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Michael Gove has been accused of pitting neighbour against neighbour after announcing a housing shakeup that will allow homeowners to build bigger extensions without planning permission.
Surveyors and property lawyers have said a raft of rule changes drawn up by the Levelling Up Secretary could spark “civil war” in middle-class suburbia and a sharp uptick in disputes between neighbours.
A consultation on permitted development rights, published on Tuesday, proposes to let homeowners build wider and taller extensions – including L-shaped wraparounds, loft conversions and kitchen extensions – without planning permission.
It also lays out plans to scrap rules which mean a home and any extension cannot make up more than 50pc of the land surrounding it, known as the “curtilage”, as well as allowing homeowners to convert as much loft space as they like without permission too.
They are part of a wider fight against “Nimby” councils blocking housebuilding in a bid to solve Britain’s housing crisis.
The “major shake-up to planning rules” came alongside the announcement of plans to prioritise brownfield developments for housebuilding and make it easier to convert offices into residential homes. Rishi Sunak said the move would help the Government meet its target of delivering one million homes over the course of this Parliament.
However, the plans have sparked fear of a surge in feuds between neighbours quibbling over kitchen extensions encroaching on garden fences and towering loft conversions casting shadows over back gardens.
David Toogood, of Harding Chartered Surveyors, said: “If you let neighbours make these changes to their properties without controlling it, you’ll create a civil war. It won’t work.
“Our industry will be rubbing its hands together. There will be masses of work for surveyors and lawyers sorting this mess out. It will cost people thousands to get lawyers and surveyors involved.”
Noble Francis, economics director at the Construction Products Association, a trade association of the construction industry said: “Extensions and rebuilding homes can often lead to conflict between neighbours so, naturally, an easing of the planning system could lead to more extensions and therefore more conflict on either side of the fence.”
Gary Rycroft, a senior partner at Joseph A Jones & Co Solicitors, said the proposed rule changes could undermine existing rules to protect homeowners from damage caused to their property by a neighbour.
Since 1996 the latest version of The Party Wall Act has been used to protect homeowners from works in their vicinity which might damage their property.
If a building owner wants to extend their loft, for example, they may need to install scaffolding on their neighbour’s lawn which could turf up terrain and leave gaping holes in the ground. The act gives neighbours a way to seek recourse if damage is caused during any works.
Lawyers said Mr Gove’s new rules could also undermine the common “rights of lights” law, which entitles a property owner to a minimum level of natural light.
Geoffrey Adams, senior director at surveying firm Anstey Horne, said: “A two-storey extension can hugely increase bulk and restrict light into neighbouring properties. That does and will have a legal impact, and most likely a knock-on to people’s health.”
Under the proposed rules, rear extensions would be allowed to reach as high as the highest point of the house – as long as the extension cannot be seen from the street.
L-shape extensions, which wrap around the two sides of a home, could also be allowed without planning permission.
The Government’s consultation says homeowners should be allowed to convert as much of their loft space as they wish, rather than being limited to 50 cubic metres in most cases, or 40 cubic metres in terraced houses.
Those living in flats with loft space will be able to make “modest extensions” without planning permission, under the plans. Current height limits for single-storey extensions will remain at four metres, in order to protect against overdevelopment.
The fine print of the consultation revealed that the Government is seeking to scrap rules that mean that the freeholder of a block of flats can add two storeys on top of the existing building.
Leaseholders have previously complained about the existing rules, saying they do not give them a say in the development of their building.
A DLUHC spokesperson said: “We are committed to delivering the right homes in the right places, as well as empowering people to extend their homes outwards and upwards.
“Our loft extension proposals aim to free people from the arduous process of planning permission, giving householders more flexibility to meet the needs of growing families and maximise the potential of their homes.”
The government consultation on the proposals is open until April 9.
The area of Britain where only 59pc of planning permissions are approved