27 July 2010
Andrew Bridgen highlights how localism and the big society are being embraced in North West Leicestershire.In particular, he welcomes the end of top-down housing targets. Andrew also pays tribute to those who work in the voluntary sector providing valuable services for local people.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I add my compliments for the three fine maiden speeches that we have heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) and the hon. Members for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) and for Livingston (Graeme Morrice). I am sure that they will make excellent representatives for their constituencies.

Before we break for the recess, it is important for the House to have an opportunity to discuss how localism and the big society are affecting my constituency. Localism is being welcomed and embraced by my constituents. In North West Leicestershire, as in many other constituencies, the biggest local issue in the run-up to the general election was the Labour Government's top-down housing targets. It was decided that my constituency should have an extra 12,200 houses. The district council was set an impossible task of consulting the local population. The main problem was that there was very little to consult about. The figure was set, and it was decided already that the clear focus for the main thrust of development was to be concentrated on the town of Coalville. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that there is nowhere in North West Leicestershire where building more than 12,000 houses would be acceptable to the local residents. That level of housing growth, if implemented, would have changed the character of my constituency for ever.

I am very pleased, and my constituents are mostly delighted, that these top-down targets have been dropped. This means that all powers to decide housing numbers, types, densities and where they will be built, now rest where they belong, with locally elected, locally accountable district councils. Many community groups were set up to oppose the top-down targets, and their work is worthy of mention. The Whitwick action group, the Don't Destroy Donington campaign, the residents against inappropriate development in Ashby and the friends of Thringstone are particularly worthy of mention. It is also worth mentioning that it is easier to lead someone forward than to push them, and this is very much the difference between this Government's policy and that of the last.

For too long, local government and local opinion have been ridden roughshod over by central Government. The Government are often the final arbiters of planning appeals, which have huge effects on local communities, often acting as judge, jury and executioner. Ministers have in the past, with the mere flourish of a penned signature, condemned communities that they do not know, and people they have never met, to years of anguish. For example, the overturning of decisions taken locally with regard to the opencast mine at Ravenstone in North West Leicestershire has, quite literally, undermined the influence of, and respect that residents have for, the locally elected council and councillors. This dumbs down the role of the council, and I believe that it discourages many able people from standing for election. This Chamber, Members will be glad to hear, will be hearing more from me about opencast mining in the very near future. This Government will, I hope, give local councils the chance to show real leadership-something so sadly lacking in the past, when they were mostly there to enact top-down national policies.

I have also seen during the past few weeks how localism feeds into the big society in my constituency, which we so much want to encourage to flourish. I have met some of the selfless people who work in the voluntary sector and seen the work that they are doing to improve and turn around the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in my community in North West Leicestershire. I have been to the Marlene Reid centre, a social enterprise based in Coalville, and to the Turning Point office, also in Coalville, where staff and volunteers are helping those affected by drug and alcohol misuse, and I have been to Home Start, which provides dozens of volunteers to support parents and families struggling to cope who are in need of a little support to get them through their lives. This is the big society in action, and I will be doing all I can to see that these groups have all the support they need from the Government to carry on with their essential work. It is vital that those groups are not subject to undue interference from government.

I want to share with hon. Members an interesting experience. I visited the local air ambulance, which flies out of East Midlands airport in my constituency. The service is funded totally by charitable donations. When I asked whether it would not rather be funded by the Government, surprisingly it said that it definitely would not, as then it would be subject to all the bureaucracy, red tape and targets that would go with that. It would rather keep its independence and raise its own funds. That says a lot about the dedication and commitment of the volunteers and fundraisers who work for the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland air ambulance, but it also says a lot that is not good about government.

I reiterate that North West Leicestershire has some fantastic selfless people working in the community. The challenge for government is to create the conditions to ensure that their efforts reap the maximum benefits for society. We can do this by devolving powers to the people who recognise what local communities need. Those people do not need the state to interfere with their lives. The time of big government is over: it did not work, and it was far too expensive. Anything that government take responsibility for, individuals and voluntary groups tend to withdraw from. The Government need to relinquish ground back to volunteer groups and individuals. This is the time of localism and the big society, and we will be able to build economically, socially and spiritually stronger communities because of it.

6.10 pm

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