As the 2011 Conservative Conference enters its final day the atmosphere on the fringe and in the main hall has become noticeably more relaxed. Outside, however, the local atmosphere is becoming more and more wet and windy! For every day of this conference we have seen an assortment of those protesting against one policy or the other outside the conference venues. Earlier today one rather loud protester was shouting about how bad the government was for pursuing nuclear power in place of all the other renewable alternatives. He must have been relieved, therefore, to read the reports that the government remain committed to wind and solar energy. The debate in the conference fringes this week has been how this £100 billion subsidy can be justified at a time of massive spending cuts elsewhere.
Yesterday we reported that the Localism and Decentralisation Minister, Greg Clark MP didn’t address the conference when scheduled to. Today he delivered the speech, so all of the conspiracy theories abounding regarding whether the NPPF has been ripped up appear unfounded. Clark made an impassioned plea for the conference to appreciate that the average age of a first time buyer is 37 years old, and that progressive planning laws need to be implemented to allow developers to build more houses. Suffice to say that this was met with almost stony silence by delegates, most of who were councillors in leafy rural Tory boroughs. I did get the impression that Clark did partially with them over by referring to the beauty of the British countryside and how he wanted to protect it.
The Friends of the Earth do not appear convinced by these warm words, however. Their Executive Director Andy Atkins said Greg Clark’s speech did little to address “the growing chorus of concern” over the government’s planning reforms. He remains concerned, as do others in the environment lobby, that the governments position needs to change.
In a subsequent fringe meeting attended by Redwood Consulting this evening Clark made it clear that the consultation process is far from complete. The impression was given that substantial changes to the NPPF were in the pipeline, particularly those dealing with transitional arrangements between old and new legislation. This issue exercised many senior Conservative council leaders at an early evening fringe event. When answering direct questions from the floor Clark indicated heavily that this may well feature in the finalised version of the NPPF. Tory leaders present breathed a collective sigh of relief as they realised the loophole allowing some developers to speculatively apply for planning permissions between the NPPF coming into force and the Localism Bill being enacted to take into account authorities having no local plans in place could be closed.
Well, conference is all about energising your supporters!