UK Politics

Lib Dem activists want home extension proposals scrapped

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Image caption The government believes freeing up planning rules will reinvigorate the construction industry

Lib Dem activists have called on the coalition to withdraw plans to permit larger home extensions in England.

Party members backed a motion opposing the proposal to allow domestic extensions of up to eight metres without planning approval.

Activists described the plans as "unnecessary", "daft" and a "grotesque over-centralisation".

Communities minister Don Foster said he would "listen" to their concerns and the proposals could be "improved".

The vote is not binding on the coalition government, in which the Lib Dems are the smaller party.

A month-long consultation is taking place on the plan to ease rules, for a three-year period, on developments including home extensions of up to eight metres.

This compares with the current 3-4 metre limit on extensions without planning permission.

The proposals were part of a package of measures announced by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg earlier this month to help boost the economy.

Neighbourhood disputes

In an emergency debate at the conference, a string of Lib Dem activists criticised the plans and urged them to be rethought.

Chris White, a councillor from St Albans, said councils should be the ones to decide whether extensions should be approved, and said the plans flew in the face of the coalition's localism agenda.

He said it was a lack of demand and finance that was holding construction back, not planning obstacles.

He added: "It frankly beggars belief that a surge in large extensions built will do more to stimulate the local economy."

Instead, he said likely disputes over developments could do much to "ruin relations between neighbours".

Another member, Prue Bray, said the proposals could result in inappropriate developments that would last for 40 or 50 years.

She said it ignored a crucial liberal principle that people "could do whatever they like unless it does harm to others".

'Coalition package'

In response, Mr Foster said the housing package included much-needed measures to build more affordable homes and get stalled projects going.

"As part of measures to get Britain moving again, we have to get Britain building again," he said.

However, he said it was a "coalition package, not a Lib Dem package" and he understood concerns about "some aspects".

There was a full consultation taking place, he sought to reassure activists, and it was not a "done deal".

"We can push to make some improvements to the proposals," he added.

The vote is the second defeat for the leadership at this year's conference, after activists urged ministers to abandon plans for secret court hearings in certain civil cases.

In a subsequent debate on housing policy, deputy leader Simon Hughes said the UK faced the prospect of a "social crisis" if there was not a huge increase in the supply of good quality, affordable homes.

Improving housing must be a "national priority" alongside stabilising the UK's finances and boosting growth and jobs, he said.

He urged Lib Dem ministers to oppose the sale of council houses, increase tenants' rights and tighten controls on irresponsible private landlords.

The party has set a long-term goal of building 300,000 houses a year, three times the current figure.