“Fragmented, inefficient and ineffective “

From the BBC website yesterday:

Simple actions to help protect homes in England from flooding are still being ignored by government, MPs say.

The Commons environment committee said ministers were not addressing what it called the fragmented, inefficient and ineffective flood management.

Areas of concern include flood impact home insurance, building rules and local authority planning decisions.

The government rejected the criticism, saying it had accepted many previous suggestions on flooding from the MPs.

The committee’s comments are the latest in a running tussle between MPs and the environment department Defra.

The MPs admit that flooding has risen up the government’s priority list, and say “considerable work” on flooding is being done across Whitehall. But they complain that ministers are still ignoring reasonable demands…..

Full report here


Could You Be Another Sarah Olney?

A year and a half ago Sarah Olney  wasn’t involved in politics. Sarah only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, and last night she became our newest MP. As the Political Betting website comments here:

That’s a fantastic result for the yellows and a tragic result for Zac Goldsmith who, of course, was beaten in the London Mayoral race last May.

The seat has, of course, been LD territory in the past and the party has flung everything at it. This has been a huge campaign which I said at the start was an absolute must win for them.

The result cuts Theresa May’s majority by 2 to a theoretical 10.

There was much scepticism when the LDs produced vote projections in the past few days showing they were in the lead. Well these have been proved right.

The main point we’d like to say tonight is that there are plenty of potential Sarah Olneys in our area – we see them on the doorstep and we chat about issues with them over coffee.  They are  women – and men – who share our concerns about local, social and political issues but lead busy lives and haven’t found time yet to get involve with us “yellows”.

Our membership is already growing locally but hopefully last night’s result will encourage a few more people to think “I could do what Sarah Olney’s done….” You might not get into  parliament – but you could get into the council chamber , or to County Hall…

Timid? Or Just Complaining Quietly?

Liberal England reports here from Leicestershire:

Leicestershire’s Conservative MPs were busy retweeting this photograph last week.

It shows them and the Conservative leader of the county council Nick Rushton meeting the local government minister Marcus Jones to press the case for more generous funding for Leicestershire.

The Leicester Mercury quoted Sir Edward Garnier, MP for Harborough:

“The difficult financial situation for Leicestershire County Council means that unless we get an improved funding arrangement, the services that vulnerable people need the most will have to be cut. I know the Minister fully understands the case we made and took into account our concerns as Leicestershire MPs and those of Coun Rushton. We will wait to see what transpires over the next few weeks.”

I would love to see a more generous settlement for Leicestershire, particularly if Rushton is right to say that we are the lowest funded county council.

But we are not the only Tory-run county asking for more.

Over to the Shropshire Star and the new leader of the council there:

Shropshire Council leaders today called for Government help to stave off the impact of multi-million pound budget cuts.

Council leader Malcolm Pate and the authoritys chief executive Clive Wright warned that without assistance they face a considerable reduction in the countys services.

They have urged either an increase in the amount they can raise in council tax or an alteration of the formula by which councils receive central Government funding.

The formula cannot be unfair to everybody, so It looks as though Conservatives are really complaining that central government funding is not generous enough. Even David Cameron has been at it.

And they are right. It is not just the slightly quaint things this blog has a weakness for that will suffer – rural bus services, branch libraries – but central services like adult social care.

If there is a country vs court rebellion in the Conservative party, with their council leaders rebelling against the cuts they are being compelled to implement, all Liberal Democrats should welcome it.

Government cuts are biting – biting hard. And residents in Rochford shouldn’t be surprised if the District Council cut back on services, increased charges, and maybe introduced new charges because we are getting less money from central government. We have some talented council officers (both new ones and long-serving ones) who are coming up up with some rational, innovative ways to gain more income and keep a stable long-term budget. But apparently there’s no appetite at all for the Conservative councillors to complain to their party colleagues in parliament that they have got things wrong. One of us said to a thoughtful Tory councillor yesterday “George Osbourne is throwing local Tories to the lions like the Generals did to the troops in World War One”and the councillor didn’t disagree.

Back when the Council was Lib Dem controlled, we faced a new government policy that would cost us 112,000 in extra housing costs. Our response was to send an all-party delegation, led by Lib Dem Sylvia Lemon to meet with the relevant minister. And we got the cost removed from us.

Meanwhile, in other news, , the Government seems more generous to Google than with councils.

Did Your MP Vote For Houses That Are Fit For Human Habitation?

