New planning rules will ‘silence local voices’ 

New planning laws for England will “silence local voices and kill off our high streets”, Labour said as it urged Tory MPs to vote them down.

Labour says the new rules would allow developers to convert shops into homes without planning permission.

It is the first stage of sweeping changes to the planning system aimed at speeding up development.

The government insisted its plans would make the system “more democratic” while building the “homes communities need”.

Labour has secured a vote in the Commons on Wednesday in a bid to overturn the first stage of the reforms, made by ministers before the summer recess.

Under these changes, empty high street shops could be converted into housing and up to two storeys added to blocks of flats without the need for planning permission.

Labour’s shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury said: “This is the first stage of an atrocious new developers’ charter, which will wrench power away from local people and into the hands of the developers that bankroll the Tories.

“Passing this legislation will kill off our high streets, hobble leaseholders and create a new generation of slum housing – and there will be nothing local people can do to stop it.”


Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley has described the new rules as “crackers”, adding: “It allows landlords to shove a two storey block on top of a building with total disregard for how inappropriate it might be in the local neighbourhood.”

The government wants to make it quicker and easier to build new homes in what it has described as the biggest shake-up of England’s planning system in a generation.

But there is widespread concern among many Conservative MPs about the government’s proposed planning reforms.

Speaking last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the changes would help developers complete projects in a “more timely way” and help young people onto the housing ladder.

Under the government’s wider proposals, which have gone out to consultation, land will be divided into three categories – “growth”, “renewal” or “protected”.

If land is designated for “renewal” councils would have to look favourably on new developments. In “growth” areas, new homes, hospitals and schools will be allowed automatically.

Areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt will come under the “protected” category and “beautiful buildings” will be fast-tracked through the system.

A spokesperson for the Housing, Communities and Local Government Department described Labour’s claims as “misguided”.

“We’re overhauling the country’s outdated planning system to deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need,” the spokesperson said.

“Community involvement and control is at the centre of our proposals so local people will be consulted from the very beginning when local plans are developed – making the system more democratic.

“They will also help our economy recover from the pandemic by supporting our high streets to adapt and encouraging the regeneration of disused buildings.”


“Jumping Jupp Flash” keeps Bojo at “safe distance” during Exeter “unencumbered” photo opportunity

“The hastily organised visit, to which local media including Radio Exe were excluded, allowed the PM to take advantage of photo opportunities unencumbered by the nuisance of Devon journalists being allowed to question him on his Devon visit.” 

“Build, build, build” was not likely to be a message well received here just a few days before the “Changes to the current planning system” consultation  on the mutant algorithm ends. – Owl

PM at Exeter College  

Announces free courses for adults without A levels

Prime minister Boris Johnson took to a podium at Exeter College on Tuesday for a major government policy announcement.

The hastily organised visit, to which local media including Radio Exe were excluded, allowed the PM to take advantage of photo opportunities unencumbered by the nuisance of Devon journalists being allowed to question him on his Devon visit. He was at the college’s vocational training centre to announce plans to allow adults without A-Levels or equivalent qualifications to get a free, fully-funded courses from next April, paid for  through the National Skills Fund. A full list of available courses will be set out shortly.

The prime minister said higher education loans will also be made more flexible, allowing people to space out their study across their lifetimes, take more high-quality vocational courses in further education colleges and universities, and to support people to retrain for jobs of the future. The reforms will be backed by continued investment in college buildings and facilities – including over £1.5 billion in capital funding. More details will be set out in a further education white paper later this year.

Along with students and staff at the college, East Devon Tory MP Simon Jupp kept the prime minister at a safe distance. Mr Johnson had a go at planing wood and cementing bricks. His hero Sir Winston Churchill, about whom Mr Johnson has written a witty biography, used to revel in manual work such as bricklaying. Mr Johnson’s other political friend, President Trump, is also known to like building walls.


