Tension grows over planning move

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LIBERAL Democrats will fight moves to allow “hideous” 25ft home extensions without the need for planning permission as their new Communities Minister admitted the Government’s planning shake-up “needs to be improved”.

Delegates at the Lib Dem party conference in Brighton yesterday voted overwhelmingly to fight proposals laid out by Ministers earlier this month which are designed to kick-start building work around the country.

The Government package includes £300m for new affordable housing, and measures to allow big developers to renegotiate existing planning permissions on more favourable financial terms.

But the most contentious measure would see rules over permitted development relaxed for three years, allowing homeowners to build extensions of up to 25 feet without the need for planning permission.

“The people who are put off by the need to get planning extent are the ones who want to build monstrosities which wouldn’t be allowed, said Prue Bay, a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate from the South East. “Once the rules are relaxed, councils will not be able to protect people from overbearing, over-looking, ugly, inappropriate building next door to them.

“The relaxation would stop after three years, but its impact would not. Once built, those extensions would be standing for 20, 30, 40, 50 years.

“The damage is not just environmental – it’s political. Every day people will look out of their windows straight on to the hideous extension next door, and be reminded of a bad decision made by a government of which the Liberal Democrats are a part.”

During a 50-minute debate not a single delegate spoke in favour of the policy, with rank-and-file Lib Dems queuing up to hit out at the likely impact on their neighbourhoods.

Among them, Richard Younger Ross, a former Lib Dem MP and professional architect, told the conference: “What is being proposed is chaos.”

Don Foster, the party’s new Communities Minister, having been promoted in the Government reshuffle to work in Mr Pickles’s department, said there were measures to support – but accepted changes need to be made.

“It is a coalition package, not a Liberal Democrat package,” Mr Foster said. “Of course, a Liberal Democrat package would look different.

“I understand your concerns about some aspects – not least easing restrictions on planning for some domestic extensions. I am listening and I will feed them back to Government colleagues. It is not a done deal. There will be full consultation, I will share your views. There are many things in this package we can welcome. It does need to be improved (but) the glass is more half full than half empty.”

Bradford East’s Lib Dem MP David Ward told the Yorkshire Post he shared the concerns and the shake-up would anyway be ineffective in re-starting growth.

“It just won’t work,” he said. “The construction industry has stalled and yes, there needs to be support – but this piecemeal approach will not do it.

“You can’t just relax the rules. The rules are there for a reason. Once a thing is built it is there forever. Whether it’s encroaching on someone’s access to light; whether it’s a crowding out, inappropriate development – these rules are there for a reason. What we need is more social housing, 100,000 more social homes I should think – not a measure to help people build larger conservatories.”