The Independent has the following report:

On Tuesday MPs voted down an amendment which would have seen landlords forced to ensure their properties were fit for humans to live in.

The amendment was defeated by 219 votes to 312 – a majority of 93.

… shadow housing minister Teresa Pearce called for the new rules to be added to the housing bill, rules which would require private landlords to ensure their properties were in a fit state…

So how did our local MPs vote on somethihg that would have required landlords to keep their houses and flats fit for human habitation? The Independent has this interactive map to tell us:

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) voted AGAINST this proposal.
Rebecca Harris (Castle Point ) voted AGAINST this proposal.
Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) DIDN’T vote.

housing map independent

“An Astonishing Clause”

The ” Decisions , Decisions., Decisions” blog has an item here about “an astonishing clause” that the government has laid before parliament in the Housing and Planning Bill three days before Christmas. The legal jargon is not easy to follow, but would allow in some circumstances for “designated persons” (private consultants) to process planning applications instead of the local council. The council would still make the final decision, but the consultants would get the fee..


Just What IS The Government Proposing?

From the Telegraph today:

Thousands of new homes are set to be built on the Green Belt in the biggest relaxation to planning protections for 30 years.

A new Government consultation proposes to change strict rules that only allow building on the ribbon of greenfield land around towns and cities which prevents urban sprawl in exceptional circumstances.

Instead councils will be allowed to allocate appropriate small-scale sites in the Green Belt specifically for starter homes, which are designed for young families, the Government said.

The changes, which were published quietly on Monday, are likely to be seized on by developers which have long coveted the protected Green Belt land.


It’s not clear what impact this would have on our district. It depends on what is meant by ‘small-scale’ and how many ‘small-scale’ sites there could be in a locality. One site of 10 or 15 starter games wouldn’t have much of an effect on an area, but a whole cluster would…

What Happened To Localism?

From the Telegraph yesterday:

Tens of thousands of new homes in greenfield areas in England will be given automatic planning permission amid fears that communities will have inappropriate developments forced on them.

Ministers have quietly given developers the right to be granted “planning in principle” in areas that are earmarked for new housing schemes.

Rural campaigners said the new powers will restrict the rights of council planning officers to ensure that the design, density, size and location of homes is in keeping with local areas.

Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to protect Rural England, said: “The country needs more house building, but the way to achieve this is through well-planned developments that win public consent. Imposing development without local democratic oversight is a recipe for discord.

The full article is here.

We think this quote is particularly jarring:

Brandon Lewis, the Housing Minister, said: Our planning reforms have put an end to the top-down system of the past that pitted neighbours against developers, and instead put power back in the hands of local people.

The Housing Bill means permission would be granted in principle where land has been identified for housebuilding in local and neighbourhood plans and on brownfield land but developers will still need to submit details of what they plan to build and how it will look for approval before they can put spades in the ground.

And with over 80 per cent of councils having published a local plan, and over 100 communities having developed neighbourhood plans, it means millions of people will have a direct say over how their area is developed.

Meanwhile this article on the BBC website shows how private developers may wish to slow down development on their sites:

Ebbsfleet, in Kent, would appear to be an ideal development opportunity, as estate agents put it.

In the Thames Estuary, it’s just 17 minutes from central London via high-speed rail, the giant Bluewater shopping centre is a short drive away and there’s planning permission for 15,000 new homes in a lovely landscaped setting.

And yet, eight years after construction started, there are only 350 housing units on this giant empty site, which was once four quarries.

That’s partly down to the recession and partly down to the way property developers work.

In a revealing article published last year, Francis Salway, former chief executive of the largest listed property company in the UK, Land Securities, explained that developers don’t relish huge empty sites like the former quarries at Ebbsfleet.

They like “established demand” and “existing communities”, he wrote, which prove people really do want to live there. The developers like to “limit the forthcoming supply” – that is, to ration how many homes come on to the market at one time so that the market is not flooded.

They don’t like long projects which risk being hit by a downturn and they don’t like high “up front” costs – cleaning up sites and building new roads and sewage plants.


If you want to keep an eye on how your MP – or any MP – votes – have a look at The Public Whip website.

