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BY GEORGE - HAS HE GOT IT?

08-02-2008

The government preaches localisation while pushing through new planning laws that reduce the power of communities to have a say over major developments in their area. Barbara Panvel hears from a West Midlands visionary with a truly radical idea...giving power to the people.

Pleasant or useful features of life: post offices, playing fields, schools, local small shops, pubs, allotments, acres of public parks, maternity and A&E departments are under threat.

Large, costly and polluting nuclear power stations are proposed: waste incinerators and phone masts with related structures - assisted by a new Planning Bill which had its second reading in December and has many critics.

MP John McDonnell warned MPs with a development in their area – an airport, or any other hazardous development such as a nuclear power facility – that their constituents’ voices will not be heard if this bill is passed.

During the debate another Labour/Co-op MP, David Drew, acknowledged that “in making such decisions, we must recognise that we are removing some of the public’s right of argument and delay.”

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake declared: “We will fight the Government’s centralising tendencies and fight for local communities’ right to have their views heard.”

The main political parties speak warmly of localisation but are not putting forward plans for a better political structure. Due to general disillusion with the current situation it is often impossible for them even to find councillors who live in the areas they represent.

Seeing the wide inequalities between the English regions – the ‘North-South divide’ – a cross-party regional group, the West Midlands Constitutional Convention [WMCC] was formed in 2000.

WMCC set up an independent research group which established the need for a greater understanding of the degree to which we are governed by Westminster, Whitehall and large numbers of appointed, unelected expensive quangos, unknown to those over whose lives they have great influence.

George MorranOne member, George Morran, whose extensive experience includes seven years as Director of the West Midlands Regional Forum of Local Authorities, attended last week’s meeting of the West Midlands New Economics Group in Digbeth.

He told us that their pre-2009/10 election campaign will advocate:

- a move to political localisation

- a downsized and refocused Westminster;

- a fairer voting system

- the establishment of an elected regional assembly to deal with certain sectors including transport & climate change measures [replacing the current appointed assembly] and...

- setting up a mechanism enabling regional input to parliament.

Even more radically, George would like to see much smaller local authorities. When I remembered Balsall Heath activist Dick Atkinson’s appealing proposals for returning Birmingham to its ten original village areas he said “Why not?”

This recalled a ‘soundbite' from George a few years ago which said it all: “I want to bring power to the people”.

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