Todays announcement by Boris and George that a future Tory Government will hand the Mayor of London greater planning powers and a new ‘London Land Commission’ will be established to deliver more development on brownfield sites, under measures outlined in a ‘long term economic plan’ for the capital, should be a matter all of us have an interest in. After all this decision to further increase an already Lopsided English Devolution means that the one part of England that is putting other parts in the shade, will simply increase its power, whilst no one appears to be arguing for greater powers for places like Surrey, Kent, Essex whose planning powers, and fiscal resources are incapable of matching the Mayor when he or she decides that waste, transport or housing should happen on the borders or perhaps even beyond the borders of the Capital. I recall my 7 years as one of the senior ‘Social, Environmental and Economic Partners’ within the South East England Regional Assembly. Although the Tories that dominated that body never stopped complaining about the fact that it had been imposed on them by a Labour Government, they were honest enough to admit that if they had been given the powers that the same Government handed to the Mayor, they would have been better placed to resist some of the excesses and demands of London’s Planning system. It was clear that when the Mayor asked to meet with SEERA and EERA as the two Regional Assemblies that surrounded London, that the relationship was not one of equals.
We can be clear that when the current Government raised the prospect of English Votes for English Laws, a cause currently being championed by people such as Crawley MP, Henry Smith, that there was absolutely no intention to use this devolution to allow some comparable powers for our region, that Boris greedily exercises on behalf of the Capital. The clear evidence of that is that it is MPs who are demanding EVEL in the context of denying votes to some of their number, not expanding the democratic franchise through the creation of regional senates or bodies. Henry Smith was in any case one of the most vocal critics of SEERA in Sussex, despite being a fully paid up member of it. We need some creative thinking on this, to ensure that the already dominant Mayor does not force his or her political way on the whole of the South of England. Sadly people like Henry won’t offer a meaningful alternative. We need some fresh thinking, in time for the next election!