Last week Leeds Labour Council turned down the planning application from Miller homes to build 380 houses on Breary Lane East.
Mr Mulholland, Leeds NW’s LibDem MP, immediately wrote to constituents about this – directly from the Commons and on his website.
He ‘confirmed’ Leeds City Council’s rejection of the application. He noted that Miller Homes may still appeal. And he took the opportunity to remind constituents of his Ten Minute Bill, put forward in the last session of Parliament.
Since he draws attention to his Parliamentary activity on the issue of Planning, we feel it only right to begin by setting the record straight here.
The NPPF – that is the National Planning and Policy Framework, under which all planning now takes place – is the child of the LibDem/Tory Coalition – the Coalition of which Mr Mulholland is a part.
It is the NPPF which has skewed the playing field in favour of developers, like Miller Homes – including in the system it has set up for external appeals.
The NPPF was not introduced in Parliament as a Bill. There are thus no records of votes specifically on its passing – though readers may wish to note that it is in some respects an offshoot of the Localism Act – for which Mr Mulholland voted on every occasion.
On the second reading of that Localism Bill, incidentally, in what he himself bemoaned as the very short time he had to speak, the bulk of his lengthy intervention was in relation to the impact of the Act on pubs.
The NPPF was, however, debated fully in Parliament on 20 October 2011.
By this time the NPPF had come under strong criticism from such organisations as CPRE and the National Trust – not least for its impact on Green space and Greenbelt land.
Another Leeds MP – Labour’s Hilary Benn – was in the Commons on that day.
He raised the numerous problems of the NPPF
– these included the Coalition’s abandonment of ‘brownfield first’, i.e. the requirement to consider and use brownfield land for development before green space- a policy put in place by Labour’s John Prescott
– the concerns about the central ‘presumption in favour of development’ in the NPPF.
– and the speed with which the Coalition was forcing Local Councils to act in drawing up plans.
Where was Mr Mulholland on that occasion? According to the Parliamentary record he was present in the house on that day. But there is no record of his presence at or contribution to this important planning debate.
Readers may, however, be reassured that Mr Mulholland was active in Parliament during October 2011 – and found time, e.g., to welcome British Pub Week as in September he had welcomed October’s Cask Ale Week.
Opposition to the NPPF continued to be vocal in Parliament even after its formal enactment – including in some sections of the LibDem/Tory Coalition.
According to the Parliamentary record, Mr Mulholland was not part of that opposition.
As we have reported before, on 8 January 2014 there was a debate on Planning Reform at Westminster in which both Labour and some Tory MPs spoke passionately on the subject of the NPPF, this ‘developers’ charter’.
Hansard – the record of Parliamentary debates – does not record that Mr Mulholland was there on that occasion – or that he intervened in the debate.
Then, in April of this year Mr Mulholland chose belatedly to raise the matter in Parliament.
On 30 April at 1.35 pm he brought in what is known as a Ten Minute Rule Bill – on Localism and the National Planning Policy Framework.
This is the Bill to which he refers in his letter to constituents.
Parliamentary procedure is not always obvious. So readers should be clear about the nature of this beast.
‘Ten Minute Rule Bills are often an opportunity for Members to voice an opinion on a subject or aspect of existing legislation, rather than a serious attempt to get a Bill passed.’
Again we quote Parliament’s own official source.
Ministers rarely reply – and none did on this occasion.
Such Bills rarely progress much further – and this one did not. It was introduced very late in the session and fell by the wayside.
You could say that Ten Minute Rule Bills are as much about speaking to an audience beyond Westminster as they are about serious intervention in legislation.
In view of his record above, we leave readers to make up their own minds about the reasons for Mr Mulholland’s tardy – and ill-fated – Planning Bill.
Was his previous judgement of the likely effects of the NPPF so badly wrong?
Why this rush to introduce a bill so late in the day?
Readers may wish to muse on the fact that there is an election looming – and that national opinion polls by April placed support for Mr Mulholland’s party in single digits.
Mr Mulholland appears to have seen the light – perhaps glimpsed through the slit in the top of a ballot box.
What he cannot do, however, is erase his previous rather lackadaisical record of Parliamentary interest in this area.
Nor can he wriggle out of responsibility for a planning framework introduced with the support of his own party, and with precious little opposition from him.
Mr Mulholland is a member of the governing party which forced through the NPPF and Localism Act. He personally voted for the latter.
A Ten Minute Rule Bill had virtually no chance of affecting that Act – as he presumably well knew.
If Mr Mulholland had really wanted to empower the communities of Leeds NW, he might have acted rather differently.
In January this year, Leeds Labour Council called on the Government to level the playing field in planning decisions – between local communities and developers.
They also called for the restoration of a ‘brownfield first’ policy.
Mr Mulholland could have lent what political weight he has to their efforts.
But that, of course, would not suit his primary aim – which was and remains re-election at any cost.
In that strategy, Leeds Labour Council is always the enemy.
Residents of Bramhope will, however, note that it is Leeds Labour Council which has rejected the proposed development – not Mr Mulholland. His enemy may not be theirs.
In the same letter to constituents, Mr Mulholland writes airily of his round table discussion set up – as he puts it – to put together an election manifesto commitment on this planning area.
We should perhaps clarify that Mr Mulholland is speaking of a LibDem manifesto commitment.
We might be forgiven for having some doubts
a] whether Mr Mulholland’s rather sparsely attended round table will have much clout in LibDem HQ
and b] whether the LibDem party will have much clout in the next parliament.
The statement is of a piece with Mr Mulholland’s tendency to overegg his activities.
What IS certain, however, is that statements already on record mean that Labour in 2015 WILL be committed to brownfield first, along with other reforms of the planning system.
That is something you might wish to remember when casting your vote next May.
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