The Liberal Democrats are braced for a fight at the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth today, amid a split over a plan to scrap a housebuilding target.
The party leadership also said they wanted to take a “new approach” to housebuilding plans, based on “robust, independently assessed local housing targets”, rather than imposing one across the country – a policy that could prove popular in the rural Tory seats the party is targeting in the next election.
But factions within the Lib Dems have hit out at the watering down of the target, and the impact it could have on people seeking to buy their first home.
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In its policy paper, the Young Liberals organisation said: “[We are] deeply disappointed that [the plan] seeks to reverse the party’s policy on a national target… and we do not believe this goes far enough or is ambitious enough to building more houses.
“If the motion remains unamended then YL opposes and encourages you to vote against.”
The group is also urging its supporters to wear T-shirts emblazoned with “build more bloody houses” to the debate, which will take place on Monday afternoon.
But there are also flyers circling the conference floor hitting back at the critics, saying: “The government’s had a national target for years, it’s the same old failed policy that caused this crisis.
“An unworkable, top-down target… won’t build a single home.”
Speaking at a conference fringe event on Sunday, Lib Dem housing spokesperson Helen Morgan said the debate over a need for a housing target was “a little bit of a distraction” from the overall goals of the party.
She told the crowd: “I think it’s really important to understand that the proposal that we’re making… doesn’t do away with any kind of target, but what it says is you need to build that target from the bottom up.
“The point of the proposal we’re making tomorrow is to build those targets from the bottom, and to say what’s your current level of need, what’s your proper forecasted future need, and that would be independently assessed, and it would be binding on those councils.”
Ms Morgan added: “A national target has never delivered the housing that we need, and we need to build a target which is locally derived and locally binding from the bottom up.”
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But a councillor at the same event was heard saying ditching the aim would be an “abdication of responsibility” and warned against “fluffy local targets”.
Other elements of the policy also include a pledge to build 10 new garden cities, to bring in higher minimum standards for new builds, and to introduce a national register and minimum standards for landlords to help protect renters.
The Conservative government currently has a target of building 300,000 new homes a year, but the figure has been repeatedly missed.
It sought to make the number a legal requirement last year, but Downing Street abandoned the plan after threats of a rebellion from 60 of its own backbenchers.
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Over the summer, Michael Gove – the secretary of state responsible for housing – laid out Tory plans to increase housebuilding.
He suggested easing development rules so shops and takeaways could be transformed into domestic properties more easily.
Mr Gove also put a focus on building on brownfield sites – previously developed land. Targeting of urban areas is thought to appeal to rural Tory voters.
But former housing secretary Simon Clarke said the plans would “take serious hard work to deliver” and his party would need to defeat NIMBYism (meaning local opposition to development – ‘not in my backyard’) or he added: “NIMBYism will assuredly defeat us.”