News from Day 2 of the Conservative Party Conference

Regional issues and rejuvenation of the local economy through speeding up the planning process, the role of Developers in Neighbourhood Plans and re-vitalising the High Street were all on the agenda for Day 2 of the Conference.

Some of the messages heard at the Conference included:

• At a North East Fringe event it was openly admitted that the region has the “worst record in England” for the time it takes for planning decisions and that mechanisms have to be put in place to address this
• Local authorities should not just deliver services but take real leadership in supporting the economy and communities
• Suggestions that local authorities should push through planning applications as long as they “fitted with the Local Development Plan”
• Part of the planning issue may be the resources and capacity within departments-but that outsourcing such a service should not be on the agenda or an option
• The Chapter on High Streets in the National Planning Policy Framework was retained to ensure that Local Authorities gave such land uses due regard and support in their rejuvenation
• One can take a view that the town centre is part and parcel of housing growth and that building more houses will bring more shoppers
• Government reduction of regulations will help ensure a focus on business frameworks and that in turn businesses have to be focused on connecting to other local businesses and communities thus helping communities grow

One of the key meetings of the day for Steve was the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) hosted “Can planning help deliver the jobs and growth we need?” with a panel drawn from both Government and the private sector. Trudi Elliot (Chief Executive at RTPI) set the debate in motion with being very clear that whilst Neighbourhood Plans were a very good system “the process was very complicated”. It was felt that developers were being permitted to “land bank” and that there needs to be a cultural change in the way that land is developed with more participation in development by communities.

On this last point Steve commented “I had a very useful and positive discussion with a senior representative of a major developer at the end of the session. He said that his company would be very happy to talk through the issues that our member societies have to help identify a way to promote more constructive dialogue for all. He did admit that often the language used needs clarification and that some fault lies with developers, but the main message was that his company would like to “get better” at working with communities. We left agreeing to meet up in the near future.”

Steve continued, “One of the highlights of my day was attending a discussion focusing on “Beyond Portus: Town centres for local economies and communities”. Government representatives agreed that out of town developments are dragging people away from the town centre and that landlords have to be encouraged to invest in their high street property, in part through local authorities backing and supporting local businesses. Integral to this is encouraging communities to play their part through participating in neighbourhood planning. Indeed John Howell, MP, “architect of the reform of the planning system” stated that “running the High Street is the job of the local community and this should be reflected in neighbourhood plans”. One may ask though how this could work in practice, especially given the mixed success some of our member societies have had in participating in the process.

Towards the end of the day Steve had the chance to have a brief discussion about the work of Civic Voice and the civic movement with Nick Hurd, MP, Minister of State for Civil Society. The Minister said he would welcome a further opportunity to discuss suggestions that Civic Voice may have to promote and implement the civic movement agenda, and this opportunity is something that Steve and Civic Voice will take forward in the near future.

Another update report will feature on our website tomorrow.