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Lib Dems to call for 'devolution on demand'

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Devolution from Whitehall and Westminster should be offered to any part of England with a population in excess of one million, the Liberal Democrats have proposed.

A paper already supported by the party’s policy committee is going to the Lib Dems’ spring conference next month, which will call for an English Devolution Enabling Act through which powers could be passed down to any council area, or grouping of areas, with more than a million residents.

Cornwall’s distinct language and culture would see it offered devolution automatically, and more powers would go to the partly-devolved Greater London Authority.

The trigger for devolution is likely to be a two-thirds majority of councillors in each council concerned, with citizens able to petition to require such a vote.

But the idea – dubbed ‘devolution on demand’ – is expected to run into controversy from supporters of regional government.

Gordon Lishman, a prominent party figure who helped to originate its ‘community politics’ style of local campaigning in the 1970s, resigned from the policy paper working party in protest over the issue.

He instead supports splitting England into devolved regions, a position that has historically commanded support in the party.

The policy paper also calls for use of the single transferable vote system in English local elections – as is used in Scotland.

A separate motion from Mid Dorset and Poole North MP Annette Brooke will call for radical changes to the planning system.

These include restricting the powers of the secretary of state to call in planning applications, introduction of local appeals for minor applications and a right of appeal if a planning authority passes an application contrary to a valid neighbourhood plan.

Local authorities would be encouraged to group themselves voluntarily into sub regions to plan for housing and infrastructure, and stand-alone new ‘garden towns’ of at least 10,000 residents would be encouraged by the Lib Dems as a way to meet the housing shortage.

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