Patrick Kinnersly, of the White Horse Alliance group was attempting to compose yet another WHA report relating the group's (and other affiliated groups') rearguard actions against Wiltshire Council supported unsustainable development. Then he found these words:
"Then onto my screen slid the work of a master – the weekly newsletter of James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire. His epistle to constituents for 5 September managed to weave a sentimental tapestry out of some apparently unconnected strands – the peerage for Jane Scott, leader of WC; the funeral of a redoubtable veteran of El Alamein and D-Day; the ‘refugee tide’ streaming north from lands ruined by war, poverty and climate change.
‘Service to mankind’, said Mr Gray, was the thread that linked the architect of Wiltshire’s unitary council with Ken Scott, 99-year old veteran of the Normandy landings, staunch Conservative and former mayor of Wootton Bassett who never missed a chance to pay his respects to the fallen of later wars as the hearses bore them slowly through the streets of the royal borough.
Members of our alliances might select less shiny thread to link the items in Mr Gray’s message; we might wonder too if we hear the same ‘clarion calls for action’ that he detected in the music at Ken Scott’s funeral - ‘the call of the lapwing and of the skylark.’ As commuter estates obliterate the fields where lapwing and skylark once nested; as the A350 ‘economic growth corridor’ presses on south towards the quiet valley where stone curlews pause on their migration to the grasslands of Salisbury Plain; as carbon emissions from increasing road traffic accelerate the rush to climate crisis and the flight from starvation, what ‘service to mankind’ has been performed by anyone other than the young man who risked his life in North Africa and Normandy?
Were we well served by having county and district councils welded into an unaccountable monolith? Did absorbing government cuts and ‘freezing council tax for many years’ make Wiltshire a better place? Will humanity thank the noble Baroness for overseeing a core strategy that looks more like a relic of the 1980s than a development plan for the 21st Century?
These were services to a deeply conservative and brutally short-sighted vision of the future - economic growth designed by and for global corporations, fuelled by relentless consumption of resources both local and global without regard to the environmental costs that will have to be paid by Wiltshire and - far beyond the Shire - by a planet that must somehow provide us with the ingredients for eight million ready-meals a day. Will the asparagus that flies in from Peru to be trucked through the night to ‘your’ out-of-town supermarket make up for the loss of the farm where in spring times long ago the lapwings came back to nest and in high summer skylarks sang fit to make the heavens burst with joy?
Mr Gray says that the elevation of Mrs Scott to the Lords is ‘a tribute and honour to one of the best counties in England - our beloved Wiltshire. Who could possibly want to live anywhere else?’
Well… apart from the migratory birds with their clarion calls to action, those wanting to live somewhere else might include people who need a place where the planning of housing, employment and transport has not been outsourced to consultants; where developers receive no licence to build on massive green field sites; where mean little commuter homes are not land-banked and dribbled into the market so as to maintain the scarcity that keeps prices high - a place where ‘hard-working families’ can afford to buy or rent a home.
The clarion call of the councils
Even the conservative Local Government Association has seen that the government’s drive for austerity cannot go any deeper into their budgets. The LGA has protested that councils ‘will be unable to provide basic services’ if budgets are cut any further. Having slashed their spending by 40 per cent since 2010 (Give that woman a peerage!), how can councils save a further 25 per cent or more over the next five years? All the needless extravagances of the post-war consensus, such as building council houses, running youth clubs and providing bus services, have been trimmed to the bone; the government is now coming for the necessities of life: for example the public health budgets of local councils which are about to lose another £200m a year.
‘Planning’ in Wiltshire
Shrinking council budgets induce a vicious circle that can only spiral into a planning disaster. The more development that councils can achieve, the more cash will come in from council tax and the infrastructure levy; but funding cuts lead to shortages of staff with the skills to create good plans, to care for the environment and meet all the other needs of a civilised society. Councils can neither afford the good nor resist the bad. Mediocrity and monoculture triumph by default, and by design. "
© Patrick Kinnersly, September 2015.