Those of you who have worked your way through the conference agenda and Conference Extra will by now have reached the emergency motions (page 28, since you ask) and will notice that there are four in the ballot: banks are awful, Julian Assange is awful, teacher qualifications are under threat and ‘what have you done with our planning system?’
I paraphrase unfairly, of course. All tastes are clearly catered for and you can make your own mind up about which to vote for if you are at conference.
The planning one (which I have something to do with) is a mild rebuke to government and unusual because ALDC, its sponsor, rarely uses its rights to propose motions. Its mild tone perhaps masks the considerable anger at grass roots level: on 6 September the Government made various announcements about relaxing planning rules, claiming that these will help kickstart the economy. In summary these are
• agreements between local authorities and developers over affordable housing can be renegotiated if the agreement threatens the viability of the scheme
• councils which are poor performers in planning terms may lose their rights to determine planning applications.
• there will be consultation on a temporary (3 year) relaxation of the planning rules governing rear extensions, allowing in some cases extensions of 8 metres in length to be erected without planning permission.
I will spare you the full details.
There are two main points of objection. One is the matter of principle: planning is a local matter and should be determined locally without Government interfering either positively or negatively. That principle is breached as often as it is honoured, however, as you can see from the amount of national ‘guidance’ issued over the years, the various legislative interferences by successive governments and the very concept of the planning inspectorate.
The second is whether there is a benefit in economic terms. The Chairman of the Local Government Association, a practising Conservative, said: ‘Local authorities are overwhelmingly saying “yes” to new development. There are enough approvals in the system for 400,000 new homes.’ And the House Builders Federation has said the real problem is lack of demand, not least a shortage of affordable mortgages.
Moreover, it beggars belief that a surge in large extensions will do much to stimulate the local economy – although it may do a lot to ruin relations between neighbours.
The whole thing smacks of fag packet policy-making. There are rumours that Tory ministers in fact wanted something far worse but that the Lib Dems restrained them. If so, good, although nobody is going to remember this when gathering signatures (fruitlessly under the new rules) against Mrs Miggins’s massive 8 metre conservatory in Acacia Avenue.
Interestingly the Daily Telegraph has noticed the motion and Conservative Home wrote a disobliging piece about it (anyone would think they didn’t like us). Those Conservatives who commented on the piece, however, largely supported the ALDC motion.
Strange bedfellows indeed.
* Chris White is a Hertfordshire County Councillor and Deputy Leader (Policy) of the Liberal Democrat Group at the Local Government Association