At last night’s Redbridge Council meeting, the ruling Labour Group took the axe to local democracy in the Borough by abolishing the seven Area Committees and the three Regional Planning Committees.
Labour went ahead with this measure even though Area Committees provided opportunities for residents to see your councillors in action, to have your say when local decisions are made, and for the local councillors to take decisions and allocate resources for local projects.
Labour complain that Area Committees were poorly attended by the public, but they were extremely well attended compared with other Council Committee meetings and even full Council meetings – are they going to abolish those too?
Labour’s proposal for ‘Local Forums’ to replace the Area Committees was circulated only hours before the Council meeting, in a poorly drafted and muddled report. It looks as though these forums will be only ‘talking shops’ as they will have no decision-making powers, and there will only be a meeting local to South Woodford once or at most twice a year.
The real decisions will be taken behind closed doors by a small group of councillors in Ilford. Indeed the Leader of the Council has passed these local decisions over to officers, who will simply consult with a few councillors before going ahead. There will be no opportunity for local residents to see these decisions being made, or to have your say at the time.
It seems likely that most of the types of projects that were funded by Area Committees, such as highways schemes including pedestrian crossings, extra street cleaning, grants to local organisations, and anti-crime measures, may be cut by Labour.
Regional Planning Committees
Labour has agreed that more planning applications should be decided by planning officers, not by elected councillors. Those applications that do go to Committee will all be dealt with at Ilford Town Hall – which many local residents will find a lot more inconvenient than a meeting in Wanstead or Woodford. The councillors taking the decisions will not all know the local area very well. And the sheer number of applications at a single committee may mean very late finishes, with many applications considered only briefly before decision. The opportunity for either applicants or objectors to have their point of view heard and considered properly could at risk.
During the debate Labour’s Leader said that most councillors were “not qualified” to make planning decisions, and that these should be left to officers because they had qualifications and had gone to university. He appears not to understand the principles of democracy whereby the Borough’s residents VOTE for the people they want to take decisions on their behalf, and that councillors bring an independent perspective from the staff employed by the Council. No-one votes for the council officers no matter how well qualified they might be!
Liberal Democrats have always championed area decision-making, with local decisions taken by local councillors, in front of local residents entitled to have their say. We believe that democracy must be truly local if it is to work at all.
Cllr Ian Bond said: “This is a dark day for Redbridge residents, and a shameful decision by Labour councillors. Residents should have the right to see local decisions being made, and to have their say, and it is outrageous that all these decisions will now be taken in a bunker at the Town Hall.”
Labour’s decisions to centralise power will be bad for the Council and bad for Redbridge. But the Liberal Democrats will continue to speak out and fight for our residents at every opportunity.
The local paper reports are here and here.