Three times in the last two weeks I have had a chance to comment on what the future balance of homes and open space should be in Derby – and also other spatial-related things like where to put business and how to get around Derby. I’ve made a point of being in the right place at the right time because I know this is when you can make a difference.
This is important because as a councillor one of the times when I was most unable to help people was when people were unhappy about a planning application – but which met all the requirements in the Local Plan.
This is the key bit: The Local Plan.
The Local Plan defines what will be acceptable in the local area; in our case Derby. Where to put homes, shops and factories. How transport should work. The priorities for open space and leisure. How to protect against flooding and leave space for wildlife. And lots more.
The City Council is reviewing the Local Plan and has now reached the last stage when people can change things, without getting embroiled in statutory legal process. And it’s worth getting involved.
My first chance was at a Neighbourhood Forum, where council planners introduced the process and encouraged people to take, complete and return forms with their comments.
The second event I attended was a session for infrastructure providers (many were developers) who clearly have a keen interest in what goes into the final plan. I was there on behalf of Derby Cycling Group. As well as raising comments about cycling, active travel and modal shift, I took the chance to mention other sustainability issues like energy efficiency/supply and city food growing/allotments which I thought it would be good for house-builders to hear!
The third was today, to consider the importance of having a new large park in the south-west of Derby. The land has been safeguarded for years, but the council has not had the money to buy most of it, nor lay it out as a park. Could this be funded by reducing the area, and allowing a little to be used for housing? A challenging question!
The consultation on the Local Plan continues until just before Christmas. What people say now can make a difference, so click to the website or go to a meeting (listed further down the linked page) and give your views!
However it isn’t only the Local Plan that matters; the government also has a say on planning. And at the start of September it announced a desire to have more.
The government had suggested relaxing planning rules to allow much larger back-garden extensions. It thought this would be good for the building trade and so create employment. This economic impact might have happened, but I have no doubt that the complaints from neighbours to local councillors would go sky high!
When I heard this I did two things. I spoke to the Association of Lib Dem Councillors (ALDC) – and suggested this might be a good topic for an emergency motion. I also wrote a report which I took to the Lib Dems’ Federal Policy Committee (FPC).
Both were well-received: ALDC drafted an emergency motion expressing concern about the proposals, which was debated and passed by Lib Dem Conference. And at FPC there was agreement to raise the issue with the Lib Dem leadership.
Individual councils of all colours have since been passing resolutions against these proposals, so I hope that they won’t now be pursued.