Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Big Society: H&F Council to be stripped of planning powers

The Big Society could spell the end for our Council's planning regime. 

Our Council has form on planning. Having forced through numerous schemes with developers against the manifest wishes of the majority of residents who live in the pockets of our borough most keenly lusted after by luxury flat building developers, the Conservatives who run H&F Council have managed to alienate entire communities, including those who would have otherwise returned a Tory MP at the last general election. 

But now, it seems, their regime of planning tyranny is about to come to an end courtesy of the Conservative government. It's not the first time the Conservatives in Government have had to act to rein in the more militant occupants of the Town Hall, just weeks ago our Council was forced to agree to stop spending hundreds of thousands of our tax pounds producing "H&F News", the propaganda paper referred to by even their Conservative parliamentary colleagues as a "Town Hall Pravda". This while they cut other frontline services to children like this 11 year old boy. Priorities, eh.

In fact the same Secretary of State who forced an end to Pravda has set out his stall to change the law so that Councils like ours no longer have the power to force through developments like the Goldhawk Road Industrial Estate. In what has been described as "radical new planning reforms" the Department for Communities and Local Government announced yesterday that their new Localism Bill will ensure:

"Neighbourhood groups shape where they live: Communities will be able to come together to decide what their area should look like, where new shops, offices or homes should go and what green spaces should be protected."

Well that must sound like manna from heaven to those campaigning against the King Street development which saw another residents meeting opposed to the plans take place last night, and the Standard report that fellow Tory MPs have signed up to fighting our Council on. 

Hero of the Day Eric Pickles MP says this:

"For far too long local people have had too little say over a planning system that has imposed bureaucratic decisions by distant officials in Whitehall and the town hall. We need to change things so there is more people-planning and less politician-planning, so there is more direct democracy and less bureaucracy in the system. These reforms will become the building blocks of the Big Society."

Communities will themselves be able to come up with "neighbourhood plans" under the scheme, reflecting what local people want rather than Council officials and developers. A Government spokesperson explains the detail:

"Parish councils and new neighbourhood forums of local people - rather than town hall officials - will lead the way in shaping their community. If local people then vote in favour of new 'Neighbourhood Plans' in local referendums, councils will have to adopt them".

Sound familiar? As if they were written just for us? This is seriously good stuff from the Government and they deserve huge credit for introducing this bill. Mr Pickles has spent a lot of time in Hammersmith & Fulham recently and our Council has been keen to promote this in a positive light, which is fair enough. But it would seem Mr Pickles has also been seeing what is really going on in these 'ere neck of the woods and is putting some of it right. 

And it does rather explain why this Council seems to be in such a rush to push through developments like King Street these days...for they know these days are numbered.

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