Cost of new planning laws must not be passed onto council tax payers
Friday, 26 April 2013 00:00
Reforms to planning laws, which make it easier for small-scale residential extensions, could cost council tax payers hundreds of thousands of pounds. The arrangements are a step in the right direction as they cut red tape and help families improve their homes. They are a vast improvement on the original proposals that we vigorously opposed in London, which would have led to a free-for-all and would not have given neighbours the opportunity to comment. However, we must ensure local tax payers do not foot the bill.
Under the reforms passed in Parliament this week, all extensions beyond 3 metres which would no longer need planning permission, will still need an application for ‘prior approval’ - even the non-controversial ones. These will need to be processed and the neighbours notified. Even more work will be needed if neighbours object, including an impact assessment. Some applications may also end up at planning committees which attract further costs.
At the moment, councils can charge fees for planning applications. However, under current proposals, the new system of ‘prior approval’ will be free of charge. It is also very likely that the relaxation of the planning rules will lead to an increase in applications for home extensions – indeed this is the point - all of which will have to be processed for free. Without a fee, there would be nothing to stop people making endless applications until they got the ‘right’ result (or even if they wanted to amend something that was previously approved). Although only adjoining neighbours can formally object, anyone will be able to comment and these comments will need to be processed.
Councils up and down the country, including London boroughs, should be able to charge applicants to cover their costs, otherwise these costs will fall on the general council tax payer. Even if the initial application is free theyshould at least be able to charge if an impact assessment and decision is required.
Cost aside, it is also vital neighbours get the best chance to have their say in any planned extensions. It would be better to extend the notification period to 28 days or to make it 20 working days to cover times such as Christmas or bank holidays. Otherwise families could take a much-needed holiday, only to come back and find that their opportunity for comment on a neighbour’s extension has been and gone, and the extension may already have started.
In addition, current rules place an overall limit on extensions of up to 50% of the garden land. The problem is that this includes the front and back gardens – so if a property had a very large front garden, an extension could potentially take up the whole of the back garden and still be within the limit. So to prevent further ‘garden grabbing’ arising from these new laws, the safeguards should be tightened so that no extension can be built on more than 50% of the back garden of a property.
Monday, 22 April 2013 00:00
Spring has finally sprung and as well as daffodil heads springing up, and Palace dropping points, another harbinger of the new season is Tfl and the Utilities Companies busily working on our roads. On the A22 over in Kenley Tfl are implementing a scheme to make the crossing safer for Riddlesdown children, in Wickham Road, the notoriously difficult junction with Bridle Road is at last being fixed, and in the summer holidays we will see significant improvements to the Old Lodge Lane and Brighton Rd Junction. Whilst these will be good outcomes for our residents there is always accompanying inconvenience. Only very recently there were horrific delays around the Purley and Coulsdon area due to Utilities work.
As your Assembly Member I try to keep tabs on Tfl to try to ensure the difficulties are kept to a minimum, but it is a challenge. It's the Utilities work which is more difficult to hold to account, but I do know that the Council also takes inconvenience to its residents very seriously. I will continue to hold Tfl to account and actively hold site meetings involving Tfl, Local Councillors and Residents across both Boroughs, to try to smooth out difficulties.
Sunday, 31 March 2013 00:00
Homelessness and it's ugly face of Rough Sleeping continues to be a stain on Society, despite efforts by successive Politicians of all hues. The reasons are legion, amongst them the rapid increase in London's population, break up of family units, a lack of affordable housing set against a back cloth of increasing financial hardships for many people.
Last night I joined some decent young folk from Conservative Future, and slept out on the street overnight on Wallington High street. The bad news it was one of the coldest nights of the year, the good news it was a shortish night due to the clocks going forward. Needless to say I had no sleep and for most of the night just laid there, poking a frosty nose out of the sleeping bag, and brooded on the misery of those people who somewhere else shared this misery, but not by choice.
The Mayor's initial No Second Night Out programme had some success, but he recognises the need to build on this if he is to achieve his ambition of an end to Rough Sleeping. He's investing another £4.9m, through 2 strands, No Second Night Out, and Homelessness Change Programme. I certainly shall be watching this very closely, as in my view no civilised society can permit institutional street sleeping.
When I am tucked up tonight under a warm duvet, I will be even more conscious of those who by no choice of their own are commencing their second night on the street. There is no way that I could face a Second Night Out. There should be no reason why any other Londoner should face a Second Night Out either.
Saturday, 16 March 2013 00:00
Publishing my 'Keeping Local' GLA Report this week, adds some weight to the increasing calls for more protection for our Pubs. 18 a week are closing nationally, and in the last 10 years 414 London pubs have been demolished, with 900 convertions, a quarter of which residential. Obviously failing pubs, unloved by the community, shouldn't be propped up. And in the days when my Grandad had a pint in Thornton Heath, after the First War, there was a pub on every corner. Clearly that was never going to be sustainable, or indeed desirable. But the pendulum has swung too far the other way and we are seeing far too many decent establishments closing. There are several reasons for this, but in London the prime driver is high property prices. The attraction to the Pub Cos in flogging well positioned asset for conversion into flats is simply far too strong.
I also remain deeply uncomfortable at the availability of cheap, often strong, alcohol in the High Street. There are far too many shops in our parades selling, say, 6 cans of strong lager for a fiver. This encourages unsociable drinking at home and anti social drinking in our streets. The remedy to the former is strengthened planning powers in our local Councils Planning Rules and a specific protection for community pubs in the Mayor's London Plan. The remedy to the latter is a much more stronger use of Saturation Policies by local Councils Licencing and Planning Rules in tightening up what shops can sell in our High Streets, and the implementation of Minimum Pricing. We must act now to protect our Legacy.
Read the report here.
Wednesday, 23 January 2013 00:00
Late January is marked with 2 particular events that have significant effect on Croydon and to a lesser extent Sutton. Last week we heard that Westfield and Hammerson would be binding together to deliver a Billion Pound retail centre in the Croydon. It is a triumph for the vision and pragmatism of both of these major players that we are now looking at a once in a generation investment in our town with the commensurate growth in jobs and economic regeneration. Due credit is due also to the energy put behind this by the Council GLA and Boris personally. I know from my close involvement that the partnership between the Council and the Mayor was absolutely vital. Now the priority must be to move this on apace, and place this at the top of all our priorities.
The Mayor has published his Police and Crime Plan. This will see 117 extra police for Croydon with 110 of these embedded in our neighbourhoods. Sutton will see an extra 48, 42 of which will be added to the neighbourhood teams. In anybody's language this has to be great news. Croydon's clear need for extra resource has been recognised and our establishment now fits with the particular demands of our Town. There is a debate to be has about front counter provision and engagement generally with the public, but there is absolutely no doubt that in these incredibly challenging financial times, people want to see more police as opposed to retaining buildings. And initially I feared Sutton may actually lose cops. But the quite rightly we have gained numbers too. Certainly my conversations have impressed upon senior cops the needs of both our Towns. I commend the consultation and would urge people to contribute their thoughts.
This week is also marked by the usual late January early February snowfall. Without doubt the Croydon gritting teams so far have admirably stepped up to the mark and need to be congratulated. We seem to have several more days of these conditions with the temperatures below zero on the frontiers of Kenley. We must all remember to put extra food out for the birds and wild animals as this is a critical time for them.