We Have a Plan on Planning

Being an election candidate is a wonderful privilege, but at times it’s frustrating.  Whether on the doorstep, or at a hustings or in a leaflet, it’s difficult to get the full message across.  I’ve found that in relation to planning reform, so I thought I’d elaborate here.

There is no doubt that the failure of the planning system is the number one issue coming up on the doorstep.

I agree that the planning system is not working in Oxfordshire.  Too many large developments have been approved for grand family homes which do not meet the need for affordable housing and concrete large parts of the countryside.

Yet many people assume changing planning is a District Council issue.  It is not.

If we are going to get back control of the planning of our communities, we must change the national policy.  That means changes to legislation and policy – changes that can only be achieved through our members of parliament.

The Lib Dems have a deliverable plan to reform the planning system for the future – prioritising brownfield building and garden cities, giving local authorities the ability to borrow to build affordable housing and giving communities the right to appeal against development that is against an emerging local plan.  I am committed to those policies as well as the reforms of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) set out by Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland in his Manifesto on Planning Reform.

My view on this is clear – the current system is not working, so let’s set about fixing it by implementing the Lib Dem plans, starting on the 8th May.  Change will be fought by lots of vested interests, but we need leadership and determination to deliver what constituents are telling me they want.  I will provide that leadership.

Ed Vaizey used to offer something similar.   In 2010 he made planning a key priority for his reelection.  In fact it was his second most important priority behind the NHS.  His commitment (published on his leaflets) was as follows:

“Too much development: Conservatives will get rid of top-down plans from Whitehall leading to houses being dumped on local areas.  We will give people a say in how many and where local homes are needed”.  Full leaflet is here

Now, I’ve not spoken to everyone in the constituency, but on the canvassing I’ve done, I’ve a feeling that most people believe that this commitment has not been fulfilled.  A broken promise, you might say.

I’ve pushed Ed on this at hustings to find out whether he will join me in calling for reform of planning.

His response thus far has been to quote the Lib Dem manifesto, and occasionally to throw in a few lines from Nick Clegg.  This is very flattering, but perhaps takes coalition a stage too far.  Ed should understand that although we worked together for the last parliament, the deal was that the Conservatives were supposed to come up with their own policies for this election, not just talk about the Lib Dems’ ideas.

Unfortunately, instead of working on ways to deliver his 2010 pledge to reform planning, Ed and his Oxfordshire chums (Nicola ‘Bankrolled by Developers’ Blackwood and John ‘Architect of the NPPF’ Howell) have managed to concoct a way to make the housing crisis even worse for those needing housing and better, strangely, for developers, through the extension of the right to buy.

This beggar’s belief.  Having failed so spectacularly on planning in this parliament, Conservatives plan to sell off more housing to put more demand into the system in the next parliament.

Unsurprisingly, Ed doesn’t really talk about this policy much when it comes up at hustings.  One thing Ed does say is that the reason for the planning free-for-all that the Conservatives have supervised, is because the Lib Dems controlled the Vale’s local government 5 years ago.  This is a rather pathetic position.  It’s very sad to see an MP with a decade in parliament and ministerial clout claim he can’t take forward the national reforms he was so passionate about in 2010 because of a Lib Dem local council which left office in 2011.

In fact, the Lib Dems left the VOWH DC with a draft local plan that could have been delivered within a year of the Conservatives taking control.  The fact that it has taken four years and we are probably still eighteen months away (regardless of the outcome of the election) is an indictment of the Conservatives alone.  They should apologise for this abject failure to deliver a plan rather than trying to blame a previous administration.

So this is the frustration.  Planning is the big issue in Wantage.  I want to get into the detail of which candidate and party is best equipped to deal with it.  Lib Dems have set out our plans on planning reform and are determined to fix the system and put developers and communities on a level playing field (if there are any left).  This week I will take our plans on a roadshow of villages that have been so badly mauled by the Conservative-led developer bonanza – Harwell (Monday), Southmoor (Tuesday), Cholsey (Thursday) and Shrivenham (Friday) (Full details of the meetings are here).

In-between those meetings, on Wednesday, we have our final full hustings in Grove.  I will once again ask Ed to set out his proposals for reform of planning and seek his appraisal of his delivery on his 2010 commitment.

It would be enlightening for the electorate if – just this once – he had something constructive to say about his vision for the future of planning, rather than quoting our policies or trotting out tired lines he’s misinterpreted from the history books.

I won’t hold be holding my breath.

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