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London assembly challenges latest planning reform bid

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The London assembly has called on mayor Boris Johnson to block government plans to extend permitted development rights and renegotiate section 106 agreements

The assembly unanimously backed a motion today (24 October) against plans to temporary allow households to build larger extensions without planning permission.

The policy was part of a raft of measures to boost house building announced in September by the government.

Opponents to the new planning reforms already include several local authorities and the Local Government Association while earlier this month Johnson warned the policy could lead to more ‘garden grabbing’.

Under the proposed new rules households will be permitted to construct single-storey extensions of up to eight metres without the expense and delay of a planning application.

Currently, only extensions of three metres on semi-detached homes and four metres on detached homes may proceed without planning permission.

Assembly members argued the policy would fuel neighbour disputes and cause ‘lasting damage’ to the built environment.

Government plans to make it easier for developers to renegotiate section 106 agreements thought to be holding back stalled developments were also opposed by the committee.

The assembly said renegotiations which could lead to a reduction in planned affordable housing should be rejected, arguing ‘mixed and balanced’ communities should be promoted in the capital.

Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, who proposed the motion, said: ‘This motion sends a clear message that we believe local authorities are best placed to manage the development of land and buildings in their area. 

‘Councils will only be able to improve the character and integrity of their local area by retaining the right to refuse permission for development – including extensions – where it is considered inappropriate.

She added: ‘London is not short of conservatory extensions; it is short of affordable homes.  The proposed policy simply wouldn’t create a big enough boost to the construction industry to justify potential and lasting damage to our built environment.

‘While the intention to make planning cheaper, quicker and easier is laudable, the fundamental problem is not with the planning system, but rather with stalled housing developments.  It is estimated that there are enough approvals in the system for 400,000 new homes, however these new proposals would remove the requirement for developers to include affordable housing if they prove they make a site “commercially unviable”.’

Assembly member Darren Johnson, who successfully amended the motion, said: ‘We are concerned that these proposals, which come at a time when local authorities are trying to clamp down on unauthorised structures, could lead to the loss of back gardens and an increase in “beds in sheds”. 

‘We are also concerned that it could fuel an increase in neighbour disputes.  If anything, local authorities should be given more support to protect back gardens and prevent unsuitable and unsightly development and we call on the Mayor to recognise this in his London Plan.’

Full text of the amended motion:

The London Assembly notes:

The coalition government’s recent announcement of a range of measures intended to boost British housebuilding, jobs and the economy;

That this announcement includes proposals for a three-year relaxation of permitted development rules and the renegotiation of existing planning obligations.

The London Assembly believes:

That Local Authorities are best placed to manage the development of land and buildings;

That allowing home owners to build extensions of up to eight metres without the need for planning permission could cause lasting damage to the built environment and result in neighbourhood disputes;

That mixed communities should be actively promoted across London.

The London Assembly therefore calls on the Mayor, as the strategic planning authority for London, to reaffirm his commitment to mixed and balanced communities, and to reject any attempt to renegotiate existing planning obligations where this would lead to a reduction in the level of affordable housing being provided. The London Assembly also calls on the Mayor to oppose any attempt to significantly extend permitted development rights, and to ensure that the London Plan provides adequate support to Local Authorities in enforcing existing planning controls to protect back gardens and preventing unsuitable development.


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