Why local elections could be influenced by housing hostility
April 22, 2016 by Editor
Rochford District Residents has been afforded a rare but very important interview with the national professional planning web site PlanningResource. Here are just the excerpts that apply to Rochford District.
22 April 2016 by Joey Gardiner
Opponents of controversial housing developments are standing in next month’s local elections in order to fight what they see as the over-development of their areas.
With polling day for local and mayoral elections less than two weeks away, planning issues – particularly in the form of opposition to development – have the power to shake voters out of their traditional political allegiances.
“The job of a local politician is to try to buck the national trend,” said Martin Curtis, associate director at stakeholder engagement consultancy Curtin & Co and a former leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. “Development is one of those key issues where people will vote for a different party locally than nationally. Therefore some politicians looking to make an impact will always look in that direction.”
Assessing the impact planning will have on next month’s poll, in which four city mayors and councillors in 124 constituencies are up for election, is not easy. Received wisdom has it that local elections are primarily won and lost on national issues, but with public faith in the established Westminster political parties at a low ebb, some believe that could change this year.
Certainly there are a number of examples where planning issues seem to likely to affect the way people vote. In Conservative-run Rochford Council in south Essex, opposition to two controversial 500-home developments in Rayleigh, both of which have received outline consent, has been harnessed by vocal grassroots action groups. This anger is also feeding into the council’s current local plan review process, and contributing to support for a new independent party, Rochford District Residents, which, while not officially a single-issue party, is strongly campaigning to limit the number of homes allocated to the area.
Working with residents’ action groups and in formal coalition with the Green Party, it already has enough councillors to be considered the district’s official opposition, and is fielding eight more candidates this time. The maths are against it taking away the incumbent party’s majority, but party leader, councillor John Mason, maintains it is possible. “Residents want these issues raised,” he said. “On the doorstep people talk about flood risk and the lack of infrastructure. They don’t believe the council is representing them on these concerns at all.”
It may be no surprise that planning is the subject of heated election debate, but those who earn a living helping developers communicate their plans say these examples show how, in the age of social media, ward-level wrangles can become much bigger issues. In Rochford, for example, the Rayleigh Action Group now boasts a 5,000-strong Facebook group of supporters.