Bath MP's planning plea ignored by Lib Dem activists
ACTIVISTS at the Lib Dem conference defied Bath MP Don Foster and called for controversial government proposals to relax the planning rules to be ditched.
The Local Government Minister cut a lone figure in speaking against the emergency motion which urged the plans to be scrapped.
Mr Foster insisted it was “not a done deal” and they would push for improvements.
But he failed to convince delegates who voted almost unanimously to oppose the Government’s proposals, which include letting home owners build extensions of up to 25ft in their gardens.
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They would also ease requirements for the provision of affordable homes in a bid to boost construction.
And the measures have led to renewed fears over the threat to the green belt.
Speakers lined up one after the other to criticise the plans and the party’s leadership for adopting them.
Under the Government’s plans, developers will be able to build extensions double the size that can currently be built without the need for planning permission.
Householders could build up to 19ft from the back of their home if it is terraced or semi-detached and 26ft if it is detached.
But councils across the country are concerned that the relaxation of the rules, which could be in place by next year, may lead to ugly developments, with councillors and officers spending hours trying to resolve disputes between neighbours.
The approved motion said the proposals go “against the spirit” of the Localism Act 2011, which gave councils more control over planning policies.
Mr Foster insisted: “This is a coalition package, not a Liberal Democrat package. Of course a Liberal Democrat package would look different.
“I understand some of your concerns about the package, not least in terms of lifting restrictions on permission needed for some domestic extensions.
“I agree we can push to make some improvements to the proposals. We should also be looking at ways of releasing more Government land where we can look at increasing more social value, not just getting the maximum sums of money.
“I am listening and I will go back to Government colleagues. It’s not a done deal. There will be more consultation and I will share your views but I hope you will make your views known as well.
“But the glass is more than half-full, not half-empty and I look forward to working with you to make sure we can make it even fuller.”
Speaking after the vote, Mr Foster said: “Liberal Democrats have long campaigned to make planning more responsive to local demands and concerns. That is why we have reversed Labour’s unworkable top-down, centralised planning system and appalling lack of house building to tackle the chronic housing shortage.
“The planning regulations proposals are accompanied by an extra £300 million to ensure a significant increase in social housing. The increase in building will be a significant boost to the local economy.
“We are now consulting on how the planning regulations will work in practice and we will be listening to the views expressed by conference, which will form an important part of this process.”