Exmouth residents to rule on home improvements

PROPOSALS to give neighborhood groups the final say on home improvements puts a question mark over the future role of the town council and community organisations.

PROPOSALS to give neighborhood groups the final say on home improvements puts a question mark over the future role of the town council and community organisations.

Homeowners will be free to build extensions, extra storeys and conservatories without the need for traditional planning permission under proposed Tory reforms.

The Government’s desire to devolve power to communities will sweep away many planning regulations by giving neighbourhood groups the right to approve developments through local referendums.

But the bill could render arguably the council’s most influential committee, the planning committee, obsolete.

Although they are statutory consultees the council does have the power to rule on advertising signs and on tree preservation orders.

Under the plans, to be outlined in a localism bill, these new groups will be allowed to draw up agreed categories of development known as “neighbourhood development orders”.

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Homeowners could add to their homes without the need for traditional planning permission if they won support within their neighbourhood group.

The reforms are meant to give residents greater powers in blocking developments often imposed by local planning authorities without regard to the feelings of communities, according to the Tories.

But residents will have a financial incentive to approve developments. A proportion of a tariff paid by developers to local authorities will be handed over to neighbourhoods to provide “clear incentives for communities which go for growth”.

There will be limits to local residents’ rights. They will not be able to prevent developments classed as being of national interest.

Lib Dem town councillor Steve Gazzard, who sits on the planning committee said: “I don’t know where that would leave the town council and the planning committee.

“I firmly believe that planning decisions on properties in Exmouth should be made by Exmouth, not by Sidmouth and councillors who don’t know the area.

“But as far as these plans are concerned it leaves a question mark over the future of the planning committee.

“As it is community groups are consulted.”

But it is unclear what role existing groups like the Exmouth Residents Association, Exmouth Community Association, Save Avenues from Despoliation and the Civic Society would play.

Chairman of the planning committee, Cllr Lynne Elson said she had contacted MP Hugo Swire to clarify the plans:

“Some community groups have asked where they stand,” she added

But town clerk John Wokersien said the National Association of Councils had worked closely with the Government on the reforms.

“I believe there will be a stronger role for parish and town councils. I don’t see this as a threat but an opportunity.”

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