Aditya Chakrabortty’s well-researched exposé of how a rich and powerful actor has run rings around a naive and emasculated local authority is unfortunately par for the course (How a great English city sold itself to Abu Dhabi’s elite – and not even for a good price, 21 July). It may be a particularly egregious example given the UAE’s appalling record on human rights, but the root problem has been reproduced throughout the country.
However, it’s not too late, and all is not necessarily lost. A substantial land value tax would return much of the relinquished benefit to the public purse, and therefore to the community that unwittingly gave it all away in perpetuity. It would also undermine the business model for this kind of pernicious, speculative project in the future and, by repairing the dysfunctional land market, invalidate the current infrastructure development modus operandi that works so well for the few and so poorly for the many.
Labour Land Campaign
I share Aditya Chakrabortty’s concerns about the redevelopment of Manchester and the role of the city council, but would go further. The redevelopment of the city centre, dominated by hideous high-rise blocks, has damaged the whole cityscape. One looks to the French, who sensibly limited the height of buildings across the core of Paris. What may work at Salford Quays does not work within the city boundaries. The rot started in the 1960s and is epitomised by the hideous Piccadilly Plaza, in what is laughingly called Piccadilly Gardens, further deteriorating when the remaining gardens were themselves replaced by an office block and acres of concrete.
As for the financial arrangements, there is a more general problem. Too often local councils refuse to reveal financial agreements and contracts on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. While this may suit the partners, it is clearly not in the public interest, and is a recurring source of incompetence and corruption in local authorities. National legislation needs to outlaw this practice.
Dr Stephen Dearden
New Mills, Derbyshire
Having read Aditya Chakrabortty’s article, I don’t think the blame lies just with the council. I used to work for a local authority finance department, trying to assess projects. After years of austerity cuts, staff were too stretched to be able to properly navigate and interrogate these deals. Also, by getting rid of the Audit Commission in 2015, there was another layer of scrutiny gone. Staff themselves had nowhere to turn, as concerns were ignored by senior colleagues.
At the local authority that I worked for, it felt as if local politicians were desperate to build houses and homes. However, due to the terrible policy of central government whereby right-to-buy receipts couldn’t be used to build replacement housing without additional “external” borrowing, my local authority ended up in dubious deals sold to them by slick consultants. The politicians were just so relieved to be able to say something about affordable homes while these consultants made a packet. Local politicians and local authority staff rarely knew the pitfalls of what they’d signed up to.
The Conservatives have done a grand trick of stripping out so much funding and taking away the Audit Commission, that mechanisms of accountability are running thin. And residents will just look to the local politicians and blame them, which is only part of the picture.
Name and address supplied
July 24, 2022 at 10:10PM Letters