Select Committees exist to provide a detailed review of all government activity. There is a Select Committee which scrutinises each of the Government Ministries. Select Committees are “cross-party” i.e. the membership includes representatives from all of the main political parties. Government policy is formulated exclusively by the party in power. The Select Committee reviews that policy in detail and reports its findings to the House of Commons.
HRA’s participation in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s investigation was preceded by the government’s proposals – a three page overview of a much larger White Paper. The government has a statutory obligation to consult the general public on many of its proposals. The consultation can take many forms such as inviting comments using emails or submitting a paper listing various areas of agreement and disagreement, but the most popular method is for the government to survey interested parties by asking specific questions about specific proposals within a White Paper. HRA responded to a survey on the planning proposals. The reason why this format is popular with government is because the Government Department can control what questions are asked and prevent responses from going off-piste or raising issues that the government does not want to be raised. The government effectively “manipulates” the public response to ensure that government policy is implemented.
The government’s planning proposals are intended to prevent local democracy being exercised in respect of new planning developments. Currently Local Planning Authorities such as the London Borough of Hounslow decide whether new developments should be allowed. The proposals would move the control of what can be developed to central government. Of course Central Government will have no idea about the implications of say building 1,900 houses on the Cavalry barracks site. This is why the planning White Paper should matter to everybody who is concerned that their locality is developed in an appropriate way. If the proposals in the White Paper become legislation then in ten years’ time there will be lots of complaints about the impact of new local developments on the existing community, and lots of complaints about those affected not being consulted. By then it will all be too late because the general public will have given away its right to participate in local planning decisions.