Archive for the 'Planning' Category

Opposition stifle supermarkets debate at Council meeting

At Thursday’s Full Council meeting, opposition Green and Labour councillors voted to curtail my speech during a debate on the growing impact of multinational retailers in Brighton & Hove – an issue of great importance to the City.
The sponsor of the petition – a Labour candidate – was criticising us for not doing enough to address the problem. However, when I listed all the actions that the Council and the Government were doing the opposition clearly didn’t like it!
The opposition green and labour groups are always accusing my Administration of not being open and transparent but if this is how they behave, I would hate to think what they would be like if they ever took control of the Council.
There was a similar situation at the recent Budget Council meeting when the Convenor of the Green Group responded to the amendments which my Group had put forward. He said that he liked our amendment but couldn’t support it because it was being put forward by Tories – who he has previously described as ‘doing the devils work’.
I think it is about time that they stopped being so childish. We were having an important debate about a huge issue in this City – you would think that they might want to hear what the Leader of the Council had to say! For information and clarity, here is the full text of my speech:
  • I’m very pleased to be able to respond to this petition on behalf of the Administration as this is a cause which I am very committed to.
  • I would just like to say at the outset that although I clearly support the sentiments behind it, I am slightly disappointed in the wording of the petition. This campaign is not just about keeping Brighton unique. It is the City of Brighton & Hove and the same issues apply across the whole City – and that also includes Portslade.
  • But I would just like to outline some of the work that this Administration has been doing on this issue for some considerable time now.
  • We all know that one of the main reasons that so many visitors and shoppers come to Brighton & Hove is because of its diverse and interesting range of shops and facilities. Brighton & Hove is most definitely not a ‘clone town’ and we must keep it that way.
  • There are currently 56 major supermarket stores in the City and whilst, clearly there is a significant demand amongst residents for the services they offer, I feel we are rapidly approaching saturation point.
  • This has incredibly serious implications, not only to the individual retailers and traders themselves, but also to the wider economy of the City as a whole.
  • Mr Mayor there is both a national and a local angle to this. I have been consistently lobbying central Government about giving councils greater powers to determine the best mix of retail in their areas because I genuinely believe that we are better placed than the civil servants in Whitehall to assess this.
  • For example, under current legislation, we are not allowed to prevent a supermarket moving into an existing shop, regardless of whether or not the local community want it there. Exactly the situation which is happening with the Taj now in St. James Street. I believe that this needs to change.
  • So I was very pleased to see last week in a response to a question in Parliament by Simon Kirby MP that the Government is going to be reviewing the whole planning framework around this in the Summer. And we will certainly keep up our lobbying to ensure that Brighton & Hove’s concerns are taken into account during this process.
  • I’m also pleased to see that the Government announced last week that it is going to publish a Bill in May which will pave the way for the establishment of a new ‘Supermarkets Ombudsman’ which was the main recommendation of the recent Competition Commission Inquiry into the power of large retailers. Again, I shall be lobbying, through our local MPs, to ensure that this new body has real teeth and is able to address the issues that we are facing in Brighton & Hove. I think this is a really positive step forward.
  • It is also true to say that Labour don’t have a great record on this. It was the Labour Government which changed national planning rules on retail development (through Planning Policy Statement 4) and scrapped the so-called ‘needs test’ which significantly weakened council’s ability to stop unwanted out-of-town supermarket development.
  • Moving onto the local angle. A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a conference called Streets Ahead which brought together local traders, supermarkets, campaign groups and Council officers to discuss how we can best protect and enhance the unique character of Brighton & Hove’s retail sector.
  • It was very useful and productive to get everyone in a room together, not only to listen to people’s concerns, but also to map out a way forward.
  • I agreed to set up a special commission on retailing to consider these issues which will include representatives from the various retail sectors in the city, alongside independent experts and the Council.
  • At the event, local traders gave us some very useful examples of things that we could do better and I hope that the new Commission will be able to consider and implement these as well as some other useful practical measures.
  • We are also, of course, continuing to promote our high profile ‘Be Local Buy Local’ campaign and will continue to look at any other ways of ensuring that residents and visitors recognise the many benefits of buying local produce and goods.
  • However, I do think that we need to sound a note of caution. The last thing that I want is for this to turn into a battle between chainstores and independents – this would not be beneficial to anyone. Supermarkets do provide a service that many people in the City use – they are convenient for families who lead busy lives and they and provide a huge range of foods at relatively cheap prices. At a time when everyone’s budgets are stretched this is not something we should take lightly.
  • So, to conclude, Mr Mayor, we welcome this petition as a reflection of people’s genuine concerns around the increasing dominance of large chain stores in Brighton & Hove. We will continue to highlight this as an issue and to take action where we can and we look forward to working closely with the new local Commission to ensure that this City retains its unique attraction for residents and visitors alike.
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Forget about housing on Saltdean Lido!

Here is the text of a press release which we have just released about the future of Saltdean Lido:

 

Saltdean Lido - copyright Simon Carey and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

 

“Homes will never be built at the Lido” – Council Leader

‘Summit’ on attraction called

A large development of homes will never be built on the site of Saltdean Lido.

