Since 1999, theUnited Kingdomhas been testing a loose form of regional government and we inCrawleyare covered by the indirectly elected SEERA (South East England Regional Assembly). The assembly has a member from each of the 74 councils in the region alongside business, voluntary and environmental partner representatives. It has been responsible for regional planning, housing and transport.
As a representative on SEERA, I have seen how the institution is apparently regarded by its opponents and by the people who put us there – this government. Many people argue that councillors should not be there at all as indirectly elected representatives and that it is wrong for any non-local authority partners to have a vote in this forum. Opponents have therefore called for the winding up of SEERA and the other regional assemblies. At the same time, the government, as our creator, shows little confidence in SEERA’s abilities as the assembly is to be replaced in 2010.
This short-lived regional body will have its planning, housing and transport responsibilities transferred to SEEDA (South East England Development Agency), which already covers regional economic development. SEEDA is business-led and has no democratic mandate, not even an indirect one. This is a fine example of being careful what you wish for. Those people who wanted to abolish regional assemblies will have their dream come true but at the price of a creating a huge democratic deficit.
SEERA has created the South-East Plan which is supposed to guide the region’s sustainable development from 2006 to 2026. One of the key parameters is the projected rate of house building. This was 28,900 homes per annum in the draft plan. The figure has been progressively raised and is now 33,125 homes per annum with the government’s latest proposed changes. We have an increase of 14.6% on the carefully created draft plan at a time of serious economic downturn.
New mortgage approvals are down 65% over a year and new house starts are at a historic low. There are also changes to the government’s policy on inward migration and little confidence that the south-east will receive the necessary infrastructure investment alongside new housing. With these factors, it is difficult to see why we would plan such a massive expansion of house building unless forced to do so by central government edict.
Even this level of house building might not satisfy the government which has been pushing the eco-towns concept. This is fine in principle but the number of homes built must form part of the South East Plan figures and not be additional to it.
We are seeing the symptoms of a government that has been in power for too long and thinking that it alone knows best. This is shown by ignoring the SEERA view on housing numbers and then by removing democratic accountability from the regional planning process. When a government gets this controlling, it is time for it to go.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
20th October 2008