Cameron promises: ‘I’ll help you build your extension’

By Ian Dunt and Alex Stevenson

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are promising to help homeowners build extensions to their property as part of a major effort to boost the building industry announced today.

In a rare joint initiative, the two men will pledge to sweep away rules and bureaucracy stopping families and businesses altering their property. New conservatory, loft extension or garage conversions are expected to fall under the new rules.

"This starts with getting the planners off our backs, getting behind the businesses that have the ambition to expand, and meeting the aspirations of families that want to buy or improve a home," the coalition's leaders said in a pre-released statement.

The government is also announcing help for 16,500 first-time buyers with an extension of the successful FirstBuy scheme, which provides an equity loan of up to 20% of the property value which can be used as a deposit.

Meanwhile, changes to 'permitted development rights' will mean that for a period of time businesses and homeowners can double the amount of work to be done without a need for council approval.

Restrictions will be removed on up to 75,000 homes currently stalled because sites are currently judged to be commercially unviable.

Councils will be faced with the stark choice of allowing more fast-tracked developers' projects to bypass them or being put into special measures.

David Cameron accepted that some of the measures were "controversial", but said they showed the coalition was "rolling up its sleeves" and doing everything it could to help the economy.

Nick Clegg added: "Today's major boost to housing and planning will make it easier to build a home, easier to buy a first home and easier to extend a home.  A boost that will get Britain building again. Building thousands of affordable homes and generating thousands of new jobs."

The plans are part of the coalition's post-reshuffle relaunch, with Cameron intent on proving the government can change the fortune of the British economy after two-and-a-half years of increasingly dire growth projections.

In an attempt to derail the announcement before it even began, Ed Miliband used PMQs yesterday to highlight the failure of other heavily hyped coalition initiatives.

The previous housing initiative failed to affect the creation of new homes, with a 24% reduction in building on last year, the Labour leader argued.

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves said the coalition's leaders were "kidding" themselves if they thought these announcements would make a difference.

"The fundamental problem is not the planning system or Section 106 agreements for much needed affordable housing, it is the lack of confidence and demand in the economy, slashed public investment and the government's failing economic plan," she said.

Friends of the Earth reacted with horror, saying that local people and the environment would pay the price of the "desperate" planning reforms.

It said the changes attacked the core of the planning system and said any new affordable housing needed to be future-proof, located in the right places and benefit those most in need and not just developers.

"David Cameron promised to champion localism, but these proposals will allow developers to bypass councils, limit the ability of local people to have their say on developments in their area and create a catalyst for disputes between neighbours," head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton complained.

The National Housing Federation hailed the package as a "major step forward", however, saying it has the potential to "transform the housing market".

"It will provide homes for some of the millions of families on waiting lists, create jobs and give the UK economy a shot in the arm with a speed and effectiveness few industries can match," chief executive David Orr said.