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The Barbara Panvel Column



Birmingham councillor Chaman Lal set the cat amongst the pigeons this week when he claimed that the entirely legal process by which developers offer cash to local authorities in exchange for planning permission was bribery in all but name. Section 106 agreements are common throughout the country, and allow councils to get extra cash to fund transport and environmental improvements- but only if they giveconsent to the latest scheme for a superstore or apartment block. Barbara Panvel wonders how all this squares with the idea of localism...

Localism - it's one of the buzzwords of our time, beloved of politicians and policy makers.

At its heart is the very simple idea that people should participate in making decisions on issues which closely affect their lives.

But just look what happens in reality - the bottom line is god, and the balance sheet rules.

Hospitals and schools are closed; planning blight descends on those living near airports considered for expansion and proposed new roads; mobile phone masts are imposed and land is taken from public parks, sports centres and playing fields to inflict an Asda or Tesco on areas already well-provided with food stores.

All over the country people are spending time, money and energy opposing such developments.

Sometimes central government over-rules planning decisions which have been taken, by local councils relecting local opinion.

In other cases councils are proactive in closing schools and reducing public amenities - even entering into commercial partnership with developers and deciding in favour of their own planning applications.

The Rowntree Foundation has spent large sums funding top-down initiatives to motivate people but the most effective action is coming from people on the spot, doing what they can, for example Localise West Midlands [LWM], Fordhall Farm and the Aston Reinvestment Trust [ART].

LWM was set up by people with a common interest in the social, environmental and economic welfare of the region.

They advocate and promote local sourcing of food and goods by individuals, local authorities and other large purchasers.

Developers wanted to buy Fordhall Farm in Shropshire when the tenant died, but his young son and daughter invited people to take shares and actually were able to buy the farm, which is now owned by the sharing community.

Sir Adrian Cadbury held the Aston Democracy Commission to find out why so few people were voting. The general response was that people had found that, once elected, politicians ignored their plight & so had decided voting was pointless.

Another finding was that local people who wanted to set up or develop a small business could not get bank loans because they owned no assets. This led to the setting up of ART, which has now enabled about 2000 jobs to be created or preserved in Birmingham.

It is time to break the political connection with big business at all levels and elect politicians dedicated to serving electors by strengthening regional economies, enabling them to provide most of the goods ands services needed in the region and offer employment to all who need it.


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