New Rules May End Need for Permission to Alter Your Home

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HOUSEHOLDERS could build conservatories or fit plasticframed windows without planning approval under new rules being considered by ministers.

The Scottish Executive is proposing that 'minor' changes would be exempt from planning regulations, a process generally viewed as a watchdog which acts in the interest of neighbours.

The recommendations, which form part of a far-reaching overhaul of planning law, will be welcomed by DIY fans who have long complained about the expense and red tape involved in submitting planning applications.

The full list of exemptions has yet to be drawn up but it is understood it will include the installation of replacement windows and conservatories, and ministers say the proposed changes will speed up the planning process.

Under the Planning Bill, launched yesterday by Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm and which will be considered at Holyrood next year, planning applications will be classified as national, major, local or minor.

Large developments of national importance - such as a new Forth Road Bridge - would be subject to a new National Policy Framework, with contracts drawn up between the developer and the local authority.

Once a development i s agreed, objectors could challenge the detail but not the need for the project, with ministers arguing that politicians should make such decisions.

Developments regarded as 'local' will be split into two categories, with councillors dealing with only the most controversial applications - such as drugs rehabilitation centres - and council officials dealing with all other cases.

The Executive estimates that 51,000 of the 52,000 planning applications being considered at present would be decided locally under the new rules. There will also be financial penalties for those who breach planning rules.

Those developers who have previously breached rules will be 'blacklisted', with local planning officials charged with closely supervising any future applications they make.

But the news that 'minor' changes will not be scrutinised by local planners, thus denying neighbours the chance to object, has dismayed conservation groups.

Charles Strang, convener of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, said allowing changes to be made 'willynilly' should not be welcomed.

He added: 'You can wreck a historic area quite quickly - some early council housing has been significantly damaged by people making changes for short-term benefit. …