‘We’re gonna build a wall’: East Devon MP Simon Jupp (pictured right, but  not included in this post) at Exeter College


Brexit: warnings for care sector in pandemic as freedom of movement ends

Wages should rise to make jobs more attractive to UK staff, say government advisers

Jamie Grierson 

The end of freedom of movement after Brexit will increase pressure on the social care sector in the midst of a pandemic unless ministers make jobs more attractive to UK workers by increasing salaries, government advisers have said.

The migration advisory committee (Mac) warned of the “stark consequences” of low wages in social care with most frontline roles ineligible for the post-Brexit skilled worker immigration route or on the official list for job shortages in the UK.

Senior care workers and nursing assistants are among healthcare roles that can be added to the shortage occupation list to relieve pressure when freedom of movements ends on 1 January, the committee said in a report.

But many of the roles in social care do not qualify and the advisers said “it therefore remains crucial that the government implements a more sustainable and generous funding model”.

“The risks of this not happening in a timely manner are stark,” the report reads. “If that does not occur, or occurs with substantial delay, we would expect the end of freedom of movement to increase the pressure on the social care sector, something that would be particularly difficult to understand at a time when so many care occupations are central to the Covid-19 pandemic frontline response.”

The vulnerable state of the UK care sector was brought into stark focus by thecoronavirus pandemic with 18,000 care home residents dying from confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in UK care facilities during the first wave of the outbreak.

Senior care workers constitute only about 10% of the UK social care workforce, said the chair of Mac, Prof Brian Bell, and that adding the role to the shortage occupation list would have only a small impact on the more than 100,000 vacancies in the UK.

The committee’s call for evidence heard that employers in the sector felt strongly that the worth of their staff was not recognised.

Bell said: “There needs to be a better funding model for social care that makes work in that sector better rewarded, and that’s the right way not only to attract resident workers and not to have to rely on migrants but also to deal with the turnover of the staff which is very high.

“But part of that is because workers don’t feel they’re valued appropriately. We think the way you value workers is you pay them better.”

Bell said he hoped the Department of Health and Social Care would soon come forward with proposals for improving the salaries for care workers.

He added that care workers should be paid “significantly higher” than £10 an hour. The national living wage for workers aged 25 or over is £8.72.

A median full-time salary for a care worker is £19,100, the Mac report said, which is below the minimum shortage occupation list salary threshold of £20,480.

The committee said there was potential for a rise in labour supply to the care sector as a result of job losses elsewhere due to the impact of Covid-19, but cautioned that “this cannot be predicted with any certainty”.

Mac said other occupations that should be added to the UK-wide list include butchers, bricklayers and welders, “where there is clear evidence of staff and skills shortages which could be filled by overseas workers”.

A government spokesperson said: “The Migration Advisory Committee has again been very clear that immigration is not the solution to addressing staffing levels in the social care sector.

“We’re helping the sector in a number of ways, including £1.5bn more funding for adults and children’s social care in 2020-21 and a national recruitment scheme.”


Sasha Swire’s ‘Jewish Lobby’ trope is so very revealing

But not as she intends, says Jan Shure

Jan Shure 

So, Sasha Swire, wife of top Tory Sir Hugo Swire, thinks there’s a “Jewish Lobby” and refers disparagingly to its members in her book, Diary of an MP’s Wife. She also refers – approvingly it seems – to a putative investigation into “the Jewish Lobby infiltrating parliament” before noting that “they” (members of the “Jewish Lobby”) will be “cringing with embarrassment.”

What is especially interesting here is that, nestling amid the farrago of trifling political gossip and social tittle-tattle, is a quite open, clear reference to a sinister-sounding “Jewish Lobby” that was not picked up by any of the numerous publications which ran pieces on the book. 

It is close to a month since publication yet despite an avalanche of words on this “wickedly funny” book (as one reviewer called it), not a single newspaper or magazine has noticed Lady Swire’s antisemitic-sounding comments. Or if they noticed, they didn’t think it worth commenting on. That is ironic if you think about it as, according to antisemitic tropes, we Jews “control the media.” 

You’d think we might have ensured at least a little exposure for those antisemitic allusions…But nada, zilch. 

I only learned about them from a pre-Yom Kippur Tweet by JC editor Stephen Pollard, who seems to have been the first journalist to have mentioned them. 

