I am not a regular speaker at Liberal Democrat conferences, and when I do, I normally stick to issues of bureaucracy. Not always, but as a rule I don't really do policy.
However, the more time I spend as a parish councillor, the more aware I become of the issues that affect small villages and rural communities. And, confronted with a conference motion that called for all residential roads to be made 20 mph zones, my interest was attracted, especially as my fellow colleagues on Creeting St Peter Parish Council are rather keen on the idea.
There was a catch though - this was to be imposed on all residential roads, regardless of the circumstances, and the concept of a residential road wasn't actually defined. In theory, that sounds good, but if you're a resident of Earl Stonham, on the A1120, or one of the villages on the A12 north of Woodbridge, you might not be so keen. Indeed, my own village has greater need for footways (the 'proper' term for pavements), as we have none.
Call me old-fashioned, but I rather like the notion of local communities deciding upon their needs, equipped with a range of options, rather than one blunt implement. And so, I decided to put a card in to speak, for it wasn't likely that many people would oppose the motion.
I didn't expect to get called. After all, there were a lot of cards in, and I'm not an particular expert on the subject (I am the Vice Chair of our local Road Safety Committee, but I've only held the post for a month or so). However, I found a comfortable seat near the back of the hall, and waited. I didn't have to wait long...
Luckily, I didn't have a long speech...
This motion gives the impression of reflecting life in the suburbs and country towns, where main roads are, for the most part, kept apart from residential areas. And, as a child of the suburbs, I understand the motivation of the movers. However, I now live in an area of the country where small villages predominate.
The concept of a residential road in a built-up area can be quite different to that of a residential road in a village. In some linear villages, the main A-road is a residential road, and in Suffolk, for example, the A12 and the A140 run through the middle of a number of villages. It may not be viable to build by-passes, yet a 20 mph limit would cause congestion, increase pollution and affect commerce.
As a Party, we believe in localism, in bottom-up community action. And yet, the motion as it is before us, denies that. It imposes one solution on communities regardless of size, regardless of circumstance, regardless of need.
I therefore support Amendment 1, which at has the effect of empowering communities, allowing them the freedom to develop solutions that reflect their needs and aspirations.
So, Conference, please endorse amendment 1 or, if you cannot, reject this motion as well-meaning, but flawed.
Nothing fancy, but it did the job.
I was surprised when it was picked up by the BBC in their live feed,
Delegate Mark Valladares says the motion is "well-meaning, but flawed" because it imposes one solution on communities "regardless of their size... circumstance... [and] needs". He says amendment one will allow communities the freedom to develop their own solutions.
But perhaps even more surprised to return to the office this morning to find that BBC Radio Suffolk had namechecked me. Indeed, they rather generously broadcast a chunk of my speech, and then returned to the debate during the breakfast show.
Perhaps I ought to do this more often...