I was sent a link to a Conservative Home Fringe meeting video and it was the first time I have seen Lee Rowley in action. I wouldnt wish watching any parties 1 1/2 hour fringe meeting on anyone but this was interesting. I felt slightly guilty fast forwarding past my old mucker Fiona Fleter-Smith to hear what he had to say.
His first outing was impressive. He was cautious, saying in the private sector you would be expected to read 3-5 months into your brief before making a key decision. He wore his background as a member of the NE Derbyshire Planning committee on his sleeve. Clearly members who are on planning committees fall into two camps, those who read reports and take their quasi judicial role serious, and those that dont. In this case he gave the impression of being the former.
I might be wrong but I think Lizz Truss is the first PM to have sat on a planning committee since John Major. I lived in Greenwich when she was on the committee – no comment on what kind of member she was then.
NE Derbyshire is interesting, next door to my own new home Sheffield. I used to think it was the only LPA in England comprised entirely of villages not town, but I was wrong, Clay Cross just about qualifies at 9,000 population (the ONS definition is 5,000 +)
Lee mentioned arguements about the NE Derbyshire local plan. Saying they planned 1,000 too many homes leading to uncessary Green Belt Loss. Was he challenging the Standard Method – no. It was an argument about whether the local plan housing number should be jobs led or housing led and the implications of which one for allocations. As he is opposing a jobs led approach we can now formally classify him as part of the Anti-Growth Coalition. Even Govey wanted to tilt housing numbers to more jobs led targets in red wall areas, which if Rowley were still a backbencher im sure he would have opposed. To be fair when the conservatives took over the council they did not reverse the local plan and adopted it in 2021.
One interesting titbit in of an event fullof be patient, wait and see pronouncements. One Tory member from Tandridge (about halfway in) was complaining of a now independent anti development alliance, of the type that have control in at least 6 LPA I know of and you know how they operate. They oppose almost everything. The member wondered about a greater roll for Counties in such cases.
Lee seemed to agree but said he could say nothing as it hadnt yet been announced.
What could he have meant?
Think about Castlepoint when Jenryk when threatening local plan takeover asked the County to step in to finish the plan.
The LURB Bill has powerful new clauses on appointing commisioners when LPAs dont do local plans. But why not an automatic step in two tier authorities of the County when the LPA has no clear plan for producing a local plan before 2026 or has withdrawn a submision or found sound plan? Similarly if they fail the appeals special measure test rather than going directly to PINS major applications could go to the County. In combined authority areas they could go to that. A thought. Then the problem shifts to the big new unitaries, like Dorset and BCP who are now kicking the local plan can years down the track.