Nor has any review or feature mentioned the book’s pejorative description of Israel’s former ambassador to the UK as “the appalling Mark Regev.” In Swire’s milieu, of course, “appalling” is an all-purpose term of abuse indicating anything from a lack of dexterity with fish-forks to convicted “kiddie-fiddler.” But her use of it at a time of significant sensitivity over the perception of Israel may reveal a deep-seated, um, lack of empathy for Jews.

But then there’s nothing new about casual antisemitism among aristos and the upper middle classes. 

Obviously, I find her assertion about a “Jewish Lobby” chilling, possibly implying acceptance of certain antisemitic tropes. (Again, this is mildly ironic as, according to Wikipedia, Swire’s mother Miloska Vlahović, is of “Slovenian-Jewish” descent). But more than that, I find the whole notion of a “Jewish Lobby” completely hilarious; the idea that the UK Jewish community is sufficiently cohesive (or sufficiently bold or sufficiently rich) to establish a “Jewish Lobby” makes me, literally, laugh out loud. It is almost as funny as the assertion by Corbyn-supporters that those of us calling out Labour over Israel-hate were being “paid by the Israeli Government.”

Lady Swire demonstrates a lamentable ignorance of UK Jewry by suggesting that there is a “Jewish Lobby.” Jewish organisations, such as the Board of Deputies, the United Synagogue and the Jewish Leadership Council are involved in a certain amount of lobbying. And, of course, there’s an Israeli Ambassador who lobbies for Israel, though it’s called “Diplomacy” rather than lobbying at that level.
And then there are single-issue groups such as BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research Centre), and the newly-minted Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), both of which are involved in education and in combating hate. But neither  constitute a “Jewish Lobby.” 

The JC is influential in the community, as we saw when it hit choppy financial waters earlier this year, but a newspaper – even one as assiduous on Jewish issues as this – does not constitute a “Jewish Lobby.”  

Yes, the Jewish community punches well above its weight in media, arts, entertainment, etc, so it often appears there are more of us and that we wield more influence – especially when some high-profile Jew takes to Twitter or TV to declares his or her outrage over something antisemitic.
But that is about it. 

Finally, Lady Swire, if there truly was a “Jewish Lobby,” do you really think that Jeremy Corbyn would have become Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition? Surely, the “Jewish Lobby.” would have ensured Labour’s leader was someone more acceptable; someone who wouldn’t make our community shudder collectively in fear… 


Some of the Questions Bojo ducked in Exeter

Why is he “Frit”? (one of Maggie T’s favourite derogatory descriptions.) – Owl

Questions we wanted to ask Boris during his Exeter visit – DevonLive

Paul Greaves 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in Exeter today [Tuesday] to deliver an important speech about the Government’s plans to boost training and education.

He stopped off at Exeter College where he was photographed laying a brick in a wall and looking busy during a construction class.

He even had time to ‘misspeak’ when incorrectly explaining the ‘Rule of Six’ to a question about the North East local lockdown.

DevonLive brought you the latest updates as they happened in our live blog and photo gallery.

What might not have been apparent to the watching and reading public was the fact that DevonLive was not one of the news organisations invited to attend.

In fact, the guest list was restricted to a select few, primarily London-based, outlets chosen by Number 10.

You can make up your own minds whether closing the doors to local media – not just DevonLive – at a time when trust is in Government is more important than ever is the appropriate way to conduct such an important visit.

There is no shortage of important issues in a city and region where students are in a ‘targeted’ lockdown, children are isolating and businesses are crying out for help.

Here is a selection of questions we would have asked on your behalf if we had been given the chance.

