News from Westminster

19/1/19

Sam_Webber.jpgThis has been one of the most fraught and exciting parliamentary weeks many of us can remember. Not only was Theresa May's European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 defeated in the biggest Government defeat ever with 202 MPs in favour and 432 opposed, but the following day saw the first 'No Confidence in Her Majesty's Government' debate since 1993. 

Despite the monumental defeat of Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement in the so-called 'Meaningful vote' her Government won the Confidence vote by 325 to 306. 

Crucially her Confidence and Supply Agreement partners the DUP were onside for Wednesday's Commons vote. Without their 10 MPs supporting the Government, their leader Nigel Dodds pointed out the Government would have lost by one vote.

From a Liberal Democrat perspective several of our MPs contributed in the Withdrawal debate this week including Tim Farron and Ed Davey, Wera Hobhouse and Christine Jardine.

The party's 11 MPs all opposed the Withdrawal Act in the vote with former Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd voting with the Government. In the confidence motion all 11 MPs voted in favour of the No Confidence motion which Vince Cable was a signatory to along with other opposition party leaders. Stephen Lloyd also voted against the Government.

Former Energy Secretary, Lib Dem MP Ed Davey warned in the House of Commons of the risk to the UK  nuclear energy sector after Japanese company Hitachi suspended the work on new nuclear power station at Wylfa in North Wales. Is this news Brexit related? Did Thersa May raise this issue when she met the Japanese PM last week? There is no real way of knowing but we have our suspicions.

Former Health Minister, the Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb was one of the sponsors of the Commons debate on Thursday afternoon on covering 'Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace'.

In the House of Lords as ever there were several insightful Lib Dem questions to ministers including those on:

 - How long the longest serving person currently detained in an immigration removal centre has been held in detention,
 - Reducing dental decay and gum disease in children, 

 - Increase in development rights following the government's consultation: 'Planning reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes',
 - Supporting citizens of EU countries who have been resident in the UK since before the UK joined the European Economic Community and finally and perhaps most importantly:
- Legislation necessary to enable a further referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.


The beginning of the end of Brexit?

"This is the beginning of the end of Brexit. With Parliament in deadlock, it is time to go back to the public."  So said Lib Dem leader, Vince Cable.   After one of the most fraught parliamentary weeks many of us can remember, no one is sure what will happen next, but the prospect of a people's vote is becoming closer than it's ever been.

Now Labour's no confidence vote has been lost, and the prospect of a General Election has all but disappeared, we must now all of us work to persuade Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party to follow the recommendations of their own party conference and support a People's Vote. 

Bromley Lib Dem Spokesperson Rich Wilsher said "Bromley voted in favour of remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum, and the results of our public canvassing over the last two weeks shows that the number of people in favour of a people's vote in Bromley is higher than ever.  We urge the representatives of the Labour Party in Bromley to send a clear message to their leaders."

Take our survey and share your views on what you think should happen next.  

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Paddy Ashdown

Bromley Liberal Democrats share the sadness of the whole LibDem family at the news yesterday (22 Dec) of the death of Paddy Ashdown following a short illness.   

Vince Cable spoke for all of us when he said "This is a hugely sad day for the Liberal Democrats and for the very many people across political and public life who had immense affection and respect for Paddy."

Former leader Tim Farron said Paddy Ashdown had "saved and revived the Liberal Democrats at our lowest ebb ... we owe him our very existence".  

Tributes to Paddy have poured in from across the political divide and beyond.   As a party we owe him a huge debt, individually we all have our personal recollections of an energetic, inspiring and remarkable man who loved his country and was committed to serving it to the very end.    The voice of liberalism has just become slightly quieter.   

The party have set up an online book of condolences - you can add your name and comments here: www.libdems.org.uk/book-of-condolence-paddy-ashdown


Bullers Wood for Boys gets Planning Approval!

So pleased to hear that Bullers Wood School for Boys has won their appeal against Bromley Council’s decision to revoke their planning permission - the school will now be built on St Hugh’s playing fields, Bickley. A huge personal thanks and congrats to the core parent #BWSFB campaign team who worked tirelessly to achieve this result, never taking no for an answer despite the many bureaucratic and often unnecessary obstacles put in their way. Many questions about the financial and human cost of this drawn out process remain (the school first applied in July 2016), but for now, this news is a very welcome early Christmas Present to many. 

You can read the Planning Inspector's decision in full here.

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Public Inquiry into New 10 storey school at 1 Westmoreland Road Concludes

The public inquiry into whether a 10 storey secondary school with no playing fields should be built on one of the Borough's busiest and most polluted junctions concluded on Friday 23 November 2018. Lib Dem campaigner, Rhian Kanat, spoke at the hearing as part of the residents group opposed to such a large school on this site. You can read her speech in full here.

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There was disappointment amongst the local residents who have campaigned against locating the school here.  The Council failed to defend its refusal of planning permission, leaving local residents to try and fill in the key gaps in the defence, and the Council's transport expert did a U-Turn a week before the hearing and then gave evidence that he had "changed his mind" and no longer believed the school could be refused on transport and travel grounds.   Rhian Kanat commented: "It was a great pleasure to work with and support the core local residents group who led the campaign against this school, all of whom spoke intelligently and passionately at the hearing but the council's behaviour was nothing less than disappointing."  

The other major issue working against the Council at the hearing was the role of their own Draft Local Plan, which allocates the site for Education Use with specific reference to a 6-8 Form Entry secondary school on the site. This was used to great effect by the school's legal counsel to make cogent arguments that the Council itself had already approved a school of the size, height and scale of this proposal when it approved the draft local plan (given that it would be impossible to get a 6-8FE school on such a small site without a very high rise building). It was also repeatedly noted that the Area Action Plan for Bromley Town, another key piece of planning policy, designated the site for a tall building. It is hugely disappointing that the same Development Control Committee of the Council that refused the school planning permission in December 2017 had not also effectively challenged the designation of the site for a school in the Draft local Plan that they approved in June 2016. In fact the minutes of that meeting show that whilst several amendments were proposed, no comment was passed on this site being used for a large secondary school.

The Inspector also noted that there had been a public consultation about the Draft Local Plan and no residents had commented on this site's designation as part of that consultation. However, residents were never specifically alerted to the plans for such a large school on this site, despite Bromley Town's Conservative Councillors having been consulted about the Department of Education's plan for a 6-8 form entry school on the site.   It is surely the role of ward councillors to alert residents to policies in such a complex document that might impact residents.   Instead, residents only became aware of the plans for this school when planning permission was applied for in January 2017, conveniently, although perhaps not coincidentally, just a few weeks after the public consultation on the draft local plan had closed.

We remain hopeful that common sense will prevail, and the Inspector will uphold the Council's refusal of planning permission for this high rise school on this site, but the Council's defence was certainly far more of an uphill struggle than it needed to be. The Inspector's decision will be known on or before 18 February 2019. 

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