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OPINION - WAITING FOR MR PRESCOTT

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In recent weeks, people living in Brighton & Hove have had two bits of bad news. Both of them demonstrate how littl...
In recent weeks, people living in Brighton & Hove have had two bits of bad news. Both of them demonstrate how little power communities in Britain have to shape their own destinies.

In the first instance, the city looks like it may be cheated of a new stadium for Brighton & Hove Albion. At the moment the Seagulls play in a decrepit stadium at Withdean which only holds 7,000 fans. This limits the club's income from ticket sales and directly impacts on its ability to attract good players and perform well in the leagues.

The proposal for a new stadium in Falmer was the subject of lively debate in the city. The local paper, The Argus, ran a vigorous campaign and 61,451 people signed a petition supporting the application. The council's planning committee approved the application 11-1 and in a proper democracy, that would surely be that.

But not in the UK. The application was called in. Two planning inspectors have been invited to give their verdict - and the one charged with vetting the Local Plan has just given the Falmer stadium the thumbs down. So now the whole city waits on tenterhooks for the deputy prime minister. Like a Roman emperor, the quixotic Mr Prescott - elected by the people of Hull - will get to decide the fate of football 'in a faraway land of which he knows little'.

The second instance relates to the derelict West Pier which has been almost completely destroyed by a series of storms and fires. After another intense public debate in the city, the council approved an application to restore the pier to its former glories. The viability of the project depended on a£14.2m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Faced with a request for a further£5m as a result of ballooning costs, the Lottery Fund has now withdrawn its original offer altogether and it looks like the pier will be left to rot. The council says it does not even have the resources

to fund the remaining wreckage that scars the Brighton seafront.

Why should Britain's communities not decide their o wn fates? Why should Brighton & Hove not have its stadium if it can demonstrate that the vast majority of people living there support it? Why should residents and businesses not be free to decide whether they want to subscribe to a local bond issue to finance the costs of restoring their seafront's finest jewel?

Why should our elected representatives have to bow and scrape to bureaucrats and quangocrats and plead with them for permission and pocket money to do the people's will?

Nicholas Boles

Director, Policy Exchange and Localis

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