David Cameron responds to your comments

David Cameron, giving CPRE's Annual Lecture in May 2008. © CPRE / Nigel Keene

First, thanks to everyone who posted on this blog, and for giving me the opportunity to respond briefly to some of your points. It’s always good when a speech stimulates debate, and I’m pleased that many of you identified with the point I was making about the importance of social value.

This is an important subject which is why I thought it merited a speech by itself. Of course that meant I couldn’t, on this occasion, go into detail on other matters of concern to CPRE members. In particular, some would like to have heard more on the issue of environmental value. Well, for those who have the time and energy to read another speech, I made one on 16 June that may interest you. It can be accessed via our website www.conservatives.com.

I agree with the point made by Christopher Napier: sustainability is about integrating economic, social and environmental factors into every decision we take. So the answer to his question – would we include “environmental value” all the time, and was it just that I chose to concentrate on “social value” in this particular speech – is yes.

Now for some specific points, particularly on planning and development which was probably mentioned by more posters than any other issue.

Renewable energy

First, wind farms – which Charles Stuart, Richard Cowen and others asked about.

It is undoubtedly the case that we need a massive expansion of renewable energy in this country. Wind will play a critical part in that. But it’s not the only part. For example I’ve committed a Conservative government to giving far greater priority than this Government has to researching and developing new wave and tidal technologies. We plan to publish a green paper on a low carbon economy, which will set out the vision for wind and other forms of renewable power in more detail.

Planning

I referred in my speech to concerns about the Government’s Planning Bill: how it will remove the input of local communities from planning applications and make it easier for insensitive developments to be built. That reflects a wider concern about an over-centralisation of planning decisions. And quite a few of you ask what that would mean in practice under a Conservative Government.

My goal is more beautiful, affordable, eco-friendly homes. And in achieving that goal I start from the premise that local people know better where these new homes should go than officials in Whitehall or at regional level do. It’s precisely because new development is often imposed on communities – and is all too often unsympathetic to the environment and comes without roads, schools or hospitals – that it’s so unpopular.

I disagree with those – like Peter Langley – who said that regional rather than local planning is the way forward. As well as making development unpopular, this third tier of planning, on top of local and national planning policies, has simply created a quagmire of red tape and complexity. We would abolish unelected regional planning bodies, and hand their powers back to local councils.

Instead, we are reviewing the whole planning system to make sure that local people are more directly involved in shaping the future of their communities and their built environment, and that these communities will obtain clear rewards for welcoming new development. We are also looking at practical ways – like community land trusts – to work with the private sector, local government and social enterprises to build homes and to ensure that the benefits of new development remain within the local community.

Decentralising power

Finally, on decentralisation more widely, I don’t think Andy Roberts’s accusation – that there aren’t enough specifics on how we would decentralise power – is a fair one.

We have made a number of proposals in this area: directly elected police commissioners and local crime mapping; local referendums on excessive Council Tax rises, and ending the ring-fencing of Whitehall grants so priorities can be decided locally; making it easier to set up more small, independently run schools; feed-in tariffs and decentralised energy. These are just a few practical examples of policies which will lead to a real and sizeable shift in power to local communities under a Conservative Government.

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