Prime Minister:

  • Given the much lower prevalence of Covid-19 in Devon compared to other parts of the country, can you explain why the same rules need to apply?
  • If the number of cases in Devon remains low will some of the restrictions be lifted soon? And if not, why not?
  • What extra support will you be offering businesses that will be adversely affected by the new rules and restrictions?
  • Given that students have now arrived at University of Exeter, can you assure people that they will be able to return home for Christmas, or whenever they wish? And that they won’t spend months confined to their halls of residences?
  • Explain why it is safe for me and five friends to sit down in a pub with lots of people we don’t know and watch a game of football, but we can’t stand in an outdoor stadium and watch the match?
  • When is he going to review the 10pm curfew for hospitality businesses?
  • Should the Government convert the loans given to businesses into equity?
  • What extra help can the Government give to the South West businesses, as it is the worst hit region economically from the pandemic?
  • Should the Government be doing more to assist commercial landlords who are facing problems collecting rent from tenants?
  • Should the Government set up a special task force to look at the future of UK city centres as they now face becoming wastelands?
  • What help can the Government give to the estimated 3million UK businesses, including many in the SW, that have not been able to access support packages so far?
  • Should the Government be preparing a financial support package for football clubs outside the Premier League which face having no income until fans are allowed to attend matches?


Extraordinary Parish Council Meeting – Clyst St Mary – Tonight 7:30 pm

Winslade Manor planning application 

Owl has been made aware that the Parish Council is holding an online meeting to discuss the objection that Charlie Hopkins has written on behalf of the Parish Council. They will also be discussing the latest amendments to the planning application at Winslade Manor and surrounding buildings.

Details of how to join the Zoom meeting are given below. Owl understands that If you want to speak you are more than welcome to in the “Open Session” when the Chairman asks.

Topic: Extraordinary Parish Council Meeting

Time: Sep 29, 2020 07:30 PM London

Join Zoom Meeting

 Meeting ID: 561 537 5088

Passcode: 425992  


Sasha Swire’s diaries reveal the crass elitism of the Cameron government

Just in case you haven’t got it yet – Owl

I felt a scintilla of pity for David Cameron plugging the paperback of his memoirs in recent weeks. In his eager, smoothie-chops interviews, he cradled the hope that enough time had passed and the current government was so dreadful that he might surf a ripple of coalition nostalgia. Oh, remember Nick and Dave in the rose garden; lovely Sam; all so courteous and collegiate in those halcyon pre-culture wars days…

By Janice Turner 

Yet not only does Cameron remain solidly unforgiven, but up popped a book to make his No 10 tenure look worse than we ever thought. I recommend Sasha Swire’s diaries to my jaded fellow centrists. Like a chili pepper inserted into a racehorse’s anus, this book is guaranteed to get your class war dander up.

At a dinner party in 2011, I met a woman related to a key player in Swire’s book who said she fancied being an MP and Dave was going to get her on the candidate list. I asked if she’d always been interested in politics. “Not really,” she shrugged. Was she driven by a particular cause? “No,” she said, “I just think it would be a fun thing to do next.” Flabbergasted by her insouciance and entitlement, I spent the rest of the evening in silent rage. But that’s the thing about being on the left: we tend to forget not everyone’s politics are powered by injustice or even a basic altruistic desire. Some people just want a nice job.

Sasha Swire’s book begins after the 2010 election when her Tory MP husband Hugo gets a pretty nice job. He’s made Northern Ireland minister, so the Swires get to live in Hillsborough Castle with a butler and a gazillion rooms. Although they have to share it with Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State, whose wife pinches the Swires’s curtains and replaces them with ghastly chintz. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg and George Osborne, who have even nicer jobs, fight over who gets Dorneywood House, the latter driving down to plant his toothbrush so Cleggers has to share Chevening with William Hague. No doubt New Labour thrilled over grace and favour furbelows too. Indeed, Swire notes the Dorneywood guest book brims with John Prescott’s family jokes about Jags. But the Cameroons treated government like a luxury holiday villa, with couples vying for the best room.

Swire is not unaware of the failings of her clique. “The closeness of this circle is unprecedented,” she writes. “They are all here… intimately interlocked, some from university days, some from the research unit… We text each other bypassing the civil servants… This is a very particular, narrow tribe of Britain and their hangers-on. It’s enough to repulse the ordinary man.”

