Last night saw an epic Full Council meeting in Brighton Town Hall… With about 90 amendments planned to go forward either from various individual parties or collectively from all the opposition parties together. Why so many? Because we were debating the ‘Core Strategy’ which is the document which defines our aims and visions for the city’s built environment over the next 10-15 years. It’s an important document which sets the shape development in the City should take.
All that being said, it’s only a part of the overall planning process, which includes local plans, masterplans for areas, supplementary planning documents and briefs plus the usual application process to the committee. So something being in this Core Strategy doesn’t guarantee that it will happen, but it certainly sets a direction of travel. (An appropriate turn of phrase given that the most contentious section by far was on transport!)
You’ll be relieved to know that I won’t be going through all the amendments here. I’m just going to highlight a few of particular interest to me, I expect others may well also blog their amendments of interest.
It has to be said that the Tories were not best pleased by the prospect of being outvoted by the opposition parties working together. So they kicked off the meeting with some pretty poorly chosen words attacking our joint working as somehow being undemocratic. If we could collectively agree issues and made up more of the council chamber than them, then surely that was exactly how representative democracy is supposed to work!
As was said many times in the long (very long) evening, if the Tories had taken the time and effort to involve the other parties much earlier in the process, many of the amendments might have been avoided — they could have been incorporated through consensus prior to the meeting. As a minority administration I’m astonished they thought they would be able to push through such a critical document without engaging with the other parties.
As the meeting wore on, it dawned on the Tories that they were going to have to get on with the job of collaborative working. Suddenly a 10 minute adjournment was called, which stretched to 90 minutes as the four party leaders went through the amendments and the Tories accepted a good number of them… except some of the critical ones about transport, of course, which they truly seem to be in denial about. Have they not seen the daily traffic jams and dire air quality reports?
Anyway I digress from my pet amendments which were all Green only amendments. They all related to plans for the Brighton Square and Churchill Square Area. In essence the plan is for Standard Life (owner of Churchill Square) to financially support the new Brighton Centre in return for being able to expand their shopping centre. My key amendment asked to delete the plans to add 20,000 square metres of retail space to Churchill Square. I don’t believe such space is needed, especially given the large number of vacant commercial properties across Regency Ward: In Churchill Square, Western Road, North Street, Ship Street etc. We don’t need more large chain stores and the retail study this plan is based on used wildly optimistic growth projections in population and disposable income which are already well out of kilter with reality and official predictions. Furthermore the Core Strategy on this part of the city absolutely fails to even mention residents — people actually live around there!
I was disappointed, but not surprised, to have that amendment ruled unsound by the planners. This meant it couldn’t be voted on because it would render the final document unsound in the eyes of a Government Planning Inspector and so would risk a central government plan being imposed on us instead of our own.
However two ‘sound’ Green amendments to help mitigate the growth of the Churchill carbuncle did get passed. These require additional car movements to be kept to the ‘minimum necessary’ and required ‘high quality public and sustainable transport facilities [to] serve new development’. Furthermore they add that ‘Car trips linked to large scale retail provision will be the minimum necessary.’
I had insisted on our amending language using ‘minimum’ instead of ‘minimise’ which is much softer and easier to talk around in my view. I hadn’t expected cross-party support for those amendments but we got it and they’re now in the Core Strategy. A win for Regency Ward I think.
Thanks to all the amendments we overall have a much better Core Strategy than it would otherwise have been. The process could have been less painful and chaotic on the night if the Tories had thought about their minority position more carefully instead of trying to brazen it out. It will take a Green council administration before we can really get the document where we want it to be though…