Homeowners will be free to build extensions, add a storey or conservatory to their properties, or build driveways without planning permission, under new government proposals.
The proposals, which will pass a number of planning responsibilities from councils to official local groups, will give people greater control over developments in their area.
Homeowners are expected to be able to make changes to their properties without receiving planning permission.
They will also be given the power to approve or reject proposals for new housing developments, schools and other public buildings in their area.
Groups of householders will be able to apply to local authorities to be recognised as “neighbourhoods”, covering a group of streets or larger areas.
These groups could then prepare “neighbourhood plans”, which would be put to referendums. If approved, their plans would then have to be accepted by the council.
They would also be able to draw up agreed lists of categories of developments, called “neighbourhood development orders”, that individual householders could carry out without planning permission.
These could include extra storeys, conservatories, loft conversions and other extensions, front driveways and wind turbines.
But they would not be able to break national planning laws or ban large-scale projects, such as high-speed rail links or new nuclear power stations, from their areas.
Financial incentives, including council tax rebates, will be given to communities which agree to new homes being built.
The plans form part of the Localism Bill, due to be published within days by Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary.
Greg Clark, the minister for decentralisation, told The Sunday Telegraph ministers believe the planning system is too bureaucratic.
Last year local authorities spent 13% more in real terms on planning than they did five years previously, despite a 32% drop in the number of applications.
“This Government has ambitious proposals to make the [planning] system fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” he said. “Above all, we want to change the philosophy behind local planning. We want to move away from a system with significant elements of imposition from above, to one with participation and involvement at its heart – not just warm words, or a commitment in principle, but real opportunities for people to have a say.
“We also want to move away from a system that seeks to resolve the different needs of different groups at a local level by imposing choices from above, towards one which enables a mature debate at local level.”
The Bill is an important component of the Government’s plan for the “Big Society”.
The 2009 Conservative Localism Green Paper, Control Shift: Returning power to local communities, and their 2010 manifesto, laid out plans to move power “away from the central state and firmly back to local people.”
After the General Election the coalition Government published a briefing note, Building the Big Society, in which they promised to give communities more powers, and encourage people to take an active role in their communities.
These planning reforms build on those introduced under Labour. In 2006 local authorities were told to allow more building within greenbelt boundaries to ease the housing shortage. Councils were also told they should fast-track plans for simple home extensions.
To free up the planning process, the Coalition has also made it easier to build on back gardens, and has ditched “minimum density targets” which stipulated that at least 30 homes be built on every hectare of land to be developed.
The plans are likely to spark intense debate about encroaching on land, and critics have already highlighted problems with the plan.
Speaking of the idea to allow locals to draw up “neighbourhood plans”, Mark Wadsworth writes: “How’s that going to work? What if there are two such groups in the same geographic area – who decides which group is entitled to draw up the “neighbourhood plan”?
“Whatever system they invent is going to lead to the planning system grinding to a halt – which I suppose is the whole intention.”