Crushing democracy through state control

Councillor Eileen Wragg, Liberal Democrat Group Leader on East Devon District Council, writes about the need for local control of planning policies.

“Over the last year there has been an alarming growth in the Government pushing forward with introducing measures of control, from lockdown and the shambolic mishandling of COVID, to the distressing images of young women, peacefully protesting, being shackled when forced face down by several policemen at once, culminating in the shocking riots in Bristol last Sunday, when a group of otherwise peaceful protesters exercised deliberate violence against the police.

People are understandably angry with a number of issues from the COVID restrictions, the confusion arising from the pandemic, delays in Universal Credit payments, with many having been evicted and having to rely on food handouts, children going hungry, businesses struggling to stay in existence. There are certain to be more protests, hopefully peaceful ones, but worryingly, the police are being given draconian powers, even control over noise levels, and the controversial stop and search enablement. The Local Government Association has expressed concern over the lack of parliamentary time properly scrutinise the Police and Crime Bill, with some MPs describing it as ‘a mess’.

Closer to home, as a Member of East Devon District Council’s Planning Committee for the past two years, I have become aware of an aspect of permitted development regarding agricultural buildings, particularly Q Class. This was introduced by the Government in 2013, and allows barns and other outbuildings on farms to be converted to residential dwellings, shops and even hotels, often in unsustainable locations, taking trade away from the towns and undermining the economy of the centres for business. Despite objections from local residents and Councillors, regarding concerns about increased traffic and economic effects, the Government has decreed it permissible, riding roughshod over our own Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plans for those rural areas.

At one recent Planning Committee meeting, as Chair, I proposed that a letter be sent to the three local MPs expressing the concerns of Members, asking them to raise the issues with the Minister for Housing and Local Government the Right Honourable Robert Jenrick MP. That proposal received the support of most of the Committee, with one abstention, and a letter has now been sent.

I believe that local Councils should have control over the territory they cover, and not be dictated to by Westminster, but as with the examples stated above, the spectre of crushing democracy through state control is looming ever closer, and must be resisted, but with the Police and Crime Bill having had its second reading, the opportunity to protest will probably be denied to us.”