interest and will eventually be the subject of consultation, but their drift is becoming clear.

The intention is to pursue the government's aim to speed up, simplify and change the culture of planning. It also aims to reflect the wider programme of public service and regulatory reform designed around the needs of customers. We all drink to that but what will it really amount to?

The surprising answer may turn out to be quite radical. In a nutshell it is: the elimination of the need to obtain planning permission for a whole swathe of developments; the merging of various types of consent (planning, listed building, conservation area and tree consents) and the delegation to architects and other accredited 'service providers' the certification of compliance with the simplified rules.

The review recognises that much of the problem derives from the complexity and obscurity of the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO), that has evolved over the years and become a playground for lawyers.

Out will go the calculation of volumes and confusing dimensions of extensions and car ports and in will come an assessment of the impact of a proposal on neighbours and the wider community.

Stand by for an enhanced architect-as-mediator role, since affected neighbours will have to sign up to a proposal if the new alternative planning application procedures are to be bypassed. Planning authorities will also be encouraged to relax GPDO rules locally by introducing 'Local Development Orders' under the new act.

There will be a slew of customer aids and guides and step-by-step internet form filling where an application is called for. There is even an aspiration to integrate planning with building regulations but don't hold your breath. (Rather save it to shout against the threatened increase in duplicated regulation that is about to hit us under the banner of 'sustainability').

A most interesting aspect of householder reforms will be the potential expansion of the role of architects in this much neglected area. While 'selfcertification' is nothing new to us - we are often asked to provide an opinion as to whether planning permission is needed - it will be formalised by certificates of compliance that only qualified professionals may sign. This is a step towards a European-style protection of function (in Spain, for example, electricity cannot be connected without an architect's certificate of completion being provided).

It will also be, quite rightly, an occasion for charging a fee!

The AJ's 'Architect's Guide to the Planning Process' conference takes place in London on 14 November 2.Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership.

Visit www. bwcp. co. uk

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