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PICKLES Eric smiling

Quite rightly there has been a lot of attention, in the debate over our EU membership, to Parliamentary sovereignty and the democratic argument that we should be self-governing rather than have laws imposed on us. Yet local democracy is also constantly undermined by our EU membership.

In recent weeks we have seen councillors from different parts of the country offer examples on this site. Cllr James Binns of the New Forest  wrote about how EU money (our money) was spent in his area in a highly wasteful manner without regard to the wishes of the elected councillors on which projects should have priority.

Cllr Matthew Sephton of Trafford reflected on how EU meddling has penalised councils that maintain weekly bin collections.

Cllr Anthony Boutall of Bedford argued that double standards had been applied with austerity being applied to council budgets while extravagance by the EU is indulged and our budget payments increased.

Finally there was a contribution from Cllr Daniel Moylan of Kensington and Chelsea, on how EU bureaucratic procurement rules push up costs for councils and cause delay by squeezing out competition from small firms.

There is an irony that during the past six years localism has made great progress. Transparency has been the chosen method of local government accountability rather than top down targets. The Audit Commission – along with the tyranny of sameness it enforces – is no more. Incentives – such as the New Homes Bonus – have replaced targets.

Yet the EU has imposed constraints on how far the localist revolution can go. Let us consider the planning system as an example. When Sir Eric Pickles was the Communities and Local Government Secretary he issued a statement on the scale of EU interference. He said:

“There are an increasing number of directives which have implications for land use planning. In addition to the environmental impact assessment directive other EU legislation which impacts (or may shortly impact) on the planning system includes the strategic environmental assessment directive, flooding directive, habitats directive, wild birds directive, waste framework directive, revised waste framework directive, Seveso II directive, public participation directive, renewable energy directive, energy performance of buildings directive, environmental noise directive, draft airport noise regulation, energy efficiency directive, draft regulation on trans-European energy infrastructure, water framework directive, air quality directive and the draft soil framework directive.

“The European Union does not have competence on land use planning, although it does have competence in relation to the environment but as is evident from that list, increasingly, its regulatory creep is imposing additional and expensive requirements on the planning system. Indeed, as outlined in the written ministerial statement of 25 July 2012, Official Report, House of Lords, column WS66-68, rulings from the European Court of Justice on the strategic environmental assessment directive have added significant delay and complexity for the UK Parliament to move ahead with the proposed abolition of the last Government’s regional spatial strategies.”

For all the talk of reform it just gets worse each year.

I am surprised and disappointed that Sir Eric is backing Remain.

To be fair, in the Coalition Government the Lib Dems also backed a radical switch to localism. It is also a pity that they (generally) favour our continued EU membership – with the inevitable further shift to centralism and erosion of local democracy that would go with it.  A proper liberal and democratic policy is to favour local decision making. To achieve that we need to end our membership of the EU.

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