Last week saw Local Elections in some parts of the Country and I’d like to say thank you to those involved; campaigners from all across the political spectrum who given up their time to make our democracy a more vibrant one. Council elections are interesting as they have a much lower turnout than General Elections and yet Local Authorities make crucial decisions and run services that are so important to people’s daily lives. The Conservatives did pretty well in most areas. I am always cautious about claiming to know why people vote in the way they do, and there is no shortage of people who believe they can tell you, but this would suggest that voters are not desperate to send the Prime Minister a message that we should stay in the Single Market or Customs Union or whatever the latest Brexit argument may be.
This is quite right – local elections should be about good, efficient delivery of services. The idea of moving to a unitary system, replacing the County and District Councils with one level of authority, is currently being discussed and does have some obvious attractions. Initial projections suggest that savings of between £18 and £28 million a year could be made by removing duplications and it could lead to greater efficiency in areas such as road management. It’s hugely important though that this is a change not just about money and that local voices continue to be heard properly on issues that matter to them.
One of the reasons that this is so important is that Local Authorities make decisions on planning. It’s a subject I get a lot of enquiries about and has a big impact on our lives. MPs cannot usually get involved in individual applications but I am taking part in the current consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework and you can too – details are online at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/draft-revised-national-planning-policy-framework and it finishes at 11.45pm today, 10th May.
My own view is that there needs to be a new system for an effective community right of appeal. It needs to be efficient and not delay too much the building of new homes but I do think the process favours developers too much in the way that they are more experienced with the system, have resources not available to community groups and can keep returning with new applications. The Planning Inspectorate falls short on occasion by being overly technical or too ready to accept opinions from consultants for Councils or developers, and Judicial Appeal only looks to see that the process has been followed correctly even if by paying lip service to important considerations, rather than assessing the result. Certainly people in South Somerset are concerned about planning and that overdevelopment may see our beautiful countryside and settings damaged.
On that note, let’s hope the good weather continues this weekend for the St Margaret’s Hospice Summer Fete and also the Haselbury Plucknett May Fair, both brilliant events thanks to a great deal of hard work by the organisers.
As always, if you would like to get in touch about these issues, to make an appointment at one of my regular advice surgeries or if I can help in any way please to call 01935314321 or email firstname.lastname@example.org