Not that the “ordinary man” enters the Swire sphere. Rather, it is peopled with the extraordinarily rich, like the Rothermeres: Claudia in her Jilly Cooper heroine white jodhpurs striding around their flawless country house, surrounded on all sides by land bought to protect their privacy, except for one unobtainable hill. Or the eccentric oligarch Evgeny Lebedev who, having bought himself into the inner-most establishment, seems not to know what he wants from it. He chats about the Bolshoi and obsesses about honey produced in the Swire hives, getting flunkies to email for more jars.

The first half of the book is the more entertaining since Sasha is inside the power tent, squirrelling away anecdotes so ten years later she can piss in on her friends. The post-referendum second half revolves around “Old Ma May” (as Swire calls the new PM), so material is gleaned from gossip rather than witnessed, and mainly concerns the Brexit machinations which, like the plot of Game of Thrones, I once followed avidly but now can’t bear to think about at all.

Brexit is the only political issue ever mentioned, since it affects the allocation of the nice jobs. A cameo from Rachel Johnson, furious about plans to privatise the Forestry Commission, is an exception. (Sasha mocks her conviction.) Having just read Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire’s book Left Out, I kept thinking: well, Project Corbyn harboured anti-Semites, was creepily pro-Putin, authoritarian, crank-ridden and tragically incompetent, but it saw politics as a mechanism to improve the world. It believed in things.

At the height of austerity, as libraries closed and benefits froze, you might think Tories on Polzeath beach or hiking in the hills near Chequers might fleetingly discuss the impact of their policies. Once, Swire remarks to Cameron that “women are at the coalface of the cuts” and he mutters a bit. But mainly Dave is enjoying nursery food and fixating on Keira Knightley’s nipples in Atonement. After Gaddafi falls in Libya, DC is childishly ebullient: “What more do I want? A great day on the beach, I’m with my old friends the Swires and I’ve just won a war.”

Yet besides her sharp eye for backstage detail, Swire has a shrewd political mind – she is, after all, a Tory thoroughbred, the daughter of Thatcher’s defence minister John Nott. (“Sir John”, as she always calls him, bemoaning he was never ennobled.) She finds the Cameroons obsessed with branding over substance, moving MPs around the government chessboard according to shallow criteria such as “good back story”, “woman”, “ethnic” or “good on TV”, rather than how well they’ll fulfil a ministerial brief. This, she believes, is why Hugo – although “brilliant”, as Osborne puts it, at “swanking around the embassies” – never gets a position in the cabinet. Too male, white and posh to offset the PM.

Swire is best at portraying the trials and dilemmas of a modern political wife. She stands outside her kitchen window alone in the dark, looking in at Hugo bent over his red box: “Our marriage is in a difficult place. I barely see him any more.” After some unexplained crisis, she rings the Camerons, who give her sanctuary at Chequers, while Dave bollocks Hugo on the phone.

Her generation of professional women thought they’d escaped being unpaid constituency dinner plus-ones. But such are the demands of political life that they must choose between tagging along or never seeing their husbands at all. What, asks Swire, should these women do, being “deeply involved but [having] no official status. Do we play submissive? Do we play supportive? Do we get lippy?”

Frances Osborne has to be cajoled into living in Downing Street, ignores Dorneywood visitors, and when George declares he’s going to hold a birthday party, says: “What on earth for? It will be just like you having a wedding to yourself.” Sam Cam and Sarah Vine, Michael Gove’s wife, bond over babies and share school runs, but their husbands’ hierarchy always defines their relationship: Sarah toils over fish pie for a Downing Street do, while Sam titivates upstairs. When Gove backs Brexit, not only he but Sarah and their children are banished forever from the Cameron house. These political break-ups are infused with real human hurt.

Sasha, who worked as Hugo’s assistant (before family members were forbidden to do so), is both supportive and lippy. She insists on being driven home after an official function while Hugo goes off to vote, although this breaks ministerial rules. “Do they really expect me to find my own way, in a long dress and painful heels, to… sit next to some Godawful bore,” she rants, “pay for the taxi to get there, and then get left stranded on some dark corner trying to find a non-existent taxi home.” Her predicament evokes both sympathy and disdain.

