Last week Hazel Blears, the communities and local government secretary, 'called in' (i.e. halted) plans to redevelop the Ram Brewery site in Wandsworth, South London, saying that "the proposals may conflict with national policies on important matters". The council, which has already subjected the developers to an extensive planning approval process, is understandably angry, saying the decision jeopardises nearly £1bn of private investment into Wandsworth. As a local resident, I'm pretty annoyed too.
The Ram Brewery development has the potential to completely transform the town centre. As things stand, the high street is very run down and full of speeding cars. On one side you've got the Southside (formerly Arndale) Centre, a desperately unattractive sixties development, and on the other a massive, disused industrial site – the Ram Brewery. Minerva Plc's £300m proposals would change that, opening up the River Wandle (which runs through the brewery site) to pedestrians, and building a new public square alongside new apartments, restaurants and retail and commercial space. The developers were also set to provide funds to improve local transport infrastructure.
As much as anything else, Blears' idiotic decision exposes the government's economic stimulus policies for the incoherent sham they are. When the government tries to tell us that borrowing money to finance unnecessary public sector construction projects would magically boost the economy and create new jobs, while simultaneously blocking enormous private sector investments like this one, it becomes clear they really haven't got a clue. And as for their professed enthusiasm for 'localism', well, we knew that was a joke already.
Still, Hazel Blears' still looks positively sensible compared with Battersea MP Martin Linton, who supported her decision, saying, "This is a real battle for the heart and soul of Wandsworth". Yes, that's right, the local MP apparently thinks the heart and soul of Wandsworth is a disused industrial site, a traffic-clogged one-way system, and a shabby, half-empty high street. Aren’t we lucky to have politicians fighting for our interests?
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