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    Loft conversion costs soar in shake-up

    New rules designed to simplify and speed up planning issues in the home could actually prolong the building process, critics have claimed.Builders say loft extensions could be the biggest casualty of the new planning White Paper with homeowners facing bills of up to £1,000 and delays of 16 weeks as plans go before council committees.The new demands have been described by the building industry as a “tax” on people who cannot afford to move house because of the high stamp duty.

    Two weeks ago Ruth Kelly, the Communities Minister, announced the biggest shake-up in planning policy for 20 years and suggested that it would make it easier for people to improve their homes. However the small print now suggests that homeowners face more complex and costly processes, particularly for new lofts.

    An extra consultation paper was published alongside the planning White Paper and was little noticed at the time. In it the Government is proposing to scrap the rule allowing householders to add space to their homes without planning permission if it is within 15 per cent of the total volume of the property and a maximum of 70 square metres. Instead, specific restrictions are proposed for loft and roof extensions and any raised terrace, balcony, veranda or decking, including railings, walls or balustrades. Anyone wishing to install a clear-glass working window on the side of a house will also require permission.

    Some will be pleased that the Government is acting to protect their privacy. But thousands of improvements will require detailed planning applications. The bulk of applications are for loft conversions, so the process may become clogged. The Government is proposing that roof extensions must be a minimum of one metre above the eaves, and the same distance below the ridge, from the side wall and from a party wall. These restrictions will make it difficult to achieve sufficient space for a new room without submitting a formal planning application.

    The proposals have triggered such alarm in the industry that a meeting will be held this week by the Federation of Master Builders, which represents 13,000 traders. Many traders fear that the rules could stop most loft conversions.

    Brian Berry, of the federation, said: “We believe the new rules will mean that 95 per cent of loft conversions will now require planning permission. It will be harder to renovate your home and many firms fear they will be forced out of business.”

    Builders claim that planners tend to be hostile to loft conversions on aesthetic grounds, and fear that only 25 to 30 per cent may succeed in future.

    Roger Humber, a strategic policy adviser to the Housebuilders Association, believes that the new rules will land households with a far greater expense than was threatened by the discredited Home Improvement Packs.

    He said: “We were pleased government policy was to make the planning system more efficient. But when you look at the detail, they are clamping down on the rights of householders.”

    He also believes that the restrictions will create a demand for larger new houses.

    Michael Gove, the Tory housing and planning spokesman, said that he would fight the proposals.

    He said: “Everything we have heard about the planning White Paper is that it will be easier for people to improve their homes. But the small print reveals the process to be more expensive and bureaucratic. The growth in the number of people who wish to extend and improve their homes is driven by the fact that they cannot move because they cannot afford the penal stamp duty. Now ministers are making it difficult even to stay put and extend their homes and they will be obliged to pay as much as £1,000 for the privilege.”

    The Department for Communities and Local Government said that the planning changes would make it easier to improve homes and protect neighbours from developments.

    Building costs

    — 350,000 planning applications are submitted each year

    — Converting a 300 sq ft space to create a bedroom with ensuite bathroom can add more than 20 per cent to the value of a home

    — 95 per cent of applications for loft conversions may now need planning permission

    — Specific restrictions are proposed on loft and roof extensions, raised terraces, a balcony, veranda or decking including railings, walls or balustrades. Permission will also be needed for some windows

    Source: Times database, Nationwide Building Society, Federation of Master Builders

    Valerie Elliott, Consumer Editor

    “The Times” Online 4.6.07