This is a report from my attendance at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week. I mainly focussed on planning, infrastructure and transport fringe events as most relevant to my ward. I therefore missed all of the big speeches you will have seen in the press and TV but will post separately about the Amber Rudd comments.
Housing again was one of the main subjects of discussion, for example Gavin Barwell MP & Minister for Planning & London gave seventeen separate speeches at conference over three days and there were many other fringe meetings he could not make. By contrast there was only one defence fringe meeting.
Although he could not attend the Isle of Dogs Neighbourhood Planning Forum fringe event he has promised to visit the Isle of Dogs in the new year. Here is a link to the presentation we made at conference which included the video http://www.isleofdogsforum.org.uk/press-release.html. The fringe event was standing room only but I also mentioned how much development was happening in our area at other fringe events I attended. We are considering doing similar events at other party conferences next year but this year only had time & money to attend one.
At a national level there is a very strong interest in delivering more housing as in most parts of the UK we are not delivering enough new homes and where we are doing so there are issues over quality, affordability and / or infrastructure. But some people were not so keen, one Council leader said his planners job was to ensure that only excellent development proceeded, if not they would lose their jobs!
But the current government seems to be focussed on incremental changes to the planning system and have announced more money for infrastructure (more on this later). But at several fringe events we discussed the option of the government (national or local) going back into the business of house building as Conservative governments did in the 1950’s, Winston Churchill as Prime Minister built more social housing than any other PM. I am not sure Ministers are ready for that yet but there was a strong minority support for the idea in the meetings I attended including by Gary Porter, Chair of the Local Government Association (a Conservative Council leader).
Fringe events are smaller meetings held at conference by a wide range of organisations and are separate from the highly scripted formal speeches given in the main hall which you will have seen on television or reported in the press. They attract lots of people who are not party members, of 14,000 attendee’s at conference at least half are there for work reasons. For example at one early morning fringe event on infrastructure organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers of 30 plus people attending only four were politicians including 3 MP’s. The rest worked for organisations involved in infrastructure like Atkins, Pinsent Masons, Laing O’Rourke, KPMG, trade journals plus a Professor from Oxford University.
I also got invited to two housing related dinners, one organised by the CBI & L&Q, the other by a variety of housing associations. At both I raised issues relevant to us. I did not pay for the dinner as I would normally do as held in conference rooms not at a restaurant so am considering how to off-set the financial benefit of receiving a free dinner.