Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Today’s key vote on Planning Reforms

Today MPs will vote on the proposals to relax planning rules to allow people to significantly extend their homes without need for planning permission. The effect of this will be to remove the opportunity for neighbours to object to extensions that impact on their light; that impinge on their privacy, or otherwise negatively affect their amenity.

Councils have been united in their opposition to these proposals. Councillors of all political colours have voiced their concerns about the potential for dispute between neighbours, and the lack of evidence that the proposals will do anything to benefit the construction industry as claimed by ministers.

In Sutton we were one of the first councils to speak out about the proposals, and I put the case against at the last Lib Dem Party Conference.

This united opposition of Local Authorities, expressed through the response of the Local Government Association (LGA), and the concerns of local councillors is significant, as they are the people and the authorities who deal with and implement planning policies on a day to day basis. They are the front line who experience and therefore understand what the impacts of these proposals will be.

This vote will be a test of whether our Ministers and politicians are willing to listen to their councillors, to take on board the knowledge and experience of the councils that have to implement Government policy. Our Parliamentarians are lobbied by big business, by special interest groups, by organisations with vested interested, but this only presents one side of the story, often quite a selfish side. There is always another angle, and local authorities are the other side of the story, with less of a vested interest, as their role is to act across a range of interests for the greater good of their residents. But local government is a body that is often the last one to be listened to by ministers. It is a good cash cow for cuts and scapegoat for the pain delivered by those cuts, but rarely is it seen as a source of good advice or feedback.

The planning relaxation proposals went out to consultation. I know that very many councils and the LGA responded stating why the proposals would be harmful. In Sutton we submitted a very strong case as to why the proposals would not work and evidence of how they could escalate some of the existing difficulties faced by planning authorities. The fact that the Planning Minister Nick Boles is still pressing his own Conservative MPs to vote through his proposals in the face of backbenchers’ own concerns about them proves that the consultation was a sham, that Ministers will pick and choose who to listen to, and dismiss reams of good advice purely to save face and not be seen to do an about-turn.

Today will be a test of whether MPs really do understand the principle of localism they claim to have bestowed upon us. For the sake of Sutton’s residents I hope that practical common sense prevails amongst the MPs that vote today, and they vote for local decision-making over centralised dogma.

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April 16, 2013 - Posted by | Information | , , , ,

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