Development is a key issue if we are to judge from the letters pages and column inches of our trusty Watford Observer, both in print and online! Certainly from my time as Mayor I would agree.

Opposition to development seems to have become more intense, yet deep down we understand the need for more homes as we know our kids can’t afford to live here and there is not enough social and affordable housing, nor housing for the elderly, to meet our needs.

This government has made house building and home ownership one of its main manifesto commitments. This is a legitimate political aspiration and people demonstrably voted for it – ministers can claim the 2019 general election gave a ringing endorsement for their policies.

In my national role as planning lead for my party in the House of Lords, I was there when the minister banged his fist on the lectern to tell councils they must “Build Build Build!” I receive copies of the lists of councils that have ‘failed’ the Government’s Housing Delivery Test, and that includes Watford!

Readers may be shocked to know that councils are charged with this duty; they are given targets by government (Watford’s have tripled in recent years) and if they are not building quickly enough there are consequences.

An artists impression of the 28 storey tower block in St Albans Road

An artist's impression of the 28 storey tower block in St Albans Road

There was outcry when these planned tower blocks in St Albans Road were approved

Watford was delivering its lower target, although not without some controversy when schemes were approved. But last year, Watford delivered only 48 per cent of its increased government target. As a result the council has to produce an action plan for increasing housing delivery and its scope to refuse marginal schemes is reduced.

Yet it is often striking that Conservative ministers, MPs, local candidates and campaigners seem keen to disassociate themselves from the practical impacts of their policies when it comes to controversial planning applications at local level. It can often seem like a case of ‘Housing targets? Nothing to do with us’, combined with an attempt to deflect blame onto councils who have had the targets imposed on them.

The reality is councils have less and less control over what is built. The government’s planning white paper, published late last year, proposes a further erosion of residents’ ability to oppose development and a further emasculation of both planners’ and councillors’ ability to refuse planning permissions. Watch this space.

  • Baroness Dorothy Thornhill is a former elected mayor of Watford