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Alan Melton's "bunny hugger" speech in full

PUBLISHED: 15:59 23 June 2011 | UPDATED: 16:39 23 June 2011

Archant © 2011

Here is the full text of Alan Melton's speech, where he announced developers would no longer neeed to carry out archaeological surveys, warning the "bunny huggers" won't like it.

Last year when I spoke to you, I had been in office as leader for approximately two months.

I had become leader, much to my surprise, and I did not expect to be standing here again as leader.

I had given notice that I was standing down and indeed, some people had assumed that I would lose my seat and that the Conservatives would not have a majority. The impending general election would return a Conservative government and that the political pendulum would ensure that those of us in local government would suffer.

Well as it happened, the Conservatives were forced into a coalition with the LibDems, and against all predictions, in 2011, the Conservatives in local government actually won seats and councils.

I was re-elected with a vastly increased majority, my group was returned with its majority hardly dented and I was re-elected leader with an even bigger majority.

I now look upon this keynote speech to our principle partners as the defining policy statement and announcement of the year.

It seeks to assure and to re-assure our principle stakeholders that Fenland District Council is serious about development, whilst having regard for the natural and aesthetic environment.

This is my first major policy speech since the budget debate in February.

I shall attempt to set our thoughts and programme for the next four years. This is based on our manifesto, our policy decisions taken at a candidate’s strategy day and of course impending government legislation.

On July 28, my colleague, Kit Owen and I will be presenting our vision for Fenland indeed, the draft document starts off as A Fantastic Future for Fenland.

It will set our core strategy for the medium term it will be flexible and living.

Not set in stone, but a definitive guide for developers/builders and members alike.

Its vision will be to nurture and grow our market towns and villages, we will endeavour to make Fenland an attractive place to live and work.

We will aim to provide between 11,000 and 16,000 homes, with job, retail and commercial opportunities.

We will encourage all new development to be of high quality with high environmental standards, whilst at the same time ensuring that our local community thrives in terms of wealth, jobs, skills and education.

We will continue to seek investment in infrastructure and services.

We will for the first time zone areas for development, but these areas will not be over prescriptive, we shall look at all proposals, that provide quality homes, quality jobs and quality infrastructure.

Where there is risk, it will be up to the industry to show mitigation, we will not do it for you.

The days of the Local Authority employing expensive consultants to evaluate your proposals are gone.

If you have an issue with highways, environment agency or whoever, you deal with them and then present the results as part of your application.

If these criteria are not met, we shall reserve the right to determine your application and without the relevant information we reserve the right to refuse.

I am sure that we all have common cause in restricting delays, better to spend an extra month in negotiation than waiting 12 weeks for further consideration.

We are all aware, that as part of the process, we are all looking to maximise the benefits of large scale development.

The New Homes Bonus, will bring forward significant sums of cash, which can be invested in local infrastructure projects, this will bring the significant investment to our towns and villages to accept growth.

The message to those communities who resist growth (NIMBYS) is quite simple, no growth equals no investment.

Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy (Roof Tax) will also be part of the equation.

I can tell you now, We intend to reinforce these contributions with vigour and without compromise, I am afraid the days of a positive decision notice being a licence to print money have gone.

Where development takes place, the whole community will benefit. This fits well with the government’s deficit reduction programme.

They have made it quite clear, that the treasury coffers are empty.

I also believe that if the industry/land owners do not wish to play ball, and negotiate community gain, the chancellor will only impose further taxes on windfall profits.

Better to support the local community rather than support Greek bankers.

The next big hurdle, will be localism, the government has made it clear that local communities will have a greater say in development proposals.

We will work in partnership with the industry to ensure that the local community understands the value of development. The new homes bonus as calculated will reap significant cash. We as an authority will be able to keep the gross amount of council tax for 6 years, whilst every affordable/social home that is built will attract 125pc of retained council tax.

The sums involved will be very large.

The current calculation is that the county council will retain 20pc and the district 80pc.

We intend to talk to our local councils, as it is our wish that individual communities benefit from this windfall.

I read and interesting article in the Sunday Times: The Prince of Wales and the Duchy of Lancaster are currently in negotiations with a council in Cornwall after plans for 200 homes were thrown out as the Duchy proposed reducing the number of affordable homes from 35 to 25.29pc.

Nothing new there then.

