Where do the parties stand on HS2, house building and local democracy?

Election 2015
Election 2015
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Deputy editor Adam King looks at where party manifestos stand on three key issues facing Aylesbury Vale.

HIGH SPEED RAIL

Why it matters: The £50bn HS2 train line from London to Manchester will cut through Buckinghamshire, affecting residents in the likes of Wendover, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, Quainton, Steeple Claydon, Calvert and Twyford.

What the parties say:

You won’t find much that unites UKIP and the Greens, but both are firmly opposed to HS2.

UKIP states that ‘HS2 is an unaffordable white elephant and, given other, far more pressing calls on public expenditure, such as the NHS, social care and defence, not to mention the need to reduce the deficit, it must face the axe’.

The Greens say the ‘money to be spent on this hugely expensive project, which at best will reduce journey times for a few passengers, would be much better spent on improving the conventional rail connections between various major cities, improving the resilience of the existing network to climate change and reopening lines and stations that have been closed’.

Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour are all in favour of the scheme.

The Tories talk about it in terms of creating a ‘Northern powerhouse’ and mention building High Speed 3 to Scotland.

Similarly, the Lib Dems state they would ‘proceed with HS2, as the first stage of a high-speed rail network to Scotland’.

Labour’s tone is slightly more cautious: “We will continue to support the construction of High Speed Two, but keep costs down.”

HOUSING GROWTH

Why it matters: Aylesbury Vale is set to have tens of thousands of new homes over the next couple of decades. Critics argue we don’t currently have the infrastructure to support such large-scale building and that our countryside should be better protected. Aylesbury Vale District Council’s strategy setting out how many homes the area needs was rejected by a government inspector because it had ‘failed to co-operate’ with neighbouring authorities who may need to off-load part of their quota onto the Vale. There is anger over how ‘speculative’ housing developments which the council does not want are given the green light by an unelected planning inspector on appeal.

What the parties say:

The Lib Dems have ‘set an ambitious target of increasing the rate of house building to 300,000 a year’.

There would be ‘up to five major new settlements along a Garden Cities Railway between Oxford and Cambridge’ [the east-west rail line which will have stops at Winslow and include a spur from Aylesbury to Milton Keynes].

The party will ‘prioritise development on brownfield and town centre sites and bring to an end to ‘the permitted development rights for converting offices to residential’.

The party ‘will strengthen the Duty to Cooperate to help authorities – like Cambridge, Oxford and Luton – with insufficient space within the Local Authority boundary to meet housing demand to grow, through development on sites beyond the Local Authority boundaries’. It will also ‘create a Community Right of Appeal in cases where planning decisions go against the approved local plan, or a Local Plan that is emerging and has undergone substantive consultation’. It will ‘not allow developers’ appeals against planning decisions that are in line with the local plan’.

Labour would ‘make sure that at least 200,000 homes a year get built by 2020’. They add: “We want a housing market that rewards the building of high quality homes rather than land banking and speculation. So we will introduce greater transparency in the land market and give local authorities new ‘use it or lose it’ powers to encourage developers to build.”

The Conservatives want to build ‘275,000 additional affordable homes by 2020’.

They would ‘make sure local communities know up-front that necessary infrastructure such as schools and roads will be provided’ from new developments.

The party wants brownfield land to be ‘used as much as possible for new development’ and will require councils to have a brownfield land register, to ensure that ‘90 per cent of suitable brownfield sites have planning permission for housing by 2020’

UKIP wants to bring empty homes back into use and would ‘take steps to remove the barriers to brownfield builds with the aim of building one million homes on brownfield sites by 2025 to address the current housing shortage’.

Incentives for building on brownfield sites include grants of up to £10,000 per unit for developers, stamp duty exemption and a grant to cover the cost of indemnity insurance on decontaminated land.

It will ‘free local authorities from government-imposed minimum housing numbers’ and ‘allow large-scale developments to be overturned by a binding local referendum triggered by the signatures of 5 per cent of electors within a planning authority area’.

The Greens also want to ‘take action on empty homes to bring them back into use’ and ‘minimise encroachment onto undeveloped ‘greenfield sites’ wherever possible by reusing previously developed sites that have fallen into disuse’.

They would ‘provide 500,000 social rented homes to high sustainability standards by increasing the social housing budget from £1.5 billion a year to £6 billion a year’.

LOCAL DEMOCRACY

Why it matters: Many of the services we rely on most, from social care to bin collections, are delivered by our councils. However, both Bucks County Council and Aylesbury Vale District Council are having to find huge savings as their grant from government continues to fall. There has been a big debate recently on the merits of councils going unitary (at both district and county level), but for this to happen it is likely government would need to support council restructuring. Bucks County Council recently entered an alliance with Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire in order to receive greater ‘devolved’ funding and powers.

What the parties say:

Labour will oversee ‘the biggest devolution of power to our English city and county regions in a hundred years’, transfering ‘new powers over economic development, skills, employment, housing, and business support’.

It adds that ‘fair funding will be restored across England, alongside longer term multi-year budgets, so that local authorities can plan ahead on the basis of need in their area and protect vital services’. They will establish local Public Accounts Committees, ‘so that every pound spent by local bodies creates value for money for local taxpayers’.

The Green Party wants to provide an extra £10 billion a year to council budgets ‘to allow local authorities to restore essential local services’. They would add further higher bands to council tax so that more money can be raised from the largest homes. They would also remove the council tax cap and the need for a referendum if an authority wants to put council tax up by more than 2%, while also allowing councils to levy new local taxes, such as ‘local tourist taxes, empty homes levies, supermarket taxes or workplace parking levies’. The Greens also want to restore local authority control over education and allow councils ‘to favour local procurement to help their local economy’.

The Lib Dems say they too would remove the requirement for councils to hold a referendum over council tax. It would ‘devolve more power and resources to groups of Local Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships’ and give greater financial responsibility to councils. The party will also ‘aim to increase the number of Neighbourhood, Community and Parish Councils’.

UKIP says it would ‘keep Council Tax as low as possible’. It would cut ‘excessive allowances for councillors’, limit ‘the number of highly-paid council employees’ and cut councils’ ‘advertising and self-promotion budgets’.

In addition ‘UKIP will also undertake a full review of all the many statutory duties national government places on local government, with a view to reducing the burden on councils’.

The Conservative manifesto states: “We will not let anyone impose artificial regions on England – our traditional towns, boroughs, cities and counties are here to stay.”

It adds: “Under this Government, average council tax bills in England have fallen, in real terms, by 11 per cent...we will help local authorities keep council tax low for hardworking taxpayers, and ensure residents can continue to veto high rises via a local referendum’.

The party will promote localism by allowing councils to ‘keep a higher proportion of the business rates revenue that is generated in their area’, adding: “We will review how we can further reduce ring-fencing and remove Whitehall burdens to give councils more flexibility to support local services.”