Much has been said about how gleefully Swire has dobbed on her mates, how no one will speak to her ever again. But she is careful about her proper friends – like Amber Rudd and Cameron’s adviser Kate Fall – and you suspect she never really liked the rest. Especially Dave, who, as with her husband, can’t overcome his upbringing and education to see women as equal minds. She sneers at his downward tumble out of power into podgy, golf-playing, stay-at-home dad, now just second banana to fashion designer Sam.

Crucially, she notes he is so bored writing his memoir that he simply speaks it into a Dictaphone, with no care for its literary merit. Was this the catalyst for Swire – a former journalist who writes very well, not just on politics, but about marriage, social mores and the English countryside – to publish her diaries? A political era is too often defined by cautious male dullards. About time sharp, funny, indiscrete women had a go.

Janice Turner writes for the Times


‘No community wants this’: Sussex new town plans anger local Tories

“Local opponents say the project – which could ultimately create a town of around 10,000 people – threatens rare wildlife, an increase in car congestion and risks becoming a dormitory [for London commuters].”

Been there, done that in EDDC!

Ultimate size of 10,000 people looks small to Owl, how about 22,000 like Cranbrook?

Robert Booth

Plans for a new town in rural Sussex backed by one of the Conservative party’s biggest donors and close allies of Prince Charles, are exposing a split in the Tory party over how to rapidly accelerate housebuilding.

Kingswood, a scheme for 2,850 homes, is being proposed on open fields at Adversane near Horsham which have been assembled by hedge fund billionaire Sir Michael Hintze who has given £4.6m to the Conservatives. Its design is partly inspired by Poundbury, the ersatz Georgian town in Dorset created by Prince Charles, and Sir Michael Peat, the Prince of Wales’s former private secretary is a director of the development company.

But it is being opposed by local Conservative MP Andrew Griffith, who said it is “the wrong type of development in the wrong place” and local Tory councillors who have warned: “No community wants this on their doorstep.” It looks set to be a test case for the government’s controversial new planning strategy announced last month which is set to relax national planning rules and set significantly higher local housebuilding targets in areas including Horsham.

John Halsall, the Tory leader of Wokingham borough council in Berkshire, which is also facing central government demands to build significantly more homes warned of a high political cost telling the Guardian: “You won’t have a Tory left in the south or south-east of England.”

Some of the land is owned by Eton College, the alma mater of the prime minister, Boris Johnson. The largest parcel which would be built over is a farm purchased by Hintze for £10m from Mike Stock, the songwriter behind a string of 1980s hits by Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley and Bananarama.

Local opponents say the project – which could ultimately create a town of around 10,000 people – threatens rare wildlife, an increase in car congestion and risks becoming a dormitory for London commuters.

“There is an enormous amount of antipathy to this scheme,” said Julian Trumper, a local resident organising opposition. “Horsham has already taken enough of Sussex’s requirement to build housing and this potential growth is unsustainable. Infrastructure and road and rail links are insufficient. The displacement to wildlife and established ecosystems by building a new town in open countryside is incalculable.”

The website says the project “focuses on building a community for people of all ages and providing a platform for economic opportunity and sustainable growth” and will champion the principle of “beauty” in town planning identified by Sir Roger Scruton in his report to the government on planning and architecture.

It promises a “socially inclusive, mixed-income development” with “community at the heart of our plans”.

But the row over whether it should go ahead exposes a growing schism in Conservative ranks over two proposed reforms to accelerate housebuilding.

The first is a new planning system that will make it easier and quicker for developers to build on greenfield sites, which Conservative councillors have complained undermines local democratic involvement by proposing zones where detailed planning consents would not be required.

The second is new inflated house building targets which backbench Conservative MPs and council leaders have criticised as too high and ignoring local needs. The new target for Horsham would see the area required to deliver 1,715 new homes a year, more than double the current target of 800.

The high status of Kingswood’s backers – with close links to the top of government and the monarchy – has also sparked fears that local influence could be further undermined, with opponents citing the planning scandal earlier this year in which it emerged that the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, backed a project by party donor Richard Desmond against the advice of officials.

