Derby Telegraph Column

As published in the Derby Telegraph, 19th October 2012.

Parliament returned this week after the break for the party conference season and the week started with a flurry of announcements. First of them was the deal for the referendum on Scottish independence. I have no problem with the Scottish people having their say but there is a case that the rest of the country should also have a say in the future of the Union. We should also fix the existing constitution issues like Scottish MPs voting on issues that only affect England.

The Home Secretary also announced this week that the Government intend to exercise our opt-out to 130 EU measures on law and order. This is an important step in getting some powers back from Brussells. There is the possibility for us to opt back into measures that we do find helpful but I’m sceptical that this is a good idea – for example we’ve seen how the EU arrest warrant has led to British citizens being arrested for trivial offences abroad which may not even be illegal here. We may well get a better outcome from bilateral agreements than these sweeping measures.

In more encouraging news on the economy, we have seen inflation fall to its lowest level since 2009 at 2.2%, and unemployment continuing to fall for the sixth consecutive month, falling by 145 in Amber Valley alone. The rebalancing of the economy is working with over 1 million new jobs in the private sector having been created since the election and employment now at record levels.

A lot of my time in Parliament over the coming weeks will be taken up with the Small Charitable Donations Bill which aims to let smaller charities claim back the tax on their donations, much like larger charities already do through Gift Aid. These measures should help the many excellent small local charities reclaim over £1,000 a year. There are, as ever, some issues with how bureaucratic the measures are and hopefully the process can be made as simple and attractive as possible to the small charities we’re trying to help.

Housing growth continues to be a big issue for my constituents, with Derby City Council, Amber Valley Borough Council and South Derbyshire District Council recently publishing their latest proposals. While the majority are on the edge of the city, in Amber Valley, it’s estimated that we need 9,000 over the total period spanning sixteen years, of which 4,414 need to come from new housing sites. I welcome that Amber Valley Borough Council have tried to avoid the use of greenbelt land and have eliminated several sites from further consideration.

I have raised with the Council previously the importance of prioritising the redevelopment of brownfield sites, and it is surprising that such sites with potential for significant numbers of housing have not been included at this stage. Examples include the old Stevenson’s dyeworks in Bullbridge, Butterley in Ripley, or the old American Adventure site. The Council have also assumed economic growth in Amber Valley will be higher than average and thus has the impact of increasing the housing need. While we would all welcome such growth, it seems optimistic to build houses based on it.

As the Councils progress with their Local Plans, it’s vitally important for constituents still concerned about the impact of the Local Plan to respond to the consultation on its proposals and I urge everyone to make sure their voice is heard.