Leading workshop on ‘Democratic Local Planning’….
‘Democratic Local Planning’ is one of the four themes of the New Lucas Plan campaign.
The Lucas Plan sets out a plan for human-centred, socially useful production within one organisation, but this approach can be used to produce plans for new jobs for one local area, but it can be upscaled to city or regional scale, including plans for climate jobs.
Fifteen years ago I lived on a smallish, 1970s concrete, social housing development in Bath. It was a great location, just behind the Royal Crescent and a five minute walk to the city centre. The properties themselves were alright, but it was a bit ugly and there was an anti-social drugs and alcohol element in the area, alongside what was a strong, local community.
Residents were invited to planning meetings with developers who were going to pimp the estate with low level lighting, tree lights and pavement lights, planting and well-placed seating creating ‘rooms’ on the pedestrian areas.
We were taken on tours and shown where murals and water fountains would be.
This wasn’t what residents had asked for. But we were being “invested in”. It was cheese and it was unconvincing.
Then nothing. Nothing. No communication.
Residents who had not asked for this interest, were promised something they hadn’t really consulted on (encouraged affirmation is not consultation) –
And then ignored. Let down. Not valued. Not really. Left behind. Trust broken.
Earlier this year, Sage, the international software company, announced they were moving their global head office from Newcastle’s Great Park and relocating to a business park in North Tyneside.
Sage who have been based in purpose-built facilities on the edge of a nature reserve were the central pin of the Great Park, new town development, which was planned around its investment.
The buildings were built deliberately with pins put into the external walls to allow for building extensions in future, if needed.
The move was not driven by a lack of ground space or accommodation, but on finances and costs.
The move will transition over a couple of years and Sage have planned to protect their staff throughout, which is something, and a good thing, but …
The effects of this are huge and cross-political involvement failed to block the move.
The loss of money to Newcastle is in multimillions, which will now go to a different local authority. North Tyneside needs that money and will benefit but Newcastle has to withstand the loss.
The plans in Great Park for a local pub, local shops, budgets planned on 2000 office workers’ trade, struck low.
The artisan Friday night food vans, the community centre cafe, the netball and 5-aside teams that will move to North Tyneside too – the loss of income into local businesses and community organisations is tangible.
The distinctive, hideous actually, green, backlit logo ‘sage’ that luminates the development will be switched off. Des Res executive housing will be overshadowed by empty office space with its own, disused multilevel parking.
This thriving development will soon be tiring.
When Newcastle City Council was planning its parks and green spaces be moved to a Trust model of delivery, I was chairing Newcastle Parks Forum.
I attended a meeting led by an organisation called Social Finance, a London-based outfit undertaking financial planning activity.
They mooted suggestions of how and where income could be generated.
A suggestion they were clearly very pleased with was to enter a relationship between St James Park, the football ground and Leazes Park, the Victorian, listed park next to it.
Of course I responded. Strongly. As the people I represented would want and expect me to do.
Back in the 90s the football club wanted to buy huge tracts of this beautiful, city centre park to build a training ground.
This instigated a backlash, pulled the local community together to protect and develop the park with multimillions in Lottery funding.
There is a strong connection between people who live and work in the city with this beautiful park. There is strong community buy-in to retain this park for the people as its Victorian benefactor had intended.
But you would only know all this if you were local, if you had local knowledge. You can’t get that 300 miles away joining dots on a spreadsheet.
Last month I was at a conference talking about trade unions supporting student climate strikes.
I think student strikers should go their own way.
And I think trade unionists and seasoned campaigners should offer support, make suggestions, share learned experiences- but follow, not lead.
One student strike organiser was resistant to accepting the legal restrictions to workers imposed by the Trade Union Act 2016.
They considered everybody should be encouraged to strike, despite the law, and that individuals could take responsibility themselves for putting themselves at risk of possible disciplinary action, the sack and fines to their union.
That’s not what trade unions do. We don’t encourage risk-taking on a gamble with no legal protections and no safety net.
We don’t encourage isolation in individual action either –
The strength is in the collective, the working community.
This young adult did not lack intellect or comprehension – far from it.
But what they did have, was a different position with different wants, needs and responsibilities to workers and trade unions.
To implement plans based on democratic decision-making we need more involvement of people at local levels to develop and plan for the needs of the area, leading from national initiatives and targets, but using the knowledge and experience of local organisations.
Residents, workers, trade unions, stakeholders, small business, education, local organisations, young people, older people –
Need to be engaged, included and actively involved in local planning if it is to be properly democratised.
Equality impact assessments too, must be included to ensure the interests of protected groups have a voice at the table.
There needs to be a mechanism to mediate and negotiate different positions, accounting for different needs and interests without negating those of others.
Consultation, planning, financials, budgets, possible outcomes, delivery models and targets must all be shared openly.
Transparency is an absolute necessity.
The Lucas blueprint generates excitement because so much could be possible.
But. Excitement and possibility mean nothing without trust.
Trust is key to unlocking the potential to generate change. Change for the better.
Democratising local decision-making to the community builds values and value into the creation of a more equitable, more equal society.
And so some questions to kickstart discussion:
– How can we influence economic development in the places where we live?
– How can communities, workers, businesses and councils work together?
– How can we decentralise economic power and ownership?
– How can we create and support the types of work that meet society’s needs?”