The Liberal Democrats have a quirky old way of doing things. Whilst they may herald the fact its membership decides party policy as a triumph for democracy, it has a habit of putting Clegg and his ministerial colleagues in rather awkward political positions.
Members and councillors queued up and described the proposals as a “grotesque over-centralisation” and stated that they go against the “spirit of the Localism Act”. In a move to reassure delegates, new Communities Minister and Lib Dem MP for Bath, Don Foster, affirmed that he is listening and that the proposals are not a “done deal” with further changes to come.
Don is right in one respect, the relaxation proposals are still out for consultation. However with senior Lib Dems briefing that “nothing is binding on anyone” in an effort to play down the impact of the motion passing, it is unlikely that any changes will be significant.
Incidentally, the next item to the floor was the housing policy paper entitled “Decent Homes for All”, which commits the party to increasing the rate of construction to at least 300,000 homes a year. The paper includes a number of initiatives including going further with the government’s “build now, pay later scheme” and other ways of increasing land supply.
What is clear from all of this is the Liberal Democrats are pulling in a different direction on housing policy and do not see further reform of the planning system as the panacea to ‘get Britain building’ again. Although, how this plays out in Whitehall and indeed at a local level remains to be seen.
Written by Stephen Byfield