The Albert Dock in Liverpool was the setting for the Labour party conference, quite possibly its last in opposition. It wasn’t just the party faithful out in force, with business leaders, lobbyists and thinktanks all crowded into fringe events and bars. There was a definite uptick in parliamentary presence there, compared to the Conservative conference, which a number of MPs had given a wide berth.
Meanwhile, the CLA’s lobbying team was able to engage with a number of prospective candidates in rural seats across the country and introduce the CLA and its work.
We kicked off our conference activity on Sunday with Chief Land Use Adviser Susan Twining joining a Green Alliance fringe event panel ‘Unlocking the Benefits of Nature Friendly Farming’, alongside National Trust Chief Executive Hilary McGrady, and new shadow Rural Affairs Minister Toby Perkins MP.
Perkins indicated that Labour would evaluate Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes to assess whether they are value for money, and as a new minister in the department, was keen to get out and visit members. This is something we are in the process of facilitating.
Shadow Secretary of State Steve Reed also indicated that though Labour would not rip up ELMs, they may alter schemes to make sure the system works for everyone.
Housing vs net zero
Housing and net zero were the two most popular topics for fringe panels, with a number of events trying to square the two, including one from Labour Coast and Country, with whom we have a good relationship.
Labour delegates were clear that a housing strategy was needed for rural areas, and that one solution to bridge building more homes and producing less carbon was to favour urban densification. Whilst this may be beneficial from a strictly carbon perspective, any housing strategy must include housing for rural communities.
One fringe panellist with links to housing policy suggested there might be a pivot away from tackling the problem of holiday homes because they are not found in the majority of rural areas. There was some clear overlap with policies that the CLA has been calling for, not least encouraging the delivery of affordable housing on rural exception sites, and calling on the NPPF to lower the 10 dwelling small site threshold so that more affordable housing can be built across England.
Tough on the planning system, tough on the causes of the planning system was the message that came through from the leadership, with a welcome pro-growth approach.
‘Responsible access’ was the phrase uttered not by one, but three shadow Defra ministers over the course of conference. It is clear that this is a step forward in Labour’s policy – and a clear repudiation of Right to Roam, a major CLA win.
Articulating what responsible access means practically, and from a policy perspective will be important and we will work with the shadow frontbench to craft a definition that respects the needs of nature and rural businesses.
With the end of conference season effectively beginning the countdown to the general election, we return to London tired but positive from a busy season.