I’ve now responded individually to all the (over 300) readers who sent kind messages after the election, and I’d like to move on to what happens next in Broxtowe. The time for congratulations and regrets has now passed: let’s look forward.
Specifically, a number of promises were made by Broxtowe’s Conservatives before and during the election campaign. This piece is to enquire politely whether they intend to keep them. Note that Broxtowe now has an entirely Conservative-led leadership, with a Conservative Government, an MP sitting in the Cabinet and a council with an overall Conservative majority. This might not be what everyone wanted, but it does mean that no bucks can be passed, and one of the jobs of opposition is to ensure that promises are not quietly forgotten. So, five challenges for Ms Soubry and the council to conisder:
- The Green Belt – will they build on it?
The former Labour-LibDem council adopted the Core Strategy, which envisages building on the Green Belt at Field Farm and Toton and other smaller sites, because they said that the Government required them to build more homes in the next 5 years than could otherwise be accommodated. This was intensively criticised by Anna Soubry and Conservatives councillors, who said:
* It was not true that the Government was requiring so much housing: the council should propose a lower figure.
* Even if the higher figure was taken, there were brownfield sites available instead.
* It was deplorable that Labour and LibDem councillors had welcomed the failure of a legal challenge to the Core Strategy.
Now there is a Tory majority on the council, they don’t need a legal challenge. They can simply tear up the Core Strategy and replace it with their own. If the Government proves to require more housing than they claimed, the remedy is potentially at hand – Ms Soubry can use her Cabinet influence to get it revised.
Will this happen? Or will they simply let building go ahead anyway and let down everyone who believed the rhetoric about the Green Belt?
- Council funding – will it be revised?
Broxtowe’s settlement this year was the worst in Britain, with a reduction of £800,000 in central funding. Ms Soubry expressed concern about this, and said she was writing to the Department of Community and Local Government to query it. Has she had a reply? What did it say? Will a reduction be made?
Alternatively, can we manage without the money? In the hustings debates, Ms Soubry noted that the Lab-Lib council had been able to maintain all services without compulsory redundancies. Will this continue under the Conservatives?
- Tram enquiry and compensation – will they happen?
Conservatives have pressed for more compensation for residents and businesses affected by the tram development. Will this be forthcoming, and from where? The contractors are potentially liable to heavy fines for the delays, but they have counter-claims and the process may go to a lengthy court action. However, primary funding for the project is from the Government, and Ms Soubry has asked the Treasury to review the funding process. Will she persuade the Treasury to provide any funding for more compensation? She has also urged the now Conservative-dominated Transport Select Committee to institute an enquiry into the project. Will this happen?
- HS2 – what are the implications?
An election issue was the £50 billion HS2 project, for which Ms Soubry expressed great enthusiasm: she believes it will unleash a wave of valuable investment in Toton and Stapleford without serious disruption. During the coming Parliament, decisions will be made on the details of the route (directly affecting Toton, Stapleford, Trowell, Strelley and Nuthall, and indirectly affecting everywhere else), including rules for compensation and assistance as well as the expected duration of works. When will these be available?
- Open-cast mining – will the relief exit to the M1 be approved?
After the Government approved the Shortwood Farm open-cast mine next to the Trowell service area for the M1, I organised a petition asking the Government to relax its rule banning exit to the M1 for local businesses through the service area. This would avoid the construction vehicles and coal lorries having to wind their way “inland” towards Balloon Woods before doubling back to the M1, with the consequential impact on the environment and congestion. The only negative impact would be that travellers pausing in the service area to fill up with petrol or have a meal would see some coal lorries rolling past and perhaps encounter delays of a minute or two as they leave – surely a minor inconvenience to the passing trade. Ms Soubry asked the Transport Minister to the site to see the issue directly. What decisions have been made, if any?
These questions are derived directly from pre-election promises and hints. I think the rhetoric was, to be frank, somewhat misleading. But the election result allows us to test that objectively and hold the Conservative Party and its promises to account in the coming period. Let’s see what actually happens.
PS A special welcome to the wave of new members who have joined Broxtowe Labour Party – part of the huge surge of 30,000 people who have joined nationally since May 7. To hold the Government, MP and Council effectively to account, this new surge of enthusiasm is hugely helpful. If you’ve not yet joined, you’ll be more than welcome too!