Here is the final installment of answers to the questions you recently posed to shadow communities and local government secretary, Eric Pickles. Here he covers localism, regional planning and the structure of local councils.
Questions from pp, B J Thomson and Michael: What are your views on "localism", as espoused by Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell in The Plan? Do you believe in greater use of local referendums as a way of holding local councils to account? Do you think the party should be championing the policy of having directly elected local police chiefs more loudly?
Eric Pickles: I have always believed that people know what is best for their own community. That is why I am completely committed to localism and handing power back to people. You will have seen our announcement to give local people a greater say over the level of their council tax by requiring Councils proposing excessive rises to hold a referendum of council tax payers. This is just the first in a whole raft of proposals we will be announcing to hand back control from Whitehall. In the new year we will be launching a Decentralisation Green paper which is fizzing with news ideas to end the Ministerial command and control system that has been established under Labour. Policies such as the elected police chiefs are just one piece of our plan to trust people to take important decisions.
Question from NigelC: Will the Conservatives suspend, abolish or agree not to enforce all
regional spatial strategies when they come to power, so that local
people can regain control over what is built where, or will you let
them run their course?
Eric Pickles: Many of these proposals in these Regional Plans are very unpopular and
controversial, and impose unsustainable levels of development on local
communities and deleting Green Belt protection. A Conservative
Government will abolish the undemocratic and unwieldy tier of regional
planning across England. This will include changing the law to scrap
the Regional Spatial Strategies and Regional Planning Bodies. We will
return their powers to elected local councils. If the RSSs have already
been implemented, we will allow councils to revise their local plans to
undo the changes that the Regional Spatial Strategy forced on them.
This will allow local communities to protect their local environment,
and decide for themselves the most appropriate level of development for
Question from Eveleigh Moore-Dutton: Has Eric had an answer to the question that is bugging so many local
councillors – "At what point did the Chancellor know that Icelandic
Banks were dodgy and if he did know earlier than the councils (and the
Audit Commission, Pension Funds and Universities) why did he not advise
Eric Pickles: In time no doubt we will find out.
Questions from Jim Holder and kath currie: When back in office will we continue to tolerate the mayor led and
cabinet led local authority structure? Does CCHQ have an agreed policy
on conformity to one model? Are not the Cabinet and Mayor models too
undemocratic, concentrating too much power in too few hands?
Eric Pickles: We will set down a test of openness, transparency and accountability
after which each local authority will be able to set up which model it
prefers. We will larger cities the option of going over to a mayoral
Question from rah: Are you happy being the Tory John Prescott?
Eric Pickles: No. I’ve never played croquet in my life!