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Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Conference season round-up
This post has been sitting unfinished for nearly two weeks. It's still unfinished, but maybe useful if you want to get the feel of the political landscape. Really its mostly about the Tories, reflecting the current zeitgeist that Labour won't be able to hold out for another term.

Basically, look forward to an easier ride if you want to build houses, in line with a 'competitive streamlining' of the planning system. Cameron has said that there is a social responsibility to provide more homes in rural areas. "We want to build beautiful, iconic new communities, not put the brakes on everything" said Simon Wolfson, CEO of Next but on the 'competitiveness' policy group which will report next summer.

Buzzwords include "positive planning" which means assuming that development should go ahead unless there are compelling reasons to stop it, building in rural villages to supposedly ease the lack of 'local housing for local people', not to mention abolishing use classes so that commercial and residential planning permissions would be effectively interchangeable.

They are also pro more roadbuilding because "better roads create wealth...one of the things we are determined to do is get traffic moving" but with magic green technology to ensure that Cameron's eco image is untainted. The Tories are considering proposals that would see homeowners forced to pay for improvements to the energy efficiency of their properties when they are sold.

David Cameron's quality of life policy review chaired by John Gummer plans to impose "very tough" standards for energy and water efficiency. It intends to bring in tougher green standards for building and refurbishing residential and commercial properties.

Caroline Spelman, Ruth Kelly's opposite number, pledged to 'streamline' the "50 different funding streams for housing and regeneration" into a single 'cohesion fund'. She also pledged to give businesses a referendum on whether to scrap the nine Regional Development Agencies - always opposed by the Tories, who would also scrap Regional Spatial Strategies and the Regional Assemblies.

Spelman added that an overhaul of the Pathfinder programme would be instituted by any future Tory administration. She said: "Thousands of Victorian terraces are being bulldozed regardless of local opposition. This goes against everything we have learned from the past."

Also leapt onto the green bandwagon with a vengeance and David Miliband had a good conference. Blair: the UK needs "the most radical overhaul of energy policy since the War" and to "make sure every new home is at least 40% more energy efficient." Here's Gordon Brown on the environment too.

Labour was defeated over the issue of building more council homes for the 2nd year on the trot - a rebel motion demanding direct investment in council houses was passed despite NEC opposition. Ruth Kelly pledged (in a rather feeble way) that the Government "can and will" build more homes, including council houses. Gordon Brown pledged to double spending on social housing in general, but of course we won't see any direct investment.

Miliband on the environment: "I propose we adopt a new goal as a country: to aim to live as a nation within the limits that the environment can tolerate, One Planet Living. The challenge is immense. But so are the tools at our disposal. We know how to build the low carbon home, make the 150-200mpg car, deliver zero carbon energy."

Also: on the city-region debate, it is still all to play for. Miliband said that we have "100 great British cities driving our country forward. They should trusted with the power and the politics to lead environmental change, driving forward sustainable housing, taking responsibility for congestion charging and improved public transport, heading the drive for new jobs and new wealth."

So: varying shades of greenwash all round. Such a nice easy vote-winner, at least until we all start calculating how much it will cost our pockets.

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