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Can Easing Planning Rules Boost the Economy?

The British government hopes so.


Kickstarting the United Kingdom's economy, according to Prime Minister David Cameron, "starts with getting the planners off our backs."

Regulations holding back building projects are also holding back the economy, Cameron said recently on a morning TV news show (which was then quoted by this article from the BBC).

The Prime Minister says planning regulations have apparently prevented many people from taking on home improvement projects and room extensions, such as the expansion of kitchens or the building of "conservatories." Officials are hoping to ease the planning regulations that are supposedly holding these projects back by allowing any home extension project up to 8 meters to go ahead without planning approval for a one year period. According to the BBC:

The new Permitted Development Rights would make it easier to install conservatories and loft extensions without going through weeks of planning bureaucracy.

If the plans go ahead, full planning permission - required for extensions of more than three or four metres from the rear wall of any home - would only be needed for those reaching beyond 8m for detached homes and 6m for others.

The idea is that by lifting these requirements, more homeowners will employ the services of local builders and contractors to take on construction projects that had either been pushed off or deemed too complicated to pursue because of the planning requirements.

"Cutting back municipal red tape in this way should provide a particular boost to small traders and builders," Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles recently told the House of Parliament.

So will this move result in a sudden uptick in local building projects and bring new economic activity to British towns? The opposition party thinks not. "What is the real problem we have in the economy today?" asked opposition leader Ed Miliband. "It is a lack of confidence and lack of demand. I don't think it's the rules on conservatory extensions."

Others have argued that there are nearly 400,000 approvals in the system for homes that have yet to be built, and that the real problem is that people don't have the economic means to build them, not that they can't get approval.

But proponents hope that the prospect of avoiding a bit of government paperwork will clear the way for small and mid-sized projects to take off. Over the next year, they'll get a chance to see whether having planners on people's back really was such a drag on the UK's economy.

Top image: Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to apprentices during a visit to the National Construction College. Credit: Reuters

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.