The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG - the successor to the ODPM) Steering Group report on the Householder Development Consents Review (HDCR) was slipped out on the same day as the interim Barker Review of planning in July.
That over half of all planning applications - some say more than 80 per cent - are not made by architects has long been a cause for comment.
Householder applications represented 340,000 of 645,400 made in 2004-05 and increased by 114 per cent against 7.6 per cent for the others over the previous decade.
A very high proportion - 87 per cent - get permission.
They weigh down the whole system and, in the view of the Association of Consultant Architects (ACA), could be largely taken out of the hands of local authorities, being treated as agreements between consenting neighbours.
The ACA steering group contributed to the HDCR and concluded that it should be easier for people to improve their homes, and that this could be achieved by simplifying the system of regulation and removing household developments which have little impact on neighbours or the local environment.
The recommendations fall under three headings:
making regimes more proportionate - a new Permitted Development Order for Householder Developments should be prepared. This would move from the current volumebased approach towards one based on impact. The DCLG should develop model Local Development Orders to illustrate how they can help planning authorities extend permitted development rights.
A streamlined process should be developed for cases where planning consent is required but neighbours do not object, although scope should be retained for councils to refuse permission;
making regimes more user-friendly - to improve the customer experience, a working group should be established to collate best practice in customer care. The immediate priority is to improve the interface between planning consent and building control. This should include a standard application form and consideration of ways by which presentation and coordination of the two processes could be improved.
In the long term, the feasibility of merging these regimes should be examined; and introducing alternative service providers and working methods - providing greater choice and raising standards through alternative service provision was also considered. In the short term, the DCLG, the Planning Advisory Service and the Regional Centres of Excellence should examine the overall demand for and supply of temporary planning staff.
They should consider options for increasing efficiency and competition. In the longer term, the DCLG should build on the work being done in partnership with the Planning Advisory Service, the Local Government Association, the Association of London Government, the Royal Town Planning Institute and other bodies to encourage the recruitment of planning staff in planning authorities.
The wholehearted introduction of these proposals should result in a freeing-up of development-control departments, a rapid growth in the involvement of architects in householder developments and, ultimately, similar innovations feeding into the processing of larger schemes.
If the DCLG holds back, HM Treasury's move on planning under the Barker Review could turn into a rout.
Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership.
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