I am not accustomed to public speaking. I therefore knew in advance that my whole weekend at the local groups’ conference would be pivoted around those ten minutes in the last session when I was due to take to the podium to propose Sheffield’s planning motion.
Being ‘author of the land use planning motion’ meant certain people wanted to talk to me. I discovered this before even going into the first session, when a strange man came up to me and said ‘ahh, YOU’re the Liz-the-planner from Sheffield!’ (The speaker turned out to be Roger Higman, Rebecca’s brother and senior transport campaigner who had obviously been well briefed). Later the same day I found myself being inquired for by Uta, FOE’s policy director, who wanted to discuss what we hoped to achieve through the motion. We sat together over the evening meal and discussed strategy - she recognised our point that battling lots of individual planning decisions is fighting the symptoms not the cause of environmental degradation (Newbury, Morrisons), I conceded her point that it might be an uphill struggle to build a public momentum around a campaign for reform of the planning system. We agreed that it would be good if we could stimulate a debate on the nature of the planning system. I didn’t realise at the time, but Rebecca tells me that for our motion to have received this extent of attention from Underwood Street was a considerable compliment.
I was pleased to find that there were also some local group members who had noticed the motion (after all - it was their support that we were going to need when it came to the vote on the Sunday). At a workshop I attended on regional government the discussion came back again and again to how existing and proposed regional organisations input into planning decisions. Tentatively, I mentioned that the Sheffield group were proposing a motion about planning, and saw a wave a recognition pass over the assembled faces.
Amongst local group members interested in regional government, at least, it seemed we had some support.
My involvement with the motion also had a number of serious down-sides. At a basic level it probably meant I was a dead bore to talk to - get me on to the topic of institutional arrangements for environmental protection and you won’t fit a word in edge-wise. It also meant that I kept scuttling off during our rare moments of free time to polish my speech, and that I became an increasingly nervous wreck as the weekend progressed. While everyone else quite rightly mourned the poor quality of the beer, for me it was a fortuitous excuse to not get horribly pissed the night before I climbed to the lectern.
An advance ballot had placed our motion third, after an emergency debate and the contentious issue of green cars. Despite lots of moral support from Elaine and Rebecca, I sat in the front row quaking as these debates progressed. I thought it was going to take ages to get there; but suddenly the vote on green cars had happened and I was facing the audience. A practice run had showed that my material would take nothing like the five minutes I was allocated - did that slow me down? - my foot it did. As I moved from the second to the third point I saw Rebecca out of the corner of my eye desperately waving her arms in slow circles. ‘Oh yes’ I thought, ‘I forgot’, ‘its not a race’, as I took a deep breathe, and tried to pace myself with a little more care.
The first nice thing which happened as I finished my speech is that I got clapped. Not everyone gets applause for motions speeches - so that felt good. Then nobody wanted to speak against the motion, so it went directly to a vote. Then there were lots of votes for the motion; then there were no votes against; then there were no abstentions.....we had unanimous support!
Did I have a good first conference? Oh yes. I was obsessive, I was boring, I was a nervous wreck; but I went home triumphant!
Watch out for how Underwood Street are responding to Sheffield’s Land use planning motion in the next newsletter.