I have read this thread with interest. Working in the property industry I have seen the kind of David and Goliath story currently being played out between Southwark Council and Berkeley Homes in other areas of London.
The analogy is well made. However Councillor Stanton is no “David”. Sadly Tony Pidgley has spent his life exploiting the weak leadership and lack of commercial and property experience of people like Stanton in local government and will win. Southwark News is right when it says they are probably sitting down right now behind our backs to “put their differences behind them…and try to fashion a compromise” In effect, this means that Pidgley will get what he wants even though he owns less than 50% of Potter's Field. Unfortunately for Southwark the poor calibre of its leadership is not even remotely capable of winning against Pidgley. As a consequence it is highly likely that Stanton will be forced into a humiliating climbdown on his alleged goal of a major Cultural use for Potter's Field.
Compare who is negotiating with Pidgley from Southwark's side of the table. I start with Stanton himself, a man who gave up his day job as a personal injury lawyer to earn as much as one of Tony Pidgley's bricklayers for the glory of working in a political job that nobody in the Council wants or has the time for - Leader of the dysfunctional Liberal Democrats. Then there's Richard Thomas who before becoming Executive Member for Regeneration was a lobbyist for a Cycling organisation. Neither of them has any serious commercial experience.
The Council's new Chief Executive Annie Shepperd (who earns three times as much as Stanton) is a former Civil Servant. Like Thomas and Stanton she has no real commercial experience. She has, however, recently re-organised the Planning Department to install Stephen McDonald, a Consultant who had worked with her previously. He is now Southwark's Head of Major Planning Projects at almost double her salary. McDonald is an Economist with little or no expertise in local planning matters.
On the other side of the table is Tony Pidgley. A Barnado's boy who got rich doing property deals. He eats the kind of people in Southwark's Leadership for breakfast and is ready to go and take a bite out of another Council by his mid-morning coffee break.
It's not just money and power that wins the day for Pidgley; it is the myopic obsession with local politics and lack of commercial experience of the people he deals with in local Government. Southwark's leadership has failed totally over the last 5 years to find ANY serious alternative to Pidgley's horrific residential scheme, particularly the mainly “Cultural” use for Potter's Field we all seek. Without an alternative it is now virtually guaranteed that Pidgley will manipulate Stanton and his team into accepting more money for Southwark's share of his Residential development of Potter's Field, ignoring the fact that there are plenty of other sites in Southwark for Berkeley Homes to use for housing. Stanton will, of course, try to save face by getting some re-design of the Daleks and a little more affordable housing that Pidgley will happily give him. Stanton will have lost and Pidgley will have won.
Southwark's weak leadership is notorious and the Borough has an appalling reputation for indecision in London's planning and property circles. No wonder Pidgley believes he can walk all over them. Councillor Stanton has to finally and publicly stand up to Pidgley and make it clear that Southwark will not be bullied by him or anyone else into doing a deal for residential exploitation of Potter's Field. We own the majority of the site, IT IS OUR LAND; it should be used for the MAINLY CULTURAL USE specified in our UNITARY DEVELOPMENT PLAN recently approved by Ruth Kelly. If Southwark can't afford to do it then we should sell it to someone who can!
I got involved in local politics on the Rockingham Estate a couple of years ago because of the council's plans to build next to our adventure playground, and was shocked to see how few of our elected representatives actually wanted to represent our interests.
I got more involved and the only help I got was from Green Party activists and Jenny Jones, who basically told me to get off my arse and fight, because no-one can do it for me.
So I did and my minor victories include helping to stop the building on our estate and getting the fingerprint technology removed from my daughter's school.
I stood in the local elections as a Green beating the tories, and am standing against Simon Hughes whenever the General elections are called.
What I want to say though, is no matter what your political opinions, you need to get off your arses and get active. How can you leave all these decisions to others and then complain when they look after their own interests and not yours.
Join a political party (hopefully the Greens!) and stand yourself. Take back the power we have given to these 'leaders' and become active in the fight against this kind of greed and the passive spectator politics that make it possible.
You do realise that Cllr Stanton et al are only in power because they did a deal with the devil, I mean the tories, so you have to expect more policies friendly to investors and business and developers and it is only thanks to the supposed 50% rule that you get any affordable housing etc. Potters Field is not going to be built over nor is it going to be come inaccessable to local residents. Certain locals are scare-mongering. But as the Rockingham Estate resident realises, to get anything done you need to be pro-active and prepared, fight for everything you can as many of your local cllrs have been hobbled by the libdem-conservative alliance.
Could I remind people here that the vast majority of planning decisions in the Borough are taken by a committee made up of all political parties.
Between us we have considerable experience in many difference sectors. I come from a design background, others from business and Cllr Nardell from the Labour Group is a Barrister specialising in Planning Issues.
If you care to attend a meeting (normally a Tuesday evening) you will find that we put a lot of time, care and attention into all planning applications that come before us.
I speak here for myself, but I am sure it is the case with other committee members: I sit on the Planning Committee because I care about what building takes place in Southwark. I don't want to see bad design, anymore than the rest of the community.
Fighting planning applications was what got me involved in politics in the first place. Please don't think we are all on the side of the developers - we're not, we are on the side of getting the best deal that we can for present and future residents of this Borough. This includes fighting for at least 35% affordable housing and making sure that historic buildings and open spaces are protected and new developments perform and look good for future generations.
Sadly, planning law is such that we somtimes find our hands tied and have to pass things we aren't totally happy with. Appeals are extremely expensive to fight and we have to pick and choose what is worth spending the council taxpayers money on trying to win.