Saturday, March 29, 2008

The vultures are circling...

the beast rears its ugly heads...
As Matt Smith memorably wrote, a 'two-headed beast' is running the city now we have a Lib-Lab pact in Southampton.
Yet all is not well, my spies tell me. Opinion is divided on wheather the current Labour and indeed the Council's leader will keep her seat in the forthcoming local elections. Regardless of if she holds her seat or not, I am told she will face a leadership challenge in May.
A combination of the dispossed and the never possessed will, I am told, combine to force her out from within her own group.
Apparently there is an unholy alliance made up of those Labour members who opposed the coalition in the first place, those who oppose Cllr Bridle for long-forgotten political reasons, often dating back to when she last ran the council and those who are ambitious and feel that they are unlikely to secure a seat in cabinet while it remains in her gift. The last group are perhaps the most dangerous for they have their noses rubbed in it every time they attend a scrutiny meeting and see the likes of Lib-Dems like Cllr David Beckett enjoying the fruits of office. Apparently there is real anger that she did not have the foresight to resist Lib-Dem demands that not only should they proportionally have a certain number of seats but also that they should decide what those position in the cabinet those seats should occupy.
As Robert Harris once said, the only leaders Labour loves is dead ones...

Planning issues...

An artists impression of the new proposed Sainsbury's on the site of the Portswood Bus Depot
-an application of much interest

One of the most enjoyable and interesting jobs I've had since being elected has been to sit on the Planning & Rights of Way Panel of Southampton City Council. I have to say the quality of the panel members varies enormously- some like me clearly read the papers prior to the meetings and go and visit the sites- others, from the questions they ask, I am not so sure...

The other interesting thing is panel members priorities and the weight they give specific issues in making their deliberations. for example Cllr Sue Blatchford is a very experienced, hard-working and articulate panel member- but seems obsessed with the green and sustainability issues of applications, the siting of refuse areas and doesn't seem nearly so concerned with the impact new developments will have on existing communities. For myself, I seem to bang a very lonely drum for the importance of good quality urban design and the need for new developments to fit into the context of there surroundings...

Anyway all that is by the by. I write an occassional newsletter on planning issues for the interest of Residents Associations- reproduced below is my latest copy.

Southampton Planning Update Spring 2008
Personal Reflections on Planning & Development Issues
from Councillors Matthew Dean & Jeremy Moulton

DCLG to launch pilot reviewing planning controls of HMOs in Southampton
After much lobbying by the previous Council’s administration, Residents Associations and officers, the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) has agreed to run a consultative workshop discussing issues arising from the prevalence of large numbers of HMOs in certain parts of the city. On April 2nd, Council Officers, representatives from the private housing sector, a Residents Association will meet members from the DCLG to discuss planning law and how it might usefully be reformed to protect and enhance local communities.

Oakmount Conservation Area
On Monday 17th March the Oakmount Triangle character appraisal and neighbourhood design statement was approved by Cabinet.
This marked the conclusion of a long drawn out process that had taken over twelve months from conception to conclusion and was only achieved by the persistence of residents in driving the issue forward. The new design statement will greatly protect the area from unsuitable developments, being a statutory document that must be considered when all new planning applications are considered in the locality.

New Conservation Team
The job specification has been produced for a new Conservation Team Leader and was signed off by the Council’s Head of Planning & Sustainability on the 25th March. This means that the department will start the recruitment process in April. As a significant strengthening of the Council’s capacity in this area, one of the first jobs of the new Conservation Team Leader will be to appoint a new Conservation Officer. Jeremy Moulton commented, “For many years the council has been far too reactive, only responding to new planning applications as they are submitted by developers. Matt Dean & I want to see the creation of more conservation areas in appropriate areas of our city and for the conservation team to review which structures are listed in Southampton; too many old or interesting buildings seem to have slipped through the net”.

Now the Lab-Lab pact wants to consider charging you for parking outside your own home!

At the first Lib-Lab cabinet meeting since taking control in February, the administration announced plans to consider charging residents for parking outside their houses. Jill Baston, Cabinet member for planning and transportation, was reported as saying in The Echo: "We will be looking at ways of making residents' parking self-funding. Many other cities charge for all residents' parking permits so this is one option we will be considering."
Local Conservatives have announced their strong opposition to the scheme.

Local Development Framework Core Strategy Submission Document withdrawn once again…
The Local Development Framework core strategy
was withdrawn for consideration by full council on the 19th March following further concerns being raised by central government. Southampton was the first Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH) authority to submit its draft LDF and was felt to be ahead of the game but has had to substantially rewrite the drafts of its LDF on two occasions at the bequest of central government. At the last stage of the process when Southampton’s LDF was considered by the Government Office for the South East of England (GOSE) in September, they seemed happy with the general thrust of the document but felt it was generally too long and detailed and that the spatial vision and strategic objectives needed to be set out more clearly. However, the position seems to have changed markedly since then. The indications are that the LDF if submitted by Southampton in its current form would now be rejected due to a fairly serious moving of the goalposts- and that is before the Planning Inspectorate has had a look at it!
It seems the key points of issue are that Officers have not produced a detailed ‘infrastructure plan’ outlining where and how Southampton’s infrastructure supporting developments would be realised and interestingly a concern about house numbers. There is a suspicion that government is keeping its powder dry as the new Planning Bill works it way through parliament. Certainly the feeling at the council is that it is a bit late in the day to start asking for such things given the hoops the LDF has already had to jump through. It seems the way forward will be a fairly high level meeting between Council Officers and Senior Civil Servants to resolve the issues. Certainly if the situation continues to drag, the implications for Southampton could be quite serious- no LDF means no real new planning framework for developers to work to. Although the current core strategy was adopted in 2006, most of the data stretched back to 2000. No core strategy also means no new core strategy documents which is potentially serious in Southampton where the council has aspirations to use ‘Section 106’ monies more flexibly and to develop policies such as the protection of family housing via the issuing of supplementary planning guidance.

