LOCAL GOVERNMENT CONFUSION OVER NATIONAL POLICY

The largest group on a Sussex council are adamant they will fight to retain the ‘best parts’ of a government proposal to shake-up the country’s planning process.

Conservative members on Lewes District Council say they could not, in all honesty, agree to object to parts of the government’s White Paper which would give greater powers on planning enforcement and to recognise the importance of Neighbourhood Plans.

At a meeting of the Full Council on Monday 23 November the ruling anti-Conservative coalition supported a member’s Notice of Motion requesting the council leader write to the district’s two MPs, asking them to oppose all elements of the White Paper proposals, in contravention of the authority’s own formal response on the document.

“It’s still a very early stage, of course”, explained Cllr Isabelle Linington (the Conservative Group Leader and member for Chailey and Barcombe). “White Papers are discussion documents and contains thoughts and ideas that government wish to canvass opinion on, and many will never be included in any proposed legislation.”

Speaking in the debate, the council’s Chair of Planning, Cllr Sharon Davy (Conservative, Chailey and Barcombe) said she could not agree to a blanket opposition to the White Paper when clearly it contained some things which would be of enormous benefit to planning authorities such as Lewes. “Surely most of us agree with the notion of stronger powers and sanctions in planning enforcement?”, she said. “I also support the idea of retaining Neighbourhood Plans and therefore cannot agree to back tonight’s motion to reject everything out of hand, although there are parts of the document which I do object to and have submitted my own response to the government on its ideas.”

Although the motion was carried, Cllr Linington feels it was the wrong decision at the wrong time: “This is sending out conflicting signals with the council’s official response which backs some of the ideas and yet now, in this motion, all are being rejected in their entirety, including those recently supported.”

Her feeling was supported by Cllr Roy Burman (Conservative, Newick) who had to tell the meeting that White Papers were issued as consultation documents and not intended to be set in stone as policy which would translate to law. “As a result of responses, already the Government is re-thinking some of its planning ideas such as its housing allocation algorithm.”

Cllr Tom Jones (Conservative, Ditchling) called for the motion to be withdrawn so that a cross-council approach could be agreed, to lobby against those parts of the White Paper which all parties opposed, but the idea was dismissed by the controlling coalition.

The meeting also saw another misunderstanding of Government proposals, this time relating to possible implementation of voter ID which may be required at polling stations in future elections if legislation is brought forward. The ruling coalition councillors backed a motion to ensure that no resident would be prevented from voting from any such law.

Several Conservative opposition councillors reminded the meeting that the government has pledged to provide free voter identification to anyone who doesn’t already have any in the form of a driving licence or passport, and therefore the motion was not needed.

Cllr Liz Boorman (Conservative, Seaford West) told the meeting that she was one such person but had every faith in the council’s officers being able to implement such a system to ensure that nobody was disenfranchised. She called the motion “premature”. It was, nonetheless, carried because of alliance coalition backing.