Thursday, 18 February 2010

A Tory taster of things to come and good news from Labour, but will anyone notice?

How long before a lot more 'to let' signs can be torn down in Lenton?
I saw this torn down collection of 'to let; signs at the Henry Road end of Devonshire Promenade. Someone, or a group, had obviously gone along and just ripped them all down, as the broken ends show. I don't what provoked those responsible to do this, but, given the recent news of tougher planning regulations for HMOs and shared housing in places like Lenton, it seems rather symbolic of what many of us would like to see happen from 1 April 2010 or ASAP after this date.

My first blog since 1 January 2010 (after a long bout of various ailments which left me tired) and I find myself thinking about a news item on BBC1's East Midlands Today lunchtime regional news programme. The Tories who now control Nottinghamshire County Council have announced that there will be another 1,000  job cuts on top of the 500 already announced. The Tories claim that by reducing staff levels and making services more efficient they can save £200m. The Tories say that compulsory redundancies will be kept to a minimum and that, by working working with other councils, even more savings can be made.

Labour, on the other hand, talks of 'efficiency savings' and avoids the word 'cuts'. I have absolutely no problem with running local councils (and central government) as cost effectively as possible. I can think of a good few ways in which Nottingham City Council could save money whilst delivering its services better. My 'hobby horse' in this respect is local empowerment by the creation of statutory, elected, community councils (urban parish councils). When I think of the money the City Council (and the Government) have wasted by using quangos (eg. One Nottingham, EMDA), the word 'chimera' comes to mind. I think it means something one hopes for and seems reasonable in itself, but will never actually happen.

I would normally regard myself as an optimist and tell myself that, as a Socialist, I cannot be anything else. Even though in my darker moments I think my vision of a Nottingham with lots of community councils  in charge of running and developing local services is my chimera, I still believe that with money and energy it could be achieved (I can, at long last, find the time). However, some things only happen after years of effort and commitment by a dedicated few and, when they do, remind you that anything is actually possible.

On 27 January 2010, John Healey, the Housing & Planning Minister announced 'changes to the planning rules, giving local authorities the powers to manage the development of HMOs in their area, in turn helping stem the growth of large pockets of shared homes - which can change the balance and nature of communities. The Minister said that he would legislate so the new rules would come into force by April this year. The changes mean that landlords will need to apply for planning permission in order to establish a new HMO with a change of use, for example when the use of a property is altered from a family home to a shared house, with three or more tenants who are not related'.

This change in Government thinking has taken over twenty years to achieve and Lenton has been at the centre of the campaign which finally resulted in what John Healey had to say on 27 January 2010.  Not least among our local heroes are Dave Trimble, Dunkirk and Lenton's city councillor, and Maya Fletcher , who helped found Nottingham Action Group to work for controls on HMOs and student housing in Lenton and other student areas in Nottingham, and the other person who makes up my Lenton triumvirate — Alan Simpson, our retiring Labour MP. Together and with the help of a few dedicated City Council staff, as well as similar areas in other towns and cities, notably Leeds at the start, they have worked wonders. I salute them all and hope that Lenton, as a community, will acknowledge what they have achieved on our behalf.

I am sure that Nottingham City Council will want to exercise it new powers as soon as possible. The devil, of course, is in the detail. How will the new rules relate to existing HMOs and planning permissions? Can the rules be used to help undo some of the damage already done? I am sure all will become clear before too long. For now, let's just enjoy the moment and repeat out thanks to Dave, Maya and Alan, as well as all the others who have worked with them to bring this change about.

This is just the latest piece of good news from our Labour Government in the midst of the continuing economic gloom, which they (and the Tories) are responsible for insomuch as both supported a lightly regulated banking and finance sector. However, the Tory response is even more pro-big business than Brown and Darling's approach. At least Labour realise that this is the very time when you need a strong and active public sector, able to provide jobs and new developments (the new Nottingham tram routes, new schools and talk of other capital projects, like railway electrification and new public housing). This approach helps the private sector just as much as it helps the poor and vulnerable.  

And what of the Tories? I began with a reference to their solution to economy's problems. Cuts now and more to come. A vote for a Tory in the forthcoming general election will be a vote in favour of punishing those not responsible for the mess the banks and their pals have created. You might wonder why no mention of the Liberals or the Greens. The former have a proven history of being opportunists who play to the fears of their audience and the latter, who have many policies I support, have done nothing in Lenton (nor have the Liberals). I hope the Green Party can get a few MPs elected. Of course, the voting system is unfair and needs changing and it is a blot on Labour's record that they failed to do anything about Roy Jenkins' proposals for voting reform in 1999, so we are stuck with what we have.  Whatever, the system, I will be voting for Lilian Greenwood, Nottingham South's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate.

Sir Nicholas Winterton, a veteran Conservative MP, hit out at the new expenses system in the House of Commons today, saying he is "infuriated" that MPs might no longer be able to claim for first-class travel on trains. He went onto complain that standard-class travellers are a "totally different type of people".

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