The Tories’ latest statements about greenfield development have been contradictory. So until they make up their minds, it’s up to local authorities to take a more definite view

Just how committed are the Tories to “localism”? I ask because of the recent leak of a letter to Tory councils and MPs from Caroline Spelman, the shadow communities secretary.

Her advice was to delay speculative projects while councils’ regional spatial strategies (RSSs) were still going through due process, particularly given that so many were mired in legal challenges.

Bob Neill, the shadow local government and planning minister, told Building last week: “A Conservative government will put local people back in the driving seat.” 

Well that’s certainly a good thing. Localism – “bottom-up” endeavour – is something that the British Urban Regeneration Association, which I chair, has supported for 20 years or more. It has the ability to connect and share best practice with those who are effecting change on the ground.

But localism without local economic development targets (which are, necessarily, top down) could well equate to no activity whatsoever while our industry is on its knees. We urgently need to press ahead with projects throughout the UK and these interventions from the Conservatives do nothing to help.

I have been impressed by shadow spokespeople in recent months. David Cameron’s team has been out and about and accessible to the construction and property industry. And I thought they were listening. 

But the latest noises from the shadow Cabinet raise spectres from the party’s past, when any attempts at building on greenfield land were out of the question. We need to know if the Tories remain anti-development outside the urban landscape. Is all Grant Shapps’ talk of new housing a smokescreen? And, crucially, what view should developers take in the meantime about delayed RSS documents?

Time will tell which view a new government takes. In the meantime, let’s hope councils are prepared to pre-empt the formal imposition of localism and make up their own minds. We need independent thinkers in these authorities to support decent schemes, and ignore the politicking from Tory central office.