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The five-point Liberal Democrat plan for dealing with the NPPF fallout

September 20, 2011

Picture by Liberal Democrats

For the Liberal Democrats – a political party that prides itself on its localist credentials – the ongoing media furore over the draft National Planning Policy Framework will have left party strategists with a headache, particularly given that the conference so far has been dominated by attempts to reassure party activists that being in government with the Tories is worthwhile.

I’ve now been to four very well-attended fringe meetings on planning at the conference here in Birmingham. Unfortunately I’ve not had sight of the briefing notes that the press office prepares for MPs. But, from what I’ve heard in the discussions here so far, it appears that there are five strands to the Liberal Democrat plan to reassure party activists over the draft NPPF:

1. Attack the planning system. As I blogged yesterday, one notable feature of the conference so far has been the strength of the attacks on the planning system. On Sunday, the chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said that the planning system was a “major vested interest” standing in the way of growth, while Ed Davey, the minister for employment relations, consumer and postal affairs, said: “The idea that the planning system currently is some sort of fantastic creation is just a nonsense. The planning system is completely out of control in my view.”

2. Hit out at the critics. Communities minister Andrew Stunell told a fringe meeting on Sunday that the critics of the NPPF were talking “nonsense”. In his speech, Danny Alexander said: “I know there are concerns about our planning reforms. So it’s important to understand what we’re really doing. The presumption of sustainable development is right because it establishes the right balance.”

3. Wax lyrical about the neighbourhood planning reforms. Liberal Democrats love localism. It is, in fact, in the party’s DNA, according to Ed Davey. No doubt with this in mind, MPs have been seeking to spend more time talking about the neighbourhood planning reforms contained in the Localism Bill than they have discussing the NPPF. “What the government is achieving is a fundamental shift in where power lies,” Stephen Gilbert, Lib Dem MP for Mid Cornwall told a fringe meeting.

4. Stress that the government is in listening mode. Stunell invited activists at a fringe meeting to put forward their suggestions for how the document could be improved. He said: “If it’s not right, will you submit the alternative text? That’s a question that we’ve put to the National Trust, and so far they’ve said they don’t want to do that. We’re beyond the point of opinions, we’re to the point of, ‘Ok, if that’s not it, what is it?’”

5. Highlight the difference between the Lib Dems and the Tories. Annette Brooke, the co-chair of the Liberal Democrats’ communities and local government backbench committee, told a fringe meeting yesterday that “coalition is not easy”. She stressed that the Lib Dem view of localism is “different” and added that, on the Localism Bill, not all of the things that the party was pushing for would be successful. “We can make statements, but dealing with the whips is quite hard,” she said. “We will be doing as much pushing as we can, but we won’t get what we desire.”

Has it worked? From the fringe meetings I’ve been to, it appears that party activists are unconvinced. The biggest rounds of applause have come when people have criticised the proposed reforms from the floor. A further indication of Liberal Democrat party members’ feelings over the planning reforms could emerge later this afternoon, when a policy motion on quality of life is debated. This includes a call for “planning frameworks generally to promote open space and exposure to the natural environment” and “the promotion of quality of life to lie at the heart of the planning framework”. I’ll be watching the debate and will report back later on the outcome.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011 11:53 am

    Aggression, half truths and out right lies are the staple diet of the LibDems when going in to any campaign, as anybody who has had to contend with them in an election will tell you. Campaigning literature often display a scant knowledge of local issues, normally gleaned from local nespaper stories, especially when their candidate has been parachuted in.
    It should therefore come as no surprise that they would take this approach when dealing with a complex issue such as the planning system and the NPPF.

  2. Edward Walpole-Brown 111. permalink
    September 20, 2011 12:54 pm

    Britain is generally regarded as having one of the fastest and soundest planning systems in Europe.
    I firmly believe that much of the proposed change is due to the mental legacy of the last government that wanted to see vaste swathes of Britain under concrete. This has fuelled no more than political fire based with and on views that are unprofessionally and unpractically based which has fuelled influence and pressure for high pressure investors and developers taking advantage of what are generally ignorant and unversed politicians.
    The present system is generally satisfactory even if there may be some minor aspects that are worthy of occasional review.


    “They Know Not What They Do.”

  3. Bob Reid permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:40 pm

    Can’t help but think that all this kerfuffle is terribly convenient at a time when the economy is on its knees and the words Greece and Euro cannot be spoken earnestly for fear of tipping over the house of cards.

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