What I am asking for is that we all raise our game, Quality and Consistency will be the key considerations.

There are of course some areas where we have a duty to the local community.

Unfinished developments and non payment of s106 monies will no longer be anticipated.

The local authority will not pick up the bill for unfinished work. That is why we are going to be more rigorous in implementing Section 38 and bonding arrangements.

So in summary, more rigorous s106 and pre contractual arrangements, and just to underline that we mean business, I have appointed a cabinet member to ensure this is carried out.

Of course, I know that this is not strictly legal, but if a developer/builder does not carry out their obligations, please don’t badger me, my colleagues or our officers for a speedy resolution for your next project.

So what do we want to achieve. What can we do to help you.

Of course, a lot of what we want to achieve is determined by the market and market forces.

The un-availability of development finance and mortgage approvals is hampering the industry to recover.

Having said that, there are complaints that the banks won’t lend money to business. But it is a two way process. Most of the business people I know, are reluctant to borrow from the banks in any case, and to be quite frank, they just don’t trust them.

And who would, they couldn’t run their own businesses, so what gives them the right to want to run yours.

There needs to be a new covenant of trust between our industry, the government and the banks.

Unemployment and state dependency could be greatly reduced if the construction industry is allowed to grow. GDP would start to improve significantly, and tax revenues would increase.

This is the message we in local government will be taking to the Local Government Conference later this month and to the Conservative Party Conference in October.

Of course, there are some local changes that we can make to make development easier. We are constantly reviewing our procedures.

I can announce tonight, that from the 1st July. A requirement for an archaeological dig/survey will not be required. The requirement will no longer feature at pre-app. Or form part of the committee agenda.

With one exception, in local known historical areas, such as next to a 1000 year old church.

Common sense will prevail. Neale Wade springs to mind.

The bunny huggers won’t like this, but if they wish to inspect a site, they can do it when the footings are being dug out.

This will stop the stupid requirement of having to strip a whole site; after trenches have already criss- crossed the site. In some cases requiring the development to be constructed on piles or some other stabiliser, at a far greater un-recoverable cost.

Any that are currently in the pipeline and that are not currently subject to litigation but are giving grief can be discarded.

We shall also relax conservation rules, particularly around sustainability and listed buildings.

We will of course not seek to break the law, but we will be practical, and after the experiences I endured in a former life, I shall be taking a keen interest!

Of course we shall seek to be sustainable and practical, but we won’t dwell too much on the scriptures of the new religion.

I don’t believe that polar bears will be floating down the Nene in my life time or indeed my children’s.

I think we all need more convincing about some of the conflicting stories that are constantly peddled.

And as a bricklayer by trade, I regret the constant use of timber on our public buildings, and although it looks good when initially fitted, (and ticks a box),

Within 12 months looks as if it needs a coat of creosote.

DAB’s as we know them will be a thing of the past; we will be flexible, particularly around our smaller settlements, where we shall encourage organic growth.

Small well planned specialist development proposals will be welcome, high quality and low density will be encouraged whether they are within the existing DAB’s or on the outskirts of communities.

Such developments will have to satisfy the following criteria:

• Design

• Quality

• Imagination

• Sustainability (and I don’t mean grass houses that only hobbits would live in)

• Reflect the surroundings

• Highway safety (we are currently looking at ways of resting this function from the County Council and making advice more relevant to Fenland)

• Reasonable s106 contribution for local facilities and infrastructure, including affordable housing or contribution for local housing needs.

• Support from the local community.

Help us make these aspirations a reality. We will play our part. But I have a simple message; whilst we want to be accommodating. Unfortunately some agents and developers have tried to “lift our leg” with un-realistic proposals

And in effect spoil it for everybody else by destroying trust and goodwill. So don’t take us for a ride.

Finally, I want to say a word about our planning officers.

We are lucky; our officers are dedicated to the tasks as set out and are willing to work to the new agenda. They are very professional and are working under very difficult circumstances.

The planning profession is undergoing significant change. For 14 years, planning officers have only worked within a “tick box mentality”.

This is changing but the challenges are daunting.

This is a difficult and challenging time for local government, I have just supervised the most challenging budget in 30 years.

To lose 28pc of our income “at a stroke” was and is extremely painful.

But we will meet the challenge head on, working with partners, including you, to bring about the changes that are all in the interests of Fenland!

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