On October 31st, council representatives from East London, Essex and Kent met with business leaders and major developers at the Thames Estuary Growth Day event held at CentrED at the Excel Centre in Newham: Thames growth day an “opportunity for real, meaningful debate”. Out of interest, how many of you were aware of this? Probably not many of you because apart from the occasional regurgitated press release, a lot of this stuff seems to pass by the attentions of what’s left of an overstretched, understaffed local media that’s all too often in hock with the developers anyway.
How did we find out about this? A contact of ours tipped us off about this by sending the above 3 Fox International link to us. Who the heck are 3 Fox International? In their own words, this is part of what they’re about: Our job is to promote big development schemes, to raise the profile of the places in which they’re happening, to demonstrate the delivery of jobs and homes by the planning authority and to showcase the expertise and effectiveness of the development partners involved. As well as this, after a look through their website, it would seem that 3 Fox International are pretty well versed in the dark arts of peddling corporate bullshit.
This is just one of seemingly numerous high powered gatherings where councillors and council officers can hob nob with developers and business leaders well away from the beady eyes of us mere plebs: Keeping us out of the loop while Thurrock is put up for sale. On top of this, there are the councillors who work for consultancies in the pockets of property developers, one example being Cllr. Gavin Callaghan (Labour) who represents the Pitsea North West ward on Basildon Council: What a tangled web they weave.
Unless you’re a planning geek who has the time to track this stuff down, most ordinary folk living along the estuary all the way from East London right out to Southend and the Medway towns won’t have a clue all of this is going on. The first indication may be notice of a ‘consultation’ event where residents are invited along to comment on what is pretty much a done deal. Even with these events, it’s generally a small self-selecting subset of the overall population that attend and participate. For the vast majority of people, the first they’ll know about any major developments is when the bulldozers come in and the hoardings go up.
Most people see this level of regional planning as something that’s done to them and their communities. They see the ‘consultation’ events for what they are – tokenistic bullshit on what they know is a done deal. The argument that our local councillors are there to influence and temper the grandiose schemes of the developers falls apart when it starts to become clear that like the aforementioned Cllr. Gavin Callaghan, they’re working hand in glove with them. So when it comes to local elections, is it any surprise that turnout is so low? Of course it isn’t!
The problem is that with the level of cynicism there is about regional planning and local government, the siren voices of the reactionary political elements lurking in the shadows out along the estuary will be exploiting people’s legitimate concerns and feelings of powerlessness, twisting them to suit their own divisive agenda. Which means that in order to counter this, we often have to explain that what happens in London with social cleansing has a direct impact all the way out along the estuary and beyond: Booted out of Newham.
The best people to decide on what happens in terms of housing, employment opportunities, transport infrastructure and everything else we need for a decent, sustainable life in our communities are those of us who live, work, study and play in them. Seriously, it’s a no brainer! It’s the wisdom of the commons. It’s the aggregation of all of our experiences, concerns and aspirations. Sure, it will need to be facilitated by people with expertise in a range of areas but those experts would be our servants, accountable to us and not some faceless developer. Dream on the cynics may say. Well, what’s wrong with dreaming of planning that works for us because it’s driven by us? Sure, the profit driven developers and their numerous lackeys in the local authorities would hate it but for us ordinary folk, it would be brilliant.
The problem is that we are where we are. Stuck with a political, economic and social system that’s in hock to profit driven developers and corporations. Despite numerous attempts to astroturf the housing movement in London: Its not funny but it’s a joke: London’s housing activists, people have reached the end of their patience and are not prepared to stand by and watch their communities get smashed up by the developers without putting up a proper fight: #Deptford #London: Furious crowd encircle Lewisham mayor’s car and disrupt council meeting. Could there be hope for the future? The answer is that it’s down to you – if you’ve had enough of being dictated to by unaccountable planners and their lackeys in the councils, now is the time to act!