So far the Conservatives’ annual conference has been notable by what has not been said, rather than any solid policy announcements. The speeches in the main hall have been packaged and measured, though Transport Secretary Philip Hammond’s quip about Lib Dem Chris Huhne’s problems with driving offences probably struck a little near to the knuckle!
The big discussion point about the Conference is the massive change to today’s schedule. Minister for Localism, Greg Clarke MP, was due to deliver a keynmote speech right after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. The stage was set for a comprehensive defence of the government’s pro-growth NPPF and rebuttal of some of the hysteria from those opposed. After all, the pre-conference chatter was all about how unreasonable those opposing the NPPF were and how vital it was to stimulate economic growth through the planning system. There was very little in Pickles’ speech which mentioned planning, though he did have concilliatory things to say about the National Trust, the most vocal opponents of the planning reforms. After he sat down however, there was nothing. Clark made no speech and John Hayes MP, a Minister in the Department of Innovation, Business and Skills spoke. This wasn’t on the schedule and the fairly substantial audience was left asking the question ‘Where is Greg Clark?’
The answer may lay in the reports circulating the conference that the National Trust have hit such a raw nerve with the coalition that the entire NPPF has been ripped up and will be replaced with something far more palatable to them. The vocal and increasingly antagonistic pre-conference rhetoric by ministers such as Francis Maude has now been extinguished. Has peace broken out between the government and the rural pressure groups their members form part of? What will this mean for the future of planning policy?
Redwood Consulting is attending Conservative Party Conference to find these answers out. Account Director Antony Calvert will be attending two critically important fringe meetings over the next two days with Clark and other DCLG ministers attending. Watch this space for more exclusive conference commentary.