Freedom for Tooting?

As the Christmas party season hoves into calendar view, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles’ civil servants could be forgiven for giving more consideration to their dancefloor moves than London governance structures.  But not for nothing did he announce a laundry list of proposed devolutionary measures today, as part of the forthcoming and keenly anticipated Localism Bill (as assembly member Caroline Pidgeon wrote earlier this month).  The list of measures, developed in tandem between the GLA and London Councils, includes:

    • devolution of executive powers over housing investment from the Homes and Communities Agency to the Greater London Authority (GLA) so it can be fully aligned with the Mayor’s own funding pot and the London Housing Strategy;
    • abolition of the London Development Agency, with its city-wide roles on regeneration and management of European funding to be transferred to the GLA;

  • new powers for the Mayor of London to create Mayoral Development Corporations, such as to help secure East London’s Olympic legacy, in partnership with London Boroughs;
  • London Boroughs being given control over more of the major local planning decisions that affect their local communities, with the Mayor only considering the larger planning applications in future;
  • streamlining consultation on Mayoral strategies, so there is a single environmental strategy. The London Assembly will also gain the power to reject the Mayor’s final strategies by a two-thirds majority.

The government also heralded its Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill today, which contains measures to introduce the office of elected Police Commissioner to replace police authorities outside of London and give this power to the Mayor within the Metropolitan Police District (with a committee of the London Assembly performing the function of Police and Crime Panel reserved for local authority representatives outside the capital).  The Bill also provides for “police and authorised officers of the Greater London Authority and Westminster City Council powers to prevent encampments and other disruptive activity on  Parliament Square so that the public are not prevented from accessing or enjoying this site of national importance.” Cue Brian Haw for Mayor in 2012, I reckon.  Sadly, however, Boris will have to wait a little longer before he can get his hands on the St James’ Park sprinkler system, as legislation to transfer the Royal Parks to the GLA will be handled separately, it was announced.

Speaking of Big Society localism and London governance, The Guardian notes the emergence of a number of local campaigns for elected community councils in the capital, ranging from Kilburn to Wapping.  Having edited the LondonSays discussion paper on parishes in the capital and spent yesterday immersed in networked neighbourhoods at the Capital Ambition conference on community-based web platforms which have had the effect of promoting much-vaunted social capital, neighbourliness and offline capacity building, it’s reassuring to see their real world traction rather than just reports left to gather dust.