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Comment: Who Can Be Trusted To Choose the Way We Plan and Are Governed? Is It All Rubbish?

Published on: 10 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 11 Aug, 2020

By Martin Giles

Planning White Paper a Test of Trust in This Johnson Tory Government

“Getting homes built is always a controversial business.” So says Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his foreword to the “Planning for the Future” White Paper.

Well ain’t that the truth? So the proposals which, the PM with an unenviable attitude to truth-telling claims, should give us a “greater say over what gets built” in our community should be welcomed.

But the Conservative Party has dubious form on planning. Can we believe anything they say on this subject? Those who have been paying attention will recall their solemn pledges given to garner votes at the 2015 election, “Conservatives Vow to Protect Our Green Belt” and so on, have proved as hollow as a big bass drum. The mendacity was mind-blowing. Before our 2019 local elections, the decision to drive through a government-backed, pro-development, green belt-giveaway Local Plan had already been taken.

Then, we had the blind Nelson eye turned on the tens of thousands of comments and objections offered during the public “consultations”, to be followed by the shameful rush to get the Plan approved days before an election where the voters could, and did, give their verdict on what had been adopted. “But all perfectly legal,” we were told smugly even as the council’s long-held Conservative hegemony crashed to near-oblivion, highlighting the dilapidated state of democracy in the planning process.

Of course, the level of contributions that flow from developers into Conservative party coffers, £10 million since Johnson took over we are told, must be a coincidence.

No doubt the timing of the White Paper, described by some as a developers’ charter, is just another coincidence. Or is it payback time?  Ignored are the developments given planning consent and still waiting construction or the pathetically low level of social housing built. Blamed is the “Nimbyism” of those who dare to care about their back yards and social consciences.

There’s a saying that bad doctors treat only symptoms, not the cause. This is what is happening here. Why do we need all these extra houses? In the late Seventies and early Eighties our population was actually shrinking and we were closing schools.

But now our population is growing and quickly, a further three million projected by 2028. And successive government policy, Labour, Coalition and Conservative, has allowed net immigration to increase. Oxford University’s “Migration Observatory” says: “Net migration exceeded natural change for most of the past two decades.”

The natural change total takes no account of the higher birth-rate of non-UK born mothers.

If the demand side of the housing problem, as well as the supply side, is to be tackled then the rate of immigration and consequent population increase will also need to be addressed or in 15 years there will simply be more pressure for further urbanisation.

This “tear it down and start again” approach to planning policy the Prime Minister is proposing is unlikely to attract the fulsome support he might expect in the traditional true blue heartlands of the Home Counties in the front-line of this battle.

There are plenty of signs that time is up for loyalty to the Tory brand. So we face two vital questions: who can we trust on planning and just who will have the “greater say over what gets built”?

Do We Really Know What’s Good for Us?

Sir Humphrey Appleby explains in the BBC’s Yes Prime Minister – Power to the People

Making housing development easier was also one of the reasons given by SCC leader Tim Oliver for his proposal to make Surrey the biggest non-metropolitan unitary authority in the country, more the twice the size of the next biggest, Cornwall.

But can such a momentous change to our governance really be pushed through without the consent of those most affected, the citizenry of Surrey? What about asking us?

Sir Paul Beresford, the Tory MP for Mole Valley, is so convinced of the merits of the scheme he doesn’t believe consultation is required. But if the case is so overwhelming then surely consultation would quickly show a huge majority in favour?

Here’s an idea. Why don’t the Tories make the proposal part of their manifesto at the SCC election in May? Then, if they win a majority of the votes we will know it has true support. Other parties can put their own proposals forward and voters can choose. That is the way our democracy is meant to work, isn’t it?

But politicians don’t really like to give us a say. One only has to recall the machinations to prevent us voting on Maastricht or the years of procrastination following the Brexit referendum.

And such reservations extend to local politicians too. Overheard at the referendum count in 2016 was a Liberal Democrat who pronounced: “It just shows the British electorate can’t be trusted!”

Maybe the truth is the British electorate can’t trust the politicians?