That is the strong message from Brighton & Hove council leader Mary Mears.

Councillor Mears is responding to concerns among residents at proposals by the leaseholder to build more than 100 flats on the site.  No formal planning application has ever been made.

Cllr Mears points out that the council is both the freeholder of the site and the local planning authority.  In either role, she says, the council would not allow any development which would damage the historic setting.

Cllr Mears said:  “I want both the leaseholder and residents to forget about the idea of putting significant amounts of housing on this site.  It is a complete non-starter.  The council will never allow it.

“Instead, I am going to call a meeting shortly between the Save Saltdean Lido campaign, the Saltdean Community Association who sublet it, plus experts and lawyers from the council.  The aim would be to see how we can protect the Lido as a listed building and make it a permanently viable attraction.

“The current leaseholder is in dispute with the council over a number of issues.  He needs to understand we will not back any major development plans and he needs to negotiate about the Lido’s future accordingly.”

The government recently awarded the Lido a ‘star’ listing, upgrading it from its existing Grade 2 listed status.

Cllr Mears said:  “The reason we backed that star listing application was to give the building extra protection from the kinds of proposals we were hearing.  As a starred building, English Heritage would also have to approve any development.”

Cllr Mears says she expects invitations to the private meeting with residents’ representatives to be sent out in the next few days.

Officials say that there are various legal complications currently barring progress with the Lido, which they cannot lawfully make public.  Cllr Mears added the authority was however “continually trying to make progress over the issue behind the scenes.”

Localism – huge opportunities for communities

I was lucky enough to get an invite to a reception at Downing Street on Monday with other council leaders to discuss with the Prime Minister the Government’s proposals to give more power to local communities and councils. History is one of my great interests and so it was fascinating to see inside Number 10 where so many historical events and visits have taken place over the years!

The new powers for local communities are contained within the new Localism Bill – more information on which can be found here. I believe that there are some truly radical provisions within the Bill which will help to lay the foundations for the Big Society by transforming the relationships between central government, local government, communities and individuals. It aims to strengthen local democracy by handing new powers down to councils, establishing powerful new rights for local people to take on community assets, overhauling the planning system as well as making housing decisions fairer and supporting local business.

I very much hope that these changes will put an end to the hoarding of power within central Government and the top-down control of communities – something which has happened for many years under successive Governments. I am confident that they will allow local people the freedom to run their lives and neighbourhoods in their own way – something which I hope everyone would agree is a huge step forward.

Brighton Marina – clarification

A story which appeared in Tuesday’s Argus newspaper claimed that discussions were going on ‘behind the scenes’ between Brighton & Hove City Council and Explore Living over their proposals to redevelop part of the Marina. I would like to make it clear to residents in the area that this is categorically not the case.

As far as I am concerned, the decision back in July by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, to dismiss Explore Living’s plans is the final word on this matter. They are, of course, entitled to submit a fresh application but as yet, I am not aware that one is forthcoming.

Undoubtedly, the Marina is a very important site for future development, for providing housing and employment, and we are looking forward to working with developers who can offer a first class scheme that will work well for the area. Our aim is to make sure that the regeneration of the Marina enhances the site and is of lasting benefit to residents. This will form the basis of any future negotiations about the site.

A Rare Blow Struck Against the Supermarkets

I was delighted to read a week or so ago that North Norfolk District Council (and a local farmer called Clive Hay-Smith), had combined forces to prevent Tesco moving into the centre of the market town of Sheringham.

The issue of multinationals and their impact on local economies is one we cannot afford to ignore. Here in Brighton & Hove we are quite rightly nationally renowned for our sheer number and variety of small independent retailers, and if even half of these disappeared our economy would be in real trouble. Therefore, I think it is vitally important that local politicians stand up and make a statement on this issue wherever possible.

I would be the first to recognise the benefits that the Tesco and Sainsburys of this world have brought to consumers over the years in terms of improved choice and value for money. However, I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the growing influence that they are exerting in Brighton & Hove and, indeed, across the country as a whole. For example, we are seeing an increasing number of smaller ‘Express’ style stores popping up across the City which invariably apply for late licenses to sell alcohol. Well, in common with many towns and cities across the country we have a real problem with alcohol-related health problems and anti-social behaviour and in my opinion, the last thing we should be doing is making it easier for people to get hold of cheap (and strong) drink.

And just yesterday, we saw that Sainsbury’s tried to get away with installing a new shop frontage on their Western Road store before getting planning permission from the Council. We have told them to go away and think again but this is by no means the first time that this sort of thing has happened.

I have been involved in local politics for many years now and I am increasingly getting a real sense of power and control draining away from local communities, of someone else pulling the strings – whether that is central Government, the EU, regional quangos or large multinational companies.

As a Conservative, I believe very strongly in the localist principle that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the people affected by them. North Norfolk District Council has struck a rare blow for local democracy, for the powerless against the powerful. I hope that it is the first of many more to come.