The conference fringe is as varied and diverse as the issues that face coast and country communities. This year with the Scottish vote the question of who decides what emerges in most fringe event discussions, be that the value of community pubs, the choice of the second runway or how to deliver new housing.
Two reoccurring themes crop up – planning is a core issues that we need to get right, balancing local and national interests and that there’s a lot local government could do, especially when you look beyond just city authorities . . .
Neighbourhood planning, introduced in the 2011 Localism Act, has a growing following in communities across England. It is proving to be a good way of engaging people in the nature of their place and how to plan for its future. Labour should build on this success and ensure that it rolls out across the whole of England.
In doing so Labour should also do two things – it should ensure that every neighbourhood planning process thinks about the future of their place in terms of energy, and climate adaptation as well as housing and infrastructure, one consideration won’t succeed without the other.
Labour should also ensure that the learning from neighbourhood planning strengthens the role of town and parish councils. These councils, covering almost all of England excepting London, are potentially well placed to take on more responsibility for their immediate place. As one delegate put it why should our somewhat distant unitary authority be responsible for the planning permission of a small number of houses on the edge of town when most of those voting on the planning have no relationship with the place or the consequences.
Given the parallels with the discussions on which MP vote for what, it is essential that Labour succeeds in securing a constitutional convention that looks at all the tiers of government, not just the partial question of the nature of our parliaments.
A bottom up appreciation of the potential to expand the role of town and parish councils would bring some decisions back to local people in a way that is even more powerful than just devolving to cities or local authorities.
A stronger role for the very local town and parish council would, in turn, lead to a more appropriate role for local authorities, be they unitary or combined. We should of course take this opportunity to help two tier areas determine the best governance approach for them.
More local planning decisions made very locally on the basis of a neighbourhood plan at parish or town level would involve more people in more of the decisions that affect them, and free up local authorities to make more local strategic planning decisions for the wider area. Here too there must be an expectation that they think about energy, climate change, housing and infrastructure in an integrated way.
Each tier of local government would benefit from devolved powers on housing, climate change adaptation, infrastructure, energy generation and supply; bringing these decisions closer to the people who should benefit from them and have to live with them.
That in turn might leave parliament the time to consider the nationally significant infrastructures, the big picture of energy provision, and the collective response to flooding and housing.
Hywel Lloyd, founder of Labour: Coast & Country | Conference 2014
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.