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News round up - 8 September

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Your daily media round up of all the key stories affecting local government

Source: Radu Razvan

Planning row

The Daily Telegraph’s “hands off our land” campaign rolls on apace today, with a front page lead about how council’s risk a planning “free for all” if they do not publish details of land available for development. The paper quoted comments made last year by John Howell MP, “senior aide” to planning minister Greg Clark, that suggested that councils with no local plan risked exposing themselves to a situation where “a developer can come in and build what he likes, where he likes”. The paper said lawyers believed more than 100 councils were at risk, “because many did not have updated local plans”.

LGC says: The Telegraph is right to point out the importance of councils’ local plans within the new planning framework. As LGC reports this week, only around a third of councils have adopted local plans over the past seven years - glacial progress - yet under the new arrangements councils will need to have adopted new plans, that are compliant with the National Planning Policy Framework, before the legislation comes into effect next year. Without local plans in place councils will have little choice other than to nod through developers’ proposals as the presumption in favour of sustinable development takes precedence. As planning lawyer Jay Das writes, this could mean that the fears of countryside campaigners are realised, with untrammelled development on undesignated green spaces.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports £ that the National Trust has rebuffed a ministerial invitation to start talks on the coalition’s planning reforms until it gets an assurance from “the highest levels of government” that the measures will not be aimed principally at boosting economic development.

The Daily Mail has its own take on the planning ruckus, reporting that ministers stand accused of “stripping out vital safeguards” from the proposals. It said campaigners claimed ministers had lifted a caveat that would have allowed councils to refuse planning consent to proposals that “might damage the environment or harm community life”. A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “If we retained every specific phrase of the current planning policy, the system remains impenetrable and a brake on the growth this country needs.”

Housing crisis

The Independent leads on a report by an alliance of housing experts which claims that the lack of decent housing is adding an extra £7bn to the cost of health care and other public services.  The report, by the Pro Housing Alliance, claims that cuts to housing budgets and benefit reforms are leading to “real hardship, misery and ill-health” for some of the country’s most vulnerable people.

The paper also reports on the work of a team from Newham Council, who are trying to deal with the growth of poorly constructed, shanty-like buildings, popping up in back gardens all over London. Campaigners are calling them ‘London’s secret slums’, and warn that they are often dangerous, cramped and insanitary.

Struggling high streets

Both the Financial Times £ and the Guardian report on the findings of a survey by the Local Data Company, which revealed that one in seven shops on the high street is now boarded up, the victims of a faltering economy and the long-term trends towards online and out-of-town shopping. The FT says the survey reveals that national retail chains are deserting high streets in the north of England en masse, calling into question the long-term viability of once-vibrant shopping destinations. The Guardian says the survey highlights the scale of the challenge facing Mary Portas, who has been given the task of drafting a plan to rejuvenate Britain’s high streets. She is due to report to the government in the autumn.

Riots aftermath

Magistrates and crown court judges could be asked to dock benefits from convicted criminals under preliminary proposals being drawn up by the government in response to the riots, the Guardian reports. The paper says ministers are looking at how benefits, or tax credits, could be taken away to show criminals that privileges provided by the state can be temporarily withdrawn.

The paper also carries an interview with the family of Mark Duggan, whose death at the hands of the police initially sparked the rioting in north London.

Dale Farm eviction

The Independent reports that residents of Dale Farm, the UK’s largest travellers site, are compiling health reports which claim that some suffer from severe illnesses which could worsen if they are evicted as planned in a few weeks. The reports, to be submitted to Basildon Council, claim that five of the travellers are suffering from a range of illnesses including post traumatic stress disorder, kidney and eye problems. The travellers hope that council will take these matters into account prior to the evictions, due to take place during the week beginning 19 September.

No 10 guru set to super charge UK’s Tech City

The Independent interviews Eric van der Kleij, the chief executive of the Tech City Investment Organisation, charged with turning East London into one of the top three global centres for technology start-ups.  The Tech City Investment Organisation now has a direct team of 14 in the UK and North America who encourage entrepreneurs to set up in east London, support them, attract investment into the UK and encourage people to buy products and services that emerge.

Coalition politics

The Financial Times reports £ that David Cameron is coming under increasing pressure from Tory backbenchers to show Nick Clegg that he is “the boss”. The paper says many Conservative MPs have returned from their break convinced that Mr Clegg is having undue influence in the coalition, preventing Mr Cameron from taking a more rightwing stance on matters including health reform, schools policy and tackling the causes of last month’s riots.

The paper also reports £ that Downing Street and senior Liberal Democrats have poured cold water on calls from leading economists for an early abolition of the 50p top rate of income tax, insisting that the coalition’s priority was on cutting the tax burden on low and middle income earners.

Other news

The Times reports £ that 167 ecologically important areas around England’s coastline will be protected if the government accept plans negotiated by port authorities, conservation groups and others.

Crawley BC paid £2,475 to hire “bouncers” to protect elected members at a town hall meeting that only 10 protesters attended, according to the Daily Telegraph.The paper said it had been believed that a “mass” of people would attend the meeting to determine whether a hotel could be turned into a holding centre for illegal immigrants. The same story later raised an eyebrow at Tendring DC’s decision to rename ” its street cleaning and rubbish collection department ‘life opportunities’ and its housing department ‘public experience’ in attempts to attract new staff and boost morale among employees”.

All couples could be given “good parenting classes” funded by the NHS, the Daily Mail reports. It says last month’s riots have inspired Prime Minister David Cameron to consider the “dramatic steps” in a bid to “reverse Britain’s social malaise”.

The paper also reports that Essex CC social workers have rejected a couple as foster parents because the husband had smoked “just TWO cigars in 18 months”. Apparently short-term foster carers of children under five must be “tobacco free” for 18 months.



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