by Hussain Indorewala
published on Kafila on February 17 2015
In the early 1970s, a conservative government in the UK set up a study group for the London Docklands. Its report, which focused primarily on exploiting the commercial potential of the docklands, was torn up and thrown out by local community groups and the local boroughs. Later, in 1974, a strategic-planning authority called the Docklands Joint Committee (DJC) was set up to plan the area. This committee included, along with central and local government representatives, the Port of London Authority and trade unions; it was also associated with the Docklands Forum, which was a group that represented various sections of the public, including “militant community groups.”[i] The DJC along with the Docklands Forum adopted a radically new approach to planning: it instituted a bottom-up process, working with communities entailing a “delicate, even tentative, negotiated style of planning.” The planner was now the “servant of the public” and the “large-scale, top-down, professionally oriented planning” was replaced with its opposite.[ii] Significantly, the DJC came up with a comprehensive plan – the London Docklands Strategic Plan of 1976 – that was based on the preservation of manufacturing, creation of social housing, and social programs for residents of the area. So progressive it seemed, that it never got realised. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of the UK, drowning any little hope that remained.
Flying over London, in the mid-70s, Thatcher’s Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine had found “appalling proof” that the various committees, reports, discussions were hopeless, and since everyone was involved, “no one was in charge.” New legislation was written, that created powers to establish Enterprise Zones and Urban Development Corporations. The London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was created in 1981 as the planning authority for 5,500 acres of the dock areas. Entrepreneurial in style, ideologically committed to private enterprise, the LDDC did little planning, and used consultants who provided guiding frameworks that were flexible and demand-led, and focused more on implementation rather than planning. Heseltine wanted the LDDC to be “seen to do things” and liberated from “the inevitable delays of the democratic process.”[iii] The LDDC as an Urban Development Corporation was run by a board appointed by the central government, giving local authorities very little power, which they refused to use anyway. The problem of too much democracy was solved by excluding residents from the planning process.
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