The Lib Dems in Nottingham launched their manifesto for the City Council on Monday this week, and the room we had booked for the event was the Large Hall at the International Community Centre on Nottingham’s Mansfield Road.
It was a good meeting – just one member of the press there, despite a fairly wide invitation list – but a number of party members turned up to cheer us on. I understand that actually, the Labour party, who got David Blunkett down to launch theirs, only had two presspeople there, so we shouldn’t feel snubbed. And the resulting story in the newspaper (one of a series of different party’s manifestos) was good coverage.
However, the point of this particular blog posting isn’t about our manifesto at all. It’s something I noticed from one of the windows of the Large Hall of the ICC.
It was a long view across the city skyscape to Green’s Mill, the working windmill museum in Sneinton. As the crow flies, it’s not that far away, but it is directly across the city centre. There are many tall buildings in the way, not least the Victoria Centre and its flats, a large office block on the far side of the road, and a much older three storey shop/office complex directly opposite.
Of all the windows in the room, only one gave the exact alignment of buildings necessary to have the clear space across the city.
A few years ago, I would have assumed this was just a coincidence but since I have spent two years serving as a planning councillor, I now know that long-views across the city centre are things that are routinely considered by architects, and are frequently a point that is specifically discussed at development control committee meetings when deciding whether to grant planning permission.
Of course, elected members have to take on trust what they are told. Only architects and surveyors can know with any certainty how high a building will be, and what specific views will be obstructed and what not. This information is presented in a variety of ways – photomontages with real photos of the city with mock-up versions of new buildings digitally inserted, or traditional line drawings from the architect showing relative heights. And you have to decide how credible those reports are. Are they showing an unusual vantage point? Does “unobstructed view from the castle” mean the parts of the castle most of us have access to, or from the roof of the castle? And so on and so on. However important it seems in committee, it’s unlikely that a permission will be granted on the basis of an unimpeded view. So if, years down the line when the building is finished, it turns out that it is in the way, and it does block a certain view from a certain direction, it’s very unlikely that the Council will be able to turn around and say, “Knock it down, it’s too high!”
Planning councillors are seen in the local government community at large with the same sort of suspicion given in the wider community to the sort of people who like trains. I joined the planning committee two years ago as a sort of penance. At the time, I was persuaded that it was in the Lib Dem’s interest for me to become, for one year only, the opposition representative on the council’s ultimate decision making committee, the Executive Board. This position had a healthy remuneration, but it also makes a councillor ineligible to serve on the scrutiny side of the council, which is where opposition councillors spend most of their time. So becoming an Executive Member Without Portfolio took me off most the committees I had been on in the previous two years. As a way of balancing the load more fairly, they put me on Development Control, which I thought I would hate. As it turns out, it’s now the committee I look forward to most, and one I shall certainly be making an effort to serve on in the new council should I be fortunate enough to be re-elected in 15 days’ time.