We will update you of progress or otherwise next issue…

If you fancy a change in Southampton, the Conservatives are the only game in town...

"I'm an optimist. But I'm an optimist who takes my raincoat"
remark attributed to Harold Wilson

Rain truely stopped play for me today in terms of campaigning for the local elections. Despite getting up early this morning and sorting out all my business related stuff (never easy if you have been working 'till 2am!), I have achieved remarkably little today apart for preparing for tommorow...
One thing the rain did allow me to do however is reflect on the political scene in Southampton. The new Lib-Lab pact are confident that they will remain in control after May's local elections as the Tories have an electoral mountain to climb. To form outright control the Conservatives will need to win between extra 6 and 7 seats in addition to holding all of those they currently represent.
The reason I say between 6 and 7 is that 6 is the number we will need to form an administration in the first year (as we shall have the casting vote of the conservative Mayor after May in the event of a tie) and 7 the year after when the Mayor will probably be Lib-Dem.
Obviously we will look to increase our representation where we currently hold some but not all seats so targets include Swaythling and Sholing (where the Labour leader of the Council is up for election). The smart money seems to be on us holding Millbrook from a Lib-Dem threat (their candidate has just resigned, reportedly in disgust at the Lib-Lab pact) and Bassett. Labour meanwhile must have Coxford on their sights, given they took one of the 3 seats off the Lib-Dems last year. That leaves the Conservatives the largest party but 4 seats short of an overall majority and next year is a 'rest' year as each ward in Southampton has 3 Councillors, one elected per year, each for a four year term with one year fallow...
Hopeless? A reason for pessimism if you are a Conservative? Not at all! The polls have never looked so good from a Conservative perspective since I've been involved. It must terrify Labour that the Tories have not only been consistently ahead for nearly two years, but have also now been scoring 40 per cent or more for the past six months, a feat unmatched by the party since the halcyon days of Thatcherism two decades ago. Although low turnouts can skew results (and Labour has a formidable campaigning organisation via the trade unions and its two taxpayer funded MPs), they are not invulnerable to them.
The Lib-Lab administration is making some big mistakes too- charging people to park outside there house is not exactly a vote winner!
The other issue one has to consider after May is that of defections. Who says the Lib-Lab pact is going to continue to find universal support from its membership after May? Who says that indeed the pact itself will survive?
These are interesting times. One thing is for sure though- if anyone fancies a change to the way the way the council conducts itself in Southampton, the Conservatives are the only game in town.

Hypocrites and accusers

Today the Daily Echo have published a letter from Alan Whitehead MP; here is his letter in full and my reply to him;

Dear Sir,

LAST week the Echo ran a story about a national Conservative campaign to accuse all Labour MPs who had objected to Post Office closures in their constituency of hypocrisy, since they had voted against a Conservative motion in the House of Commons calling for a temporary halt to closures.

The accusation against me was based on the fact that I had responded to the consultation sent out by the Post Office proposing to close four post offices in my constituency.

I looked at the criteria they set out for the service levels after the proposed closure and concluded that in one instance people would not in reality have a Post Office within a mile of their homes, and in two other instances even if they did, it would be very difficult to use such alternatives because of obstacles such as dual carriageway roads between them and the proposed alternatives.

advertisementFurthermore, the post office had closed a branch (Aldermoor) when a franchisee left, and had not even consulted about its permanent closure. Whilst I believe the post office Network needs to be economically viable nationally, I didn't think the proposed closures fitted into the post office's own criteria, and this was why I objected.

What emerged during this debate though, was that Conservatives were not prepared to commit themselves to any funding to keep post offices open, agreed with the idea that the national Post Office Network needed to be economically viable, and worse still would not even commit themselves to continue the Governments £1.7 billion of support for the network that is currently being paid. In other words, if Conservatives were in Government, far more post offices would be under threat than is presently the case.

In the light of this, the hypocrites here seem to be the accusers, rather than the accused!

Alan Whitehead, MP Southampton, Test.


Dear Letters Editor,

If Alan Whitehead objects to being called a hypocrite (Echo Letters 29 March), he may wish to consider being more a little more consistent.

Alan Whitehead is a man who lectures on the dangers of child obesity, yet as the register of members interests shows, accepts corporate hospitality from McDonalds. He is opposed to nuclear power, yet supports a government that are pledged to support the building of a new generation of nuclear reactors. Alan Whitehead is a man who sits on the board of a power company and then complains in parliament about fuel prices. And lest it be forgotten, Alan Whitehead is a man who sits on the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee yet recently had to be stopped distributing political campaigning literature about speed limits to schoolchildren.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that some people think it is a little hypercritical that Mr Whitehead campaigned to save Post Offices locally but chose not to vote to save them in parliament under pressure from Labour Party Whips?

What Southampton needs are strong local MPs who will fight for our interests in parliament, not new Labour careerists on the make.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Dean.