As I write this on Friday evening, sleeping dog by my side, bottle of Argentinian Malbec going down nicely, the results from the local elections are largely in. But what does it mean for planning (particularly in the South), and more importantly, what might come next?
Tonight, the map of the traditional Tory Home Counties is looking a lot less blue than it was yesterday and certainly than it was a good few years ago.
Image courtesy of the BBC
Lib Dems certainly had a good night at the polls, as did Labour.
One of the high profile scalps, which came as dawn arrived this morning, was the news that the Lib Dems had taken control of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead which has been Conservative since 2007. The council leader, Andrew Johnson was ousted by a 22 year old first time Lib Dem candidate.
But…….in winning RBWM have the Lib Dems been sold a bit of a hospital pass? They inherit a council with a recently adopted but hugely unpopular (for many) local plan. In the run up to the election, the now disposed council leader was even teasing the local electorate with the prospect that the scale of housing proposed under the plan might be scaled down off back of the proposed changes to the NPPF. How? Not a clue. They also receive a town centre in Maidenhead that is a right state with closed car parks and a failed CPO to deliver much needed regeneration. What will happen now with housing delivery and the local plan in the Royal Borough? Christ Knows!
Just to the south of RBWM, things took an even more surprising turn at Bracknell Forest which is now controlled by Labour for the first time since it became a Unitary Authority in 1998.
Elsewhere in this previously smurf blue corner of the home counties the Lib Dems also took control of Waverley (recently adopted Local Plan Part 2 with much housing to deliver) and Guildford (ditto) from positions of no overall control.
Further afield, the Lib Dems took control of West Berkshire Council, again a long time Tory stronghold. The Tories parting gift in WBC was to submit the highly controversial Local Plan for examination, something which the Lib Dems promised to review should the get into power.
The Conservatives also lost control of two adjoining big authorities (in size and power) to no overall control in Mid Sussex and Wealden. Again Mid Sussex with a Local Plan review partly underway but now in question.
Finally, the Lib Dems even took control of Govey’s hood of Surrey Heath. Surely a warning sign of trouble ahead for the Minister in charge of Levelling Up where the future Local Plan in his own constituency wont be controlled by members of his own squad but those in opposition to his policies.
Of course there are other stories of loses, gains and holds from today and others will have different stories and takes on all this.
So what happens now? Well, the Tories' direction of travel in terms of planning policy on housing numbers and position of the green belt is certainly not reflected by a ground swell of town halls full of conservative councillors ready to implement it in plan making or decision making.
But now the local elections are out of the way, all roads politically lead to the next General Election which is now a maximum of 2 years away but in reality most likely next year.
Will the Tories refuse to bow to a Nimby Charter as suggested by the front page of the Times a few days ago? Or will they double down and turn right (literally) as they hope to avoid completely imploding.
They key thing is that plan making is in an utter shambolic state and the lack of progress made by many councils in recent years (whether conservative or hung) has meant that the Lib Dems and Labour inherit authorities where there are going to be difficult and politically unappetising decisions to make around housing delivery, green belt and infrastructure very soon. Is it going to be easy? No. But in the last few weeks it just feels, perhaps, just perhaps, that the politicians of all colours are realising the importance of housing delivery of all types to voters and the economy.
God speed to all those new councillors also enjoying a glass of wine or two tonight say I. Be Brave. Go Boldly and please please please. Keep Planning.