Friday, February 08, 2008

Empower local communities - dont 'streamline/modernise/speed-away' democracy

Had a reply today from my MP Kerry McCarthy. I wrote to her on Jan 19 asking her to support the Planning and Energy Private Members Bill (see this previous post). She said '...I am not minded to support the Planning and Energy Bill. I believe the Government's Planning Reform Bill...which will streamline, modernise and speed up the planning system will address the concerns itself.' This is a great pity but does indicate a pattern in both my MP and the Labour Government, both of whom resisted the Sustainable Communities Bill - they do not seem to want to truly empower local communities!

The Planning and Energy Private Members Bill enables local decision-making for new developments eg allowing: the setting of high energy efficiency standards; and enabling requirement of local, on-site energy generation by green methods such as solar and photovoltaic panels, heat pumps and small-scale combined heat and power plants - really needed for cutting carbon dioxide emissions, cutting fuel bills, creating jobs in neighbourhoods and building local sustainability.

A further concern is her support for the Government's Planning Reform Bill. For a start this Bill is not aimed at local community empowerment, quite the opposite in fact (its those words, streamline, modernise and speed up the planning system that give it away, for they mean take away some democracy). Avon Wildlife Trust recently expressed real concerns about the Bill ('We must protect birds and wildife', Bristol Evening Post, 7 Feb 2008) Greens have expressed strong concerns about it too, saying:

"The current proposals for a separate planning system for major infrastructure projects mean undermining democracy in favour of an increasingly centralised and authoritarian government.

"The Green Party believes that a healthy democracy should encourage public participation in decision making."

"Consulting with local people for disruptive, polluting projects like airports is essential, and any attempt to 'streamline' these processes to save money, or to hand them over to appointed yes-men is a scandalous affront to the rights of ordinary people ..."

Allotment and sensory garden vs housing development

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I wish good luck to Fishponds Local Action Group and all those campaigning for the proposed allotment and sensory garden site and against plans to build houses on the land instead (see 'Homes blow for sensory garden site', Bristol Evening Post, 8 February, 2008). I fear that the city council has far too little appreciation of the true value of all open, green spaces (which this site now is, due to all the work the community there has done) and may not take enough notice of the campaigners. Its shameful that the council who previously handed over the site to locals to work on, dont see the social and educational value of the non-housing use. The council change of mind after yrs of work has been done is particularly galling, and they have not even suggested a compromise (perhaps a 50:50 use of the site?). This council action is a sign of things to come though, now that they have decided to sell off 90 acres of city green space.