Sunday, September 17, 2006

Good Sense on Downtown

Last Wednesday we held our September Council Assembly and debated a number of issues concerning the borough generally - including proposed cuts of up to £20 million to the local Primary Care Trust budget. Southwark has an extremely good record of delivering services on budget, and the Council was united in calling upon Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, to review her decision on this issue. Harriet Harman and Tessa Jowell will be leading a delegation of Southwark and Lambeth MPs to meet the Health Secretary on the 21st of September, so I hope they will have good news to report following that meeting.

Council Assembly also heard from a deputation from the Downtown Defence Campaign. Downtown is an area in Rotherhithe which has a long-established community and relatively low density housing. However, the Liberal Democrat administration in Southwark took the decision to sell land at Downtown to Barratts the builders who submitted an application to build on that land. The DDC was formed to oppose that application and the development of the land and they were delighted when the Council's Planning Committee and the Planning Inspector refused the application. However, our very own Ruth Kelly, Local Government Secretary, overturned the Planning Inspector's decision and gave the 'go-ahead' for building on the land up to 6 storeys high.

The DDC's deputation was supported by a motion from local Rotherhithe councillor Lisa Rajan. During the course of the debate on the motion it became clear that the Council's deadline for challenging Ruth Kelly's decision by judicial review proceedings has to be submitted by this Tuesday, 19th September. The decision on whether to issue proceedings lay with Paul Evans, the Director of Regeneration.
As the debate had centred on the erosion of local democracy the Labour Group decided to propose an amendment calling on the LibDem Tory Executive to hold a special meeting in order to consider taking the decision-making power back from Mr Evans so that the decision to issue judicial review proceedings would lie with the elected representatives of the borough.

I have to say that the LibDems and Tories were caught completely off-guard by our amendment - which was merely reflecting the debate and the legal advice which we had received - and reacted with incomprehensible anger. Cllrs Humphries and Thomas descended into incredibly pompous and partisan attacks on the Labour Group which must have left the Downtown campaigners utterly bewildered.

Although our amendment was rejected good sense has now prevailed - and amazingly, the LibDem Tory Executive will be meeting tomorrow (Monday) to decide whether to issue judicial review proceedings! Had Cllr Humphries taken a few moments to think on Wednesday rather than react in a knee-jerk way, our amendment may have passed. However, at least our objective has been achieved, and I hope that proceedings will be issued.

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