Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Councils split over mayor's control

Political cracks widened between councils in London this week as members of the Association of London Government were publicly revealed to be at loggerheads over the expansion of housing and planning powers for the capital's mayor.

Political cracks widened between councils in London this week as members of the Association of London Government were publicly revealed to be at loggerheads over the expansion of housing and planning
powers for the capital's mayor.

Ken Livingstone took the opportunity to highlight the split after he received a letter from Steve Bullock, ALG vice chair and leader of its Labour group, saying that an ALG document opposed to extending his powers
did not represent the association's view.

The document, which was published earlier this month, said that ‘local planning should be left to local communities [and] local councils are best placed to decide on local housing issues'.

‘Taking powers from London's 33 councils and giving them to regional government will reduce accountability and transparency,' it continued.

In his letter to Livingstone, Bullock said he understood the document was due to be officially launched last Friday and warned him that it did not represent the ‘settled view' of the ALG.

‘The agreed ALG position on the review of [Greater London Authority] powers expresses concern over the transfer of planning powers from boroughs, but the ALG Labour group does not have concerns over housing,' the letter said. ‘The document in question does not represent our settled view.'

Merrick Cockell, who became the first Conservative chair of the ALG after this year's local elections, had already steered the association on to a collision course with Livingstone after he said giving the mayor the ability to override councils' planning decisions would be a ‘retrograde step' (Inside Housing, 4 August).

In a press release that took the opportunity to highlight the spat, Livingstone said: ‘The ALG now stands
exposed as preferring to see major powers over housing in London retained by Whitehall civil servants instead of being exercised by the democratically accountable mayor of London, a stance that has created
divisions within the ALG itself.'

The ALG did not launch the document on Friday and a spokesperson said it was never the intention to do so.

But days after the mayor's statement, the association published the results of a survey that found that while 54 per cent of Londoners opposed proposals to award the mayor additional planning powers, only 27 per cent were in favour.

Cockell said in a statement: ‘The ALG believes that major decisions affecting a local community – particularly on issues like planning and housing – need to be taken within that local community, by people accountable to the local community, and not forced on them from City Hall.'

This week, London councillors were still split over the issue. Isidoros Diakides, Labour executive member for housing at Haringey Council, said that subject to ‘certain safeguards', the transfer of housing powers to the mayor would be a ‘good thing' because it would allow for a more strategic view when tackling issues such as homelessness.

Steve Bullock was unavailable for comment.

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