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I shall make a brief contribution to what is an important debate for London, which I am happy to take part in once again.
I agree with Heidi Alexander that the two biggest issues that affect my constituents and hers, and that fall directly or indirectly within the remit of local government, are jobs and housing. Most people are most concerned about those two issues most of the time. I am afraid that I come to this debate with long experience in this place. When I was first elected, Lady Thatcher’s Government had just set up urban development corporations throughout the country, of which the London Docklands Development Corporation was one. Indeed, that was the backdrop to my by-election, because my predecessor, Bob Mellish, was appointed as vice-chairman of the LDDC. That was not uncontroversial in Bermondsey, because people in general, and particularly those in the Labour party, did not think that a quango should be given the powers over Southwark, Newham and Tower Hamlets that the LDDC was given, so appointing a Labour MP to the LDDC was not consistent with Labour party policy.
That handover of powers to the UDCs was very controversial, because it meant that planning decisions were taken by a group of unelected people. It was possible to influence the people who took the decisions, but never possible to hold them directly accountable. I used to go to planning committee meetings following lots of community activity—they were not always in Southwark: sometimes, for major planning schemes in the Surrey docks or along the riverside, meetings were held at the LDDC in the Isle of Dogs or elsewhere—but communities often felt alienated afterwards. The legacy is the feeling of remoteness when decisions are not taken by locally elected representatives.
I am not saying that the local community comes away feeling deliriously happy after every local council planning committee meeting. I have seen enough local planning committees in Southwark over the years make controversial planning decisions—under Labour, Liberal Democrat and Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition administrations. However, at the end of the day, the public at least know that they can kick those people out at the next election if they want to do so. My premise, therefore, is that the starting point should always be accountable decision making, particularly on planning matters, and particularly on the big planning matters that “urban development” by definition implies. This is not about whether someone can have a bedroom in the mansard roof of a flat or house, or whether someone’s garage can be an extra bedroom; this is about schemes for industrial sites and other things on that scale.