“After what we saw with Jenrick and Desmond, we have the impression that the property developers are doing all this with barely any local democracy at all,” said Trumper.

The developers and landowners declined to comment to the Guardian, but a spokesperson for Horsham district council said: “Any site that is allocated in the next step of the local plan process will be subject to full public scrutiny at a public examination conducted by an independent planning inspector. Each site will be assessed to determine whether it is suitable, achievable and available, in a public arena.”

The local Conservative MP, Andrew Griffith, said: “We are building on greenfield, we’re not using brownfield land. This is the wrong type of development in the wrong place. The identity of the landowner is not important. I am giving voice to constituent concerns.”

He told a Commons debate earlier this month: “So many of my constituents from Adversane to West Grinstead, Barnham to Wineham, and in villages of every letter of the alphabet in between, are having their lives blighted by the prospect of inappropriate and unsustainable development”.

Philip Circus, a Conservative member of Horsham council in whose ward the development is proposed, added: “I am not interested that people are connected with royalty or people that donate to the Conservative party. It cuts no ice with me. We don’t feel any compulsion to doff our caps to anyone other than the residents. This is a rural community which in infrastructure terms does not look like an area for a major housing development.”

The Kingswood masterplan has been submitted for inclusion in Horsham district council’s local plan, which is currently out to public consultation. It features traditional terraces of houses which seek to avoid the identikit housing of many modern housing estates and promises schools, a town centre, woodlands and allotments. The director of the development company, Dominic Richards, was formerly a director at the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community – the heir to the throne’s architecture and planning charity which promotes traditional urbanism.


Abolish district councils to help shore up ‘red wall’, suggests top Tory

Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish an unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries, which is most commonly used in first-past-the-post electoral systems – Owl

Robert Booth 

Letter to PM from Hertfordshire county council leader says move would cut opposition in former Labour strongholds

Nottinghamshire. Bassetlaw was captured by the Tories but has a Labour-controlled district council. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Abolishing district councils could help bolster Conservative MPs in former Labour strongholds by reducing local opposition, a leading Tory has suggested to the prime minister in a leaked letter.

Boris Johnson has been urged to scrap the midsized local government bodies in part to help Conservatives in the so-called “red wall” seats that were gained in the December 2019 general election from Labour in its former northern strongholds.

The call comes from David Williams, the leader of Hertfordshire county council, who heads the Conservative group at the County Councils Network. It reveals a party political dimension to plans to simplify local government by removing district and borough councils, leaving only very local parish and town councils and larger unitary authorities like county councils. Williams is among local government leaders frustrated at government delays to reforms.

In the letter, seen by the Guardian, Williams told Johnson not to “ignore the political implications [of reform] for both Conservative councillors and MPs … and in particular our new red wall MPs”.

Williams said: “It is no surprise to me that many of those celebrating reports of delays are Labour and Liberal Democrat district councillors who regard the prospect of strong county based unitaries as threats to their strongholds.”

Seats such as Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire and Burnley in Lancashire, gained by the Conservatives last year, overlap with Labour-controlled district councils, providing the party with a base from which to fight back, Conservative activists fear.

Williams said: “Conservative representation at the county level remains strong but even in solidly Conservative counties like Surrey, only just over a third of local councillors within district and borough councils are Conservatives.”

Prof Tony Travers, from the LSE Department of Government, said there was “no question” that abolishing opposition local councillors would help some MPs retain power, but he pointed out that sacrificing district councils would also mean losing thousands of Conservative local politicians in the south of England, many of whom form the backbone of campaigning operations at national elections.

Conservatives are in a stronger position on county councils, where they control two-thirds of seats, than they are on district councils where they have 48% of seats.

Williams urged the PM to ignore resistance to the abolition of district councils from district councillors themselves, saying they are “interested in self-preservation”.

“It is no surprise that so much of the vitriol aimed at Robert Jenrick [the housing secretary] for driving a unitary agenda has come from those sources obsessed with self-protection above good governance and a chance to transform our society for the better.”