There’s something horrible in the attic

Easy loft-extension rules turn into bitter planning rows
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Bedroom in loft conversion
Dormer dramas: arguments over details, such as window types, are delaying "simple" projects
A new scheme intended to make it easier for people to extend their homes by removing the need for planning permission has already backfired, critics claimed today.

New rules, which came into force in October, were supposed to help growing families, trapped in their homes by the credit crunch, to make more room. The idea was that they could avoid the delays and expense of gaining planning permission if their scheme was kept within limits.

But it is claimed that councils interpret what those limits are in different ways, leading to a “postcode lottery” that determines whether homeowners require planning permission or not.

A major sticking point over the small print in the “permitted development” regulations has been the type of materials that owners are allowed to use when building extensions; the rules require materials to be “similar” to those used in the rest of the building.

‘Councils complain about the type of felt used for lining when, actually, they simply don’t like loft conversions’

“This is obviously subjective,” said Brian Berry, a director of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). “Some councils do not like loft conversions, particularly lofts with dormer windows, and so they are finding ways to stop people having them. In some cases this has meant planning officers have objected to extensions on the basis that the kind of felt to be used for the lining doesn’t match what is already there. It can be very frustrating.”

The FMB has written to ministers asking them to prevent councils “working against government policy.”

A government spokesman said the new rules struck a “good balance” between simplicity and protecting neighbours. “Many people have already benefited from these changes,” he added.

However, Richard Brindley, of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said the UK’s planning system was still far too unwieldy for most people.

“It is overtly complicated and confusing,” he said. “We should consider having a simple system where inspectors — architects or planners — come and sign off projects when they are finished, just like they do in France or Germany.”

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