Eric Pickles: are you a cigar-chomping Commie?

Dear Eric

You always give a fine performance. Yesterday you told us with passion how you became a Conservative. It was a nice story, but does your claim to have a developed a “burning dislike of oppressive state bureaucracy” match the reality?

Do you remember localism? You did not mention it yesterday. The great localism project, you might recall, was launched on the twin platforms of the Big Society and Open Source Planning. The Big Society has slipped through the cracks of the political stage, but you enshrined localism in the Localism Act 2011.

Your intention was to empower local communities. I applaud you for that noble ambition. Why have you now forgotten it?

You have recently set in motion the biggest centralised grab of planning powers in England’s history. Control is being stripped from local councils and communities. It is set to be concentrated in your office and the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol, which you happen to oversee.

You have instructed the Inspectorate to reassess affordable housing commitments for stalled developments. Surely that reassessment should be a local negotiation? You have announced that inspectors will soon take over all planning decisions in any local council you deem to be poorly performing. What will that do for localism? You have decreed that planning inspectors will decide on applications for all manner of major developments. It is clear that you have in mind housing schemes, local road and small energy schemes way beyond nationally important infrastructure projects. How will that help the cause of localism?

You have failed to abolish regional strategies. Planning inspectors are still insisting that councils incorporate the much resented regional housing targets into local plans. Greg Clark when he worked for you told planning inspectors that he expected their decisions to follow a “localist approach”. The inspectors did not listen. In the second quarter of this year, they overturned 35% of local decisions, up 2% from the previous three years. Localism? Not in my book.

The joy of localism is it frees communities from the short-term agendas of politicians to allow communities to put in place the development and services they need. You once understood that. You have abandoned localism in the hope of immediate economic gain. That can only be at the expense of the long term welfare of communities.

In your speech you described how you greet visitors in your office. “Over my left shoulder is a photograph [of] Ché Guevara… It’s there to remind me: that without constant vigilance – the cigar-chomping Commies will take over. Well, that isn’t going to happen on my watch.”

The point is, Eric, that oppressive state bureaucracy is happening on your watch. You are at the centre of the biggest centralism of planning powers since planning was invented.

So Eric, are you really a cigar-chomping Commie in disguise? It certainly looks like it from my locality.

Andy Boddington

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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  • And will take the planning decision on a free school if the council turns it down. I never thought I’d see the day that a secretary of state would take such local decisions as an application for a local school, with no impact beyond the immediate neighbourhood.

  • Helen Dudden 9th Oct '12 - 11:54pm

    In my area in Bath, there seems little movement on the need for homes, the planning is an issue here. At present, it is all talk and no action.

  • Andy Boddington 10th Oct '12 - 6:37am

    Helen. There is a particular problem in Bath & North East Somerset where the core strategy/local plan process was suspended and is now dragging along rather slowly. But across the UK, the major problem is not the planning system but the sluggish housing market. Housebuilders already have permission to build 400,000 houses.

  • Andy Boddington 10th Oct '12 - 7:32pm

    Good point Nick. I’ve long thought Pickles does not have a grasp on what his department is doing. The bright lads Greg Clark and Grant Shapps have made all the running over the last two years. New guys Nick Boles and Mark Prisk are equally bright. I’m expecting policy swings as Pickles adopts their new agendas. The only policy that Pickles has really had of his own was weekly bin collection and only Stoke-on-Trent wants to take that up.

  • Helen Dudden 11th Oct '12 - 10:37pm

    Andy that is true of the attitude in and Bath. We have a glass fronted Spa, and several other buildings have been built that do not look Georgian, but is there a need to make it look all the same? I don’t think so. There needs to be more building, once it is started it is excepted. It was the Conservatives that suggest building our way out of problems. these builds are not exactly on the Royal Crescent.

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