PLANNING POLICY AT HEART OF LOCAL DEMOCRACY SAYS LUFF
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PLANNING POLICY AT HEART OF LOCAL DEMOCRACY SAYS LUFF

“The Government have once again taken a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and the nut that they are breaking is local accountability and local democracy”.

That’s the view of Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff who this week criticised the Government for bringing in a bill which claims to deliver more powers to local communities but in practice does little to solve the public’s “growing resentment of the political class that seeks to control what happens at the local level far too intensely.”

Peter’s comments came in the Second Reading debate of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill in the House of Commons on Monday.

The bill has been brought in by the Government to give communities and local people new rights to have a say in their local services, to strengthen local democracy, and to reform local and regional governance arrangements.

However, in his speech to the Commons Peter said:

“The bill, in so many respects, makes matters worse, not better. A bill about local democracy could have done so much, sweeping away the duties and obligations on local authorities, rather than adding to them. That is the root of true democracy. That is what we should be seeking to do and that is the dreadful wasted opportunity that the Bill represents.”

Peter drew attention to the lack of control people feel they have over major decisions that affect their lives, such as planning laws. Even decisions seemingly in the hands of their local representatives are controlled at a national level - the most current example of that in Worcestershire are concerns over the South Worcestershire Joint Core Strategy. Peter said:

“What struck me is that what touches my constituents in their day-to-day lives in relation to democracy and control of their lives is planning policy. Planning affects people most directly, and the sense of outrage in my constituency about the South Worcestershire joint core strategy is palpable.

“We are in the bizarre, Alice in Wonderland position of conducting a consultation on the South Worcestershire joint core strategy, knowing that the regional spatial strategy plan revision that has been imposed on the region by the Government is likely to increase the housing demands still further. When we have the joint core strategy in place, we will almost certainly have to revisit it immediately and increase the numbers.

“Local councillors exist to express the views of local people, but the Government have put in place mechanisms that take their voice away. There is nothing more undemocratic than removing the voice of a district councillor on a major and sensitive local planning decision.”

Peter also drew attention to the irony that a bill claiming to be about democracy is being undemocratically railroaded through Parliament without sufficient time for debate or scrutiny:

“It is a complex Bill. It runs to 138 pages and has 146 clauses, seven schedules and nine parts. It is not easy reading. It was subject to extensive amendment in the Lords, more amendments will be required in this place, and I predict confidently that, on Report, we will wade through scores of amendments that will be completely undebated, which is extremely unsatisfactory. I hope that my colleagues on the Front Bench will divide the House on the timetable motion, which is scandalously inadequate for such an important Bill. For a Bill that purports to be about democracy to be railroaded through this House without adequate discussion is profoundly undemocratic.”


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