Bad news for Paul Scott, the de facto chair of Croydon’s planning committee. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party wants to introduce local planning “juries”.
Scott has firmly rejected the notion of having more localised committees to consider planning matters – doubtless because it would see him cede his iron-grip control over planning in the borough.
“The council has already rejected the idea of area committees,” Scott wrote in typically dismissive style to a resident recently. “They don’t work as you describe and hardly any councils have them (a handful across the whole country).”
Awks. Now it appears that such planning juries could become Labour Party policy.
The idea is one of a raft of land policy initiatives being considered in order to address what it described as “many of the problems and injustices of British society”. Surprising to some in Croydon, Scott himself does not get a direct mention on that list.
The Land For The Many report, commissioned by the Labour leadership and written by a group of academics, economists and land experts, suggested that the planning system often took too much account of loud voices, “especially those of the most privileged”. Like architects and multi-million-pound developers, for instance.
Instead, the authors have suggested that “jury service for planning” could be a step towards energising and diversifying local engagement in the system.
“Just as we believe it is important for criminal juries to be socially representative, the way we use our land should have input from all parts of society,” the report said.
You can imagine Scott almost choking over his breakfast cornflakes in one of the two homes he owns together with his partner, Alison Butler, Croydon’s council cabinet member for housing who has failed to deliver a single new council home in five years.
Where this is especially politically embarrassing for Labour in Croydon is that the idea of localised planning committees has recently been suggested by Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South, whose constituents are particularly exercised by some of the decisions being made by Scott’s Town Hall planning committee.
“Juries for plan-making would be comprised of local people selected at random. They would participate in designing local and neighbourhood plans at the earliest possible stage,” Labour said this week.
The report’s authors include George Monbiot, the prominent environmentalist, and Guy Shrubsole, an activist from Friends of the Earth who has campaigned against the lack of transparency in Britain’s land ownership.
The authors argue that the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a relatively small number of landowners has worsened various social problems such as economic inequality, the housing crisis and environmental degradation. Since 1995, the value of land in Britain has increased from about £1trillion to more than £5trillion, the report said.
The proposals suggest publishing all information about land ownership, including the identities of beneficial owners; introducing a community right-to-buy based on the Scottish model, and introducing compulsory sale orders that would allow councils to force the auction sale of land left vacant or derelict for a long period.
Companies which own land in the UK through offshore structures would face an Offshore Company Property Tax under plans first set out in the 2017 Labour manifesto.
The report also backed Labour’s plans to amend the Land Compensation Act to allow councils to buy land at prices closer to its current use value, rather than its potential future residential value.
Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said a Labour government would be committed to tackling the “broken system of land ownership” to deliver a shift in wealth and power from the few to the many.
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