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Gummer unveils vision of a planning revolution

Tory veteran John Gummer has outlined an astonishing raft of proposals that could transform planning if the Conservatives win the next election.

The former cabinet minister - who chairs Tory leader David Cameron's Quality of Life task force - revealed the plans at Robert Adam Architects' annual dinner last week.

The changes would see a culture shift in both planning process and procedure, freeing up planners to work on major projects.

Under Gummer's recommendations, the public would not be required to go through the traditional planning system for work on domestic properties built since 1945.

He plans to turn the system on its head. Homeowners would no longer have to win planning permission - all they would have to do is lodge a statement of intent with the local authority.

If this statement proved unacceptable, planners would have the right to veto a scheme only if it was 'truly dreadful'.

The assumption would be that homeowners could do what they wanted to their own properties, a right that would, Gummer claimed, 'civilise estates'.

'Some 60 per cent of the work of most planning departments is with proposals to add to or to change houses that have been built since 1945, and I don't think there are many of these estates that wouldn't benefit from a bit

of eccentricity,' he said.

'What I'm going to propose is the abolition of the need for all planning consents on any estate built since 1945. So if you want to build a carport or extend your house you can simply lodge a statement of intent.

'If it's dreadful, the local authority can intervene, but it has to stop you, and it has to pay for it.

'If you ask, 'Has it been worth all the effort that has been gone to to control carports on estates?' you would have to say, 'No'.

'What we are suggesting is that we change to proper planning,' Gummer added. 'And we can't do that unless we release planners from the stupidity that is development control.'

Gummer also outlined a planned revolution in building regs. 'We would abolish all building regulations, and set standards instead,' he said. 'So you tell architects that they have to achieve, say, a thermal efficiency of X, or a grey-water system, but you don't tell them how do to it,' he said.

Unsurprisingly, the Twentieth Century Society (C20) hit out at the suggestion. 'Development control is not 'stupidity',' director Catherine Croft said. 'It's about making sure that changes respect the rights of neighbours - making sure that one person's selfishness or thoughtlessness doesn't blight someone else's home.

'It's often not exciting stuff but it's about stopping things that can have a really big impact on people's lives.

'As for Gummer's statement that 'these estates' would 'benefit from a bit of eccentricity', one person's bit of fun can be another's eyesore. The number of creative sharks-poking-out-of-roofs etc that development control stops is minimal - it's more about stopping next door sticking on a balcony that overlooks your garden.

'It's often not exciting stuff, but it's about stopping things that can have a really big impact on people's lives.

'There are loads of great post-war estates - some of which are listed, but many of which never will be - where the carefully considered original design is being gradually eroded by loss of original doors and windows and the addition of roof extensions and back extensions. The overall result can be a mess, and everyone has to live with it.

'Development control is about setting ground rules for everyone's benefit,' Croft concluded.

by Ed Dorrell

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