It gives you information on when an MP has voted differently to his or her party’s official view on an issue. Plus a lot more information if you look for it…

For example , in Colchester Nick Barlow has just used it to check here on how his local MP voted recently about the issue of VAT on female sanitary protection products… Which is an issue we might come back to next week…

“Slouching Towards Post-Democracy”

Colchester Lib Dem Nick Barlow writes perceptively here about the erosion of democracy. The public face of democracy is till there (elections) – but real control is being taken away from those democratically elected:

…This, of course, is the usual modus operandi for the Tories. Big, bold claims about opening up services, providing choice, freedom and everything else, while actually instituting systems that take power further away from the people than it was before. Theres a huge illusionary trick being pulled off as Cameron and Osborne dazzle the crowd with language that sounds as though theyre giving away power when in reality theyre doing anything but. Under the guise of devolution, power is actually being pulled away from the people, insulated from any direct accountability and the possibility of any real local control.

Consider Osbornes much-vaunted city regions. How will they be run? Through a board where almost all of the members are indirectly elected and the one that is (the regional mayor) wont have any structures around them to provide checks and balances or to scrutinise them. Just as weve seen with PCCs, youll get to vote for someone once every four years and hope that theyre doing what you voted for during that time. Meanwhile, weve already been told that any decision to approve an increase in business rates will need to be approved by the unelected Local Enterprise Partnership. LEPs have already been given massive amounts of money to spend outside of any democratic control, and how long before the usual steady creep gives them even more unaccountable power over local decisions?

postdemocracyTo me, it feels like the institutions of post-democracy are being assembled around us, and the key part of post-democracy is that while democratic forms still exist for the public face of the system, they have little say over the operation of power within it. The rhetoric of democracy is being used to introduce systems that hollow out the practice of it, telling people that they are free while gradually removing any of the tools they may have used to exercise that freedom and make power accountable. Thats the prospect being laid out in front of us no sudden change from one system to another, just a gradual whittling away of power and if were going to confront it, then we need to get comfortable talking abour power.

An Extra Meeting Of The Development Committee!

There’s an extra meeting of the Development Committee next Tuesday. It concerns the big housing application passed a couple of years back off Hall Road, Rochford. In particular it concerns the amount of affordable rented housing to be provided.

The original plan was for 97 affordable homes in the first phase – about 77 rented and 20 shared ownership. But the Chelmer Housing Partnership can no longer afford to do this, because of a change in central government policy:

hall road

So the developer wants to change the a planning condition to allow 67 rented and 30 shared ownership. You can download the full report here.

On the positive side, its good that the council is bringing this application for a change in conditions to the full committee. (Is that down to the chair, Cllr Seagers?) . On the negative side, the government don’t seem to be doing housing associations any favours at the moment.

As it happens Tim Farron has a very sensible article this week in the New Statesman about defending social housing from the Conservatives’ policies:

… selling off housing association homes does nothing to address the national emergency in housing. The huge shortage of affordable homes in the UK causes millions of people to suffer on a daily basis, with 1.6 million people on social housing waiting lists, unable to get on with their lives. The governments plans still mean giving huge cash handouts to a tiny minority, while making things worse for many others.

Monster Win For The Lib Dems At Loch Ness

Sorry, we couldn’t resist the headline…

From the BBC

Lib Dems win Highland’s Aird and Loch Ness by-election

The Liberal Democrats have won a by-election in Highland Council’s Aird and Loch Ness ward.

Jean Davis narrowly defeated her closest rival SNP candidate Emma Knox.

The by-election in the ward, which is represented by four councillors, was triggered by Drew Hendry’s election as an MP for the SNP in May.

He was elected as the new MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, the seat previously held by Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander.

The turnout was 32.35%.

Ms Davis said the victory marked the start of a Lib Dem “fight back” in the Highlands.

It’s a vast council ward, 35 miles from end to end. Last time we came 4th…

Important Stuff:Councils To Keep All Their Business Rates

At the moment councils collect council tax and business rates. Broadly speaking, councils keep the council tax but pass the business rates back to Central Government. Central government then gives some of that back to councils as government grants

George Osbourne has announced today that in the future councils will be allowed to keep all business rates from their area. This is going to be a massive change for councils and gives us lots to think about.

Here’s a few early thoughts:

  • This obviously gives councils great incentives to attract businesses to their areas
  • It’s not clear yet how the money will be shared out between County Councils and District Councils. Will Parish councils get anything?
  • It will encourage councils to work harder to promote their town centres – and might discourage councils from increasing car parking charges
  • It all fits in with the recent discussions about having a combined Essex Authority to attract business and infrastructure. If this goes ahead, it will encourage Essex Councils to pool business rates and to work together – so that if there is a new business park in Essex, all councils might benefit?
  • Business rates do hit some small businesses very hard but rents can hit them very high as well!