PRESTON VISION LIMITED SURVIVES ATTEMPT TO IMPROVE ITS DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY
Plans to re-vamp the controversial Preston Vision Board have survived a demand from Labour Councillors to give the so-called think tank more democratic accountability by adding more politicians to the restructured board (Vision Board survives after row)
Councillor Jack Davenport (Lab) called for council leader Ken Hudson (Con) to chair the Preston Vision Board Limited with Labour leader John Collins also a member.
But the move, which was narrowly defeated in the City Centre Committee by a vote of 6 to 5, would have gone against North West Development Agency rules which say that the Board needs to be headed by a private sector figure.
The Vision Board, responsible for a number of deeply unpopular projects, has been much criticised by local residents for its secretiveness, lack of democratic accountability and its over representation of business interests rather than those of local people (Preston Vision Boards limited vision)
However, the structure of the re-vamped Vision Board is unlikely to address the concerns of local residents. Councillor Collins said that the Vision Board, with only one Preston Council member, would have “a democratic deficit”, while Matthew Brown (Lab) said a private sector chairman would have a “conflict of interest”.
Councillor Davenport said “we need to be more enthusiastic about democratic accountability, otherwise every project that comes up is going to be met with scepticism”.
Lack of democratic accountability is of course welcomed by private business since it ensures that their own narrow interests are heard at the expense of those of local residents. Preston City Council Chief Executive Jim Carr appeared to acknowledge this when he commented that the “private sector are very easily put off by politicking” (Vision Board survives after row)
But what the private sector calls politicking we call democratic accountability and ensuring the interests of local people are protected.
Local residents are unlikely to be persuaded by Jim Carr’s comment that Preston Vision Board was not a decision making body – decisions would be made by the cross party City Centre Committee.
Surely putting important decisions to a small hand picked committee rather than the full council simply compounds residents' concerns about the Vision Board's lack of accountability and fears that unpopular projects will be pushed through without the scrutiny of the full democratic process (A Barrage of Democracy)
Preston City Council is clear that it wants to attract investment into the City and Jim Carr believes that “when it comes to attracting investment we need the best people and the best people are the private sector”.
This may be so. But what local residents question is whether the private sector is always going to act in the interests of local people and of our environment when businesses could stand to make huge profits from Vision Board projects.
Given the recent track record of the Vision Board in promoting deeply unpopular projects such as the Ribble barrage and associated building on our Green Belt, and the proposed re-vamp of Winckley Square and the Flag Market, the answer to this question is surely no.
And considering the Vision Board's continued interest in developing the Ribble corridor with cafes, restaurants, businesses and homes (Revitalised riverside or developers dream?)local residents would be right to continue to be highly sceptical of Preston Vision Limited and its projects.
The private sector will of course have a role to play in the future development of Preston.
But it is clear that the interests of business must be kept in check by the process of democratic accountability if the interests of local people and our environment are to be protected.
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