Home extensions: MPs warn of confusion over relaxation plan

houses Ministers say the construction sector is in urgent need of some stimulation

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The coalition has not made a "rigorous" case for allowing people in England to build larger home extensions without planning permission, MPs have said.

Ministers argue the temporary scheme will help boost the building industry.

But the Communities and Local Government Committee warned of "confusion" over the new rules and more disputes between neighbours.

The government promised a "balance" between the rights of people building extensions and those living next door.

It announced in September that the maximum length of single-storey extensions built without planning permission would be doubled from three to six metres. For detached homes the new limit would go from four to eight metres.

The relaxation, applying in unprotected areas, would last for three years, in an effort to help the construction industry, whose output fell by 5.1% in the year to October.


Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "determined to cut through the bureaucracy that holds us back".

And, in October, planning minister Nick Boles predicted the three-year period could be extended if "everybody is happy", adding that changing the law did not amount to a "crime against humanity".

But the committee raised concerns that the government's "assumptions are so tentative, broad-brush and qualified as to provide little assurance that the financial benefits suggested will be achieved".


Councils say they already approve 90% of residential planning applications, and those that are rejected are knocked back for "good reasons".

They don't understand why the government is so keen to ease these rules.

Ministers say reviving the building industry is a priority, but make no firm predictions about the economic benefits of relaxation.

They've already hinted that the new limits for home extensions (six or eight metres) could be scaled back.

They're digging in on the principle of the change, though. A full U-turn seems unlikely, as this policy was part of a major Downing Street push to revive the economy.

But some may wonder why ministers are embroiling themselves in an area of policy that really couldn't be more local.

Despite the relaxation being temporary, "the effects of the changes in terms of new development on neighbours and localities will be permanent", it added.

The MPs called for a "fresh and extensive" consultation, looking at a "range of options".

They said: "We regret that the government has failed to address or evaluate the social and environmental arguments put forward against the proposed changes to permitted development rights for domestic extensions."

They added: "If the change to permitted development rights is worth making, it should be permanent. If it is not, the change should not be made. The proposed changes need to be subject to a thorough and rigorous examination, which the consultation initiated on 12 November 2012 is not.

"Temporary changes can cause confusion and create uncertainty both at the inception of the change and in the period before its conclusion."

"We conclude that the case for the changes the government proposes to permitted development rights for domestic extensions has not been made.

"We therefore do not agree that in non-protected areas the maximum depth for single-storey rear extensions should be increased to eight metres for detached houses, and six metres for any other type of house."

Some councils have warned the scheme will be a "free-for-all". Labour also opposes the relaxation.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "The planning system needs to strike a balance between the rights of the homeowner and their neighbours, avoiding excessive red tape whilst still protecting local amenity.

"Our practical proposals make it easier for thousands of hard-working families to undertake home improvements to cater for a growing family and for businesses to expand and grow, and the consultation we are currently running gives people the opportunity to comment on the reforms.

"The reforms would take the majority of applications which are uncontroversial and approved out the system, while some 160,000 applications will continue to be considered through the planning system."

Infographic showing house and extension limits

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  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Excuse me for being cynical but the real reasoning in government heads behind this is probably as follows. If the law is relaxed there will be so many people fighting between themselves about who's building what & where that nobody will notice the complete carnage this toy 'government' we have is causing to our country & society with their stupidity & incompetence!

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    I think this liberalisation of the planning laws is thoroughly misconceived. The laws are there to protect neighbours from bad developments by inconsiderate neighbours. What is needed is to streamline the actual planning process to make it less bureaucratic and costly, so that approval or rejection would be a swifter process, much more easily and cheaply accomplished.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Another ill thought stupid idea from this incompetent Coalition, a recipe for Cowboy Bulders from a Cabinet of "Cowboys" expect real damage and lots of Court Cases if this comes to fruition, from a Goverment of U Turns, a U Turn is needed urgently,environmentally a disaster waiting to happen!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    It's going to be a difficult year on the old MP expenses, there will be an extension for an "office" at home and perhaps another extension on their second home in London....I don't mind being advised what to do but find it difficult to take any notice of out of touch idiots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    The best way to stimulate the building industry is to get the Individual builders in the industry to consider small jobs and actually arrive at an address to give a quote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    710 ,000 empty properties in England

