Localism? Only when the Minister says so

The Minister for Housing and Local Government, Grant Shapps, has it seems stepped into the debate up in Liverpool about whether to demolish the early home of ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, where Starr lived for three months (the home he mostly grew up in will remain intact).

The house in question, a small terrace in Madryn Street in the inner-city, has been assessed as inappropriate and too costly for remediation and is due to disappear shortly, when the area undergoes a long-delayed programme of regeneration.

But Shapps now says that Starr’s early home is seen by many as ‘a culturally important building…..  Before a single bulldozer rumbles along Madryn Street, I want to ensure that every option has been considered.  In particular I want local community groups to have the opportunity to put forward viable proposals to preserve this historic house.’

The response from Liverpool City Council has been to the point:

‘Grant Shapps may not be aware of the fact that we have consulted extensively with local residents over these plans and the overwhelming majority are in favour of them.  Residents have been fully involved in developing the proposals and have shown they want decent homes to replace houses which have long passed their lifespan….  They are absolutely sick of the delays and the conditions they have to live in. They want the city council to demolish these properties as soon as possible, so that they can get on with their lives.’

Leaving aside the challenges of alternative ‘viable proposals’ by small groups in the context of critically time-limited large-scale regeneration, how strange that Grant Shapps should wish to intervene in a local issue such as this, especially so soon after his Localism Bill has been published.

Shapps tells us his Bill will contain a wide-ranging package of reforms to ‘devolve greater power and freedoms to councils and neighbourhoods, establish powerful new rights for communities, revolutionise the planning system, and give communities control over housing decisions’.

This particular intervention does not seem to be much in favour of localism.  It feels more to be on behalf of a community minority who want someone with national power to overturn the established wishes of the majority of their local neighbours.

If that’s the case, then here’s another example of some members of a community being more equal than others – and perhaps also of some national politicians being more interested in media exposure (Shapps says of the Madryn Street house that the Council should ‘Let it be’) than in the logic of their own intended legislation.

I seriously doubt that localism of the sort Shapps claims he intends can work anyway.  This micro-intervention demonstrates some of the reasons why. 

National politicians are often tempted to meddle in local affairs; but at least this is usually tempered by a wider strategic overview of what will be beneficial and what may not be.

Here however we have an intention (in the Localism Bill) to remove by legislation national strategic influence but no intention, apparently, to restrain individual ministerial interference.

Some might see that as a worrying example of power without responsibility.

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