Older readers might recall this extract from the episode of the BBC’s Yes, Prime Minister

Sir Humphrey to local council leader: “What do you mean, the people don’t want your policies?”

Council leader: “Well of course they would, if they could understand. But the ordinary voters are simple people. They don’t see their needs. They can’t analyse problems. They need leadership to guide them to the way they ought to go.”

Sir Humphrey: “Don’t you think the people would vote for such leadership?”

Council leader: “No, people don’t always understand what’s good for them.”

Sir Humphrey: “Ah! I do so agree with you.”

Time to Pick Out the Litter Louts

More than two million pieces of litter are dropped in the UK every day, say Keep Britain Tidy campaigners. Some litter louts in and around Guildford seem to be doing more than their fair share.

The Dragon reader who regularly walks the riverbank has correctly reported, in her letter: Litter on the Riverbanks is Shocking, the problem from what should be a beautiful, natural amenity of our borough. The area has become even more popular this warm summer a place for lockdown cool down.

Youngsters enjoying the River Wey on Sunday (August 9).

It is good to see younger people enjoying it but why can’t they, and older people too, just obey a few simple rules:

  • Don’t block the towpath;
  • Don’t play music or shout so loud it disturbs others; and most of all, as the council said:
  • Don’t be a tosser, don’t leave any litter.

Unfortunately, there are those too stupid, ignorant or uncaring who will remain obstinately deaf to such pleas and for them more effective policing is required.

Some advertised but (so they can’t be vandalised) discreet CCTV cameras around St Catherine’s bridge might be an idea. They could double up as a safety feature. With the number of kids who ignore the signs and jump from the bridge some extra monitoring might not go amiss.

Jumping from St Catherine’s Bridge is a popular game for some, despite the warning signs.

And who knows, it might be possible to identify some of the litter tossers and have a reception party ready to march them back to the scene of their crime for a bit of litter-picking. Far more effective than a fixed penalty charge of up to £80.

But this is probably against their human rights.

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Responses to Comment: Who Can Be Trusted To Choose the Way We Plan and Are Governed? Is It All Rubbish?

  1. Martin Elliott Reply

    August 10, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    I agree. The time of telling people not to litter is over; whether it is be asking them to clear up or/and a fixed penalty notice, discounted for prompt payment or not.

    Just as shocking, and I’ve asked councillors and GBC about this via Tweets, is that none of these active measures have happened.

    Yes, we can assume GBC resources are stretched, but what is just as annoying is that nobody will explain what and why or can and can’t be done. We just get silence.

    By the way, I see SCC is patting itself on the back with what they’ve done but without comparisons. The district and borough councils have collected 17% more in kerbside bin collections. Not surprising with lockdown etc. But instead of thanking residents they repeat the usual reduction measures without any thought of peoples problems.

  2. Graham Hibbert Reply

    August 11, 2020 at 10:48 am

    Instead of just building more housing to meet demand why doesn’t this government seek ways to reduce demand? Reducing inward migration is one way as the article suggests but why not also encourage students to study from home to free up accommodation in our town?

    Currently, students occupy two dwelling places – one in term time and one out of it. The need for today’s more worldly young to move away from home in order to broaden their life experience is surely less than when only a few geeks went to university in the 50s and 60s.

  3. Marion Gooding Reply

    August 11, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    The littering in Guildford, surrounding villages and open spaces is getting worse. It seems that people are quite willing to carry a picnic to even remote places but think someone else should clear it up after them.

    It isn’t just littering but fly-tipping that is a blight on our beautiful countryside. Is this at all surprising when the council restrict the disposal of household waste at the community tips?

    Surely it would be money well spent to keep the tips open with free access than spend literally hundreds of thousand clearing fly-tipping waste?

  4. Matthew Ellis Reply

    August 11, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    I guess one possible benefit of the SCC’s proposal to remove the other local authorities would be the responsibility for clearing up litter and fly-tipping would rest with the same authority as handles the dumps.

    Currently, it feels like each authority passes the buck on this.

    That being said, why do many in this society of ours think it is okay to just dump the litter in the first place?

    Maybe it is a by-product of the “Human Rights” many hark on about while quietly ignoring their human responsibilities.

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