The final full day at the Conservative Party Conference
It was an early start for our Director on the second full day at the Conference, with an early morning event focusing on the effect and influence that the European Union may have on the Localism Agenda. Headlining the panel was Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and a great supporter of the work that Civic Voice and civic society in general is taking forward. However, the presentations and subsequent lively debate focused on procurement and the regulations that local authorities and businesses have to adhere to rather than a wider discussion as billed.
Saying that Steve reported that “there was general agreement that European regulations, including those relating to planning, and funding regimes for example were complex in their nature, the Secretary of State describing them as a “tsunami” of regulations, including such as Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), that made it doubly difficult for local authorities to comply”. However, in his opening address Eric did make it clear that the EU was not entirely to blame for “over-regulation” and that in some cases local authorities themselves tended to “gold plate”. He also made it clear that he was very much behind simplifying regulations.
After the event Steve did manage to have a very useful and supportive conversation with Eric on issues ranging from SEAs, the place of Neighbourhood Planning in helping such as local regeneration and growth, and on the protection of the Green Belt, the latter being subsequently referred to in his Conference speech. The conversation concluded with Eric congratulating Steve on his appointment and inviting Steve to come in to his office for a further discussion on these issues and on how Civic Voice and its member societies can help take the localism agenda forward.
Throughout the rest of the day Steve attended a number of Fringe events, networked with partner organisations including the Royal Town Planning Institute, the latter ending with their CEO Trudi Elliot and Steve agreeing to have a more in-depth chat about mutual support in the near future.
The day concluded with a private dinner to debate the importance of planning and retail diversity to the sustainability of UK high streets, parades and large retail centres. It was hosted by the Association of Convenience Stores and attended by MPs, and a mix of retail, community and planning stakeholders with an interest in Localism and high streets, ranging from the Association of Town Centre Managers through to the National Association of Local Councils and AGE UK. Here a frank and open discussion was had on the role that society can play on the regeneration of local shopping areas. Steve brought delegates attention to the great work being done up and down the country by some of our member societies but stressed that there were many more who would like to become involved in the likes of neighbourhood planning but faced “blockages”. In general these range from a lack of information being made available by some local authorities, land banks and the power of large retailers, to the way that information is sometimes communicated to residents and stakeholders. Steve also led the discussion on street clutter referencing the campaign we lead-and that the Localism Act had much to commend in it.
Overall, our Director attended many relevant meetings and fringe events, highlighting throughout the work that Civic Voice and its member societies undertake, getting involved not just in planning but also local activities such as those of Civic Day, as well as being one of the lead organisations behind Heritage Open Days. Steve also managed to meet many of the right people and will follow up invitations for further discussions, particularly from the Secretary of State, Ministers, key Parliamentarians, and like-minded organisations. Thus the profile of the movement was raised with further opportunities for Civic Voice to influence and develop strategic partnerships taken. Watch this space to read how he gets on over the next few months.