Sep 05 2011

FT: a threat to the City of London Corporation?

Posted by: Nick Shaxson in: Thoughts

The FT has a fascinating article on the City of London Corporation, which is well worth reading. Thanks to Martin Hearson for pointing it out: I’d missed it when it came out last week. Anyone who’s read Treasure Islands should find this early sentence fascinating:

“For almost 1,000 years the aldermen of the City of London have enjoyed almost complete command of their domain . . . [now]

The semi-independent status of the City is being challenged by an edict from central government. It threatens the world’s oldest municipal democracy, which dates back to 1067, when William the Conqueror signed a charter promising to uphold the Square Mile’s privileges and laws.”

Wow. This is about the ability of the City Corporation’s Court of Common Council to plan the growth of their dominion, under a review of the UK’s national planning system that includes a proposal to let developers to turn offices into blocks of flats – regardless of whether local authorities want it or not.

Now that is fascinating. The City of London Corporation has massive independence in its management of its non-municipal affairs – true to its ‘offshore island’ character – though on municipal affairs like this, government can make things happen. Why is this significant for the City?

Well I put a lot of effort, particularly in the final chapter of the UK edition, in looking at the voting rights of the City, and explaining how large multinationals from around the world are effectively allowed to vote in British local election. It is bizarre, but true. It’s not the employees, but the management of these multinationals that get to vote. And the corporate vote massively outvotes the real humans – just a few thousand souls, mostly in a few council estates – who inhabit the tiny Square Mile, as it is known. The national changes would most likely see lots of new residential areas popping up in the city, displacing banks and so on.

And the FT explains the significance:

“That is precisely how City planners like it. It means they can meet the needs of some of the world’s biggest banks without having to take account of the very different requirements of a large residential population.. . .

the idea represents a challenge not only to their own authority but also to the district’s status as one of the world’s leading financial hubs”

Exactly. An offshore island inside Britain, which doesn’t have to worry much about pesky things such as real democracy. As the article continues, the City is fighting this, tooth and nail.

And for once, it looks as it – just perhaps – the City Corporation won’t get its way.

“But the City’s public reputation is at a low in the wake of the global financial crisis. Will anyone listen to its plea for an exemption from what ministers call a “moral” need to produce more housing across Britain?”

What a fascinating development. Read Treasure Islands, of course, to get the true significance of all this.

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