    750,000 properties required by 2020

    Doesn't take a genuis to work out where best the Government should spend some effort.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    I'm not entirely sure of the logic here? So people can now build extensions double the size than before, which is marvelous. Trouble with the argument is people weren't having small extensions built before because they didn't have any money, they have even less money now, and I fail to see how doubling the size will suddenly make them able to afford it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Where are resources coming from to build the larger extensions (irrespective of £) ?

    Would the resources be better used in flood defences/new builds/housing stock relocation etc?

    People can always enter competions to win "low carbon retrofits", just like a local school did in our area

    Keep smiling..DO NOT PANIC

    Keep smiling..DO NOT PANIC

    Keep smiling..DO NOT PANIC

    Keep smiling..DO NOT PANIC

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Most councils in urban areas incorrectly use the limits on permissable development as the maximum that they grant permission for!
    This is extremely frustrating & expensive for householders of terraces or semis: as it limits the extension to a size that cannot accommodate a sittee without your feet touching the outside wall. This means very expensive structural openings to make the space usable!

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Allow VAT on refurbishments to be recouped. Reducing the cost by 20% will boost the building industry much more than being able to build a larger extension. A substantial number of house renovations are cash in hand so it'll also help British builders and tradesmen who might otherwise be priced out by the Europeans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    What a joke. This was an ill-thought idea which they tried to use in order to please the NIMBY's (since they can expand their houses) and please the building industry..

    They try to ignore the main reason for the uK housing problem which is not extensions but the ridiculous high house prices...

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    What this amounts to is a three year "free for all" where homeowners will throw up extentions as quickly as possible while blighting their neighbours for a whole lot longer. Planning permission is there for a reason not as an inconvenience. What we need is responsible building not panic building. Bad policy based on bad ideology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    I am rich so I want to be able to show it by building large extensions to my huge house as and when I want to. Most of my neighbours are poor lower class types anyway so if the value of their property falls all the better for me, I can buy them out cheaply and extend my property some more! (Not that I really need anymore land)
    Well done David, George and the team - its win win win for me

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    It is a very bad idea by a bunch of 'out of touch' posh boys who are running government from the back of an envelope. Sensible rules are there for a reason, to protect people from cowboy neighbours.
    If Mssrs Cameron and co are serious about kickstarting growth then they will provide a temporary relief on the VAT on extensions.
    The last thing on my mind is the small cost of planning permission.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Personally I like the idea that people trapped in cramped identikit estate boxes, unable to move due to ludicrous house prices and staggering amounts of stamp duty, can instead channel money into the local economy and customise their homes to suit their family's needs.

    Whilst they are at it, how about freeing up some land for 1/4 acre self build plots at reasonable prices?

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    DETACHED is the keyword
    YOU POOR people with terraced houses are SAFE, DONT WORRY

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    If I own my own property, why should a council dictate to me what I can and cannot build on my property?
    I can understand being sympathetic to neighbours to minimise grossly offensive structures/features...
    We pay council tax and inheritance tax on our properties, why should we be prevented from building reasonable extensions ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    These proposals are incredibly whimsical and misconceived, reflecting the hoary "jobs locked in filing cabinets" argument always directed at planners during times of recession. The 'permitted development' limits (i.e. where planning permission is not required) for house extensions are already very generous, having only been radically revamped a few years ago anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    I agree with most people here - this proposal could only have been made by people living in open leafy pastures with 24 metre back gardens. 8 metres from the back of my house is another house! Without any external approval the whole area could be turned into something resembling a huge industrial warehouse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Can you imagine how many complaints the local councils would have to deal with if this goes ahead. They cant cope with the complaints received under the current system. Arguments among neighbours would be commonplace. Do we really want that? I dont think the Tories know what can of worms they may be opening.


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