Thursday, 9 January 2014

An open letter to Stratford-upon-Avon Herald…

Sir: On Wednesday night (8 January 2013), after over 360 letters of objection had been sent to the district council, hundreds of Tysoe residents then turned out, in the rain, to support their representatives at a meeting of the council’s Planning Committee (East) in a packed Kineton High School; and to hear, after a couple of hours debate, that their arguments for local heritage, suitability and sustainability had been listened to, and understood; and that the committee were voting unanimously against a proposed development of 80 urban-style houses on the edge of the village.

80 may not sound too big a number, when compared to other sites in the district; but, for Middle and Upper Tysoe, it would have represented an increase in houses of over 20%, and a population increase of around 30%.

The following morning (Thursday, 9 January 2013), Nadhim Zahawi – who, of course, has a house in Tysoe – warned of the “Coalition’s ‘legacy’ of rural harm” in the Daily Telegraph. I believe his actions could not have been better timed, nor his opinions better expressed. And, although our MP could not attend, last night, he has been supportive, throughout; and his condemnation, in these pages, of “rapacious developers” has, in large part, been driven by the quiet battle being fought here. I therefore congratulate him (and I am a member of the Labour Party) for his understanding and representation of both the issues and his constituents.

Although I agree in principle with what he has said, I believe that the current format of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is, in reality and practice, strong enough when defending against the corporate greed of those, such as Gladman Developments, who show no local understanding or sympathy. And this was clearly demonstrated, last night, on a local government level; and has been proven, without doubt, by the hard work of the members of the Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group, under local resident, Keith Risk; allied with the staunch work of Tysoe Parish Council, led by Mark Sewell.

And even if Eric Pickles does finally impose – as our local councillor, Gillian Roache has stated: “urban grain more suited to Peckham” – on our tiny, rural community, against English Heritage’s objection, and the council’s views and decisions – that is only because localism, as conceived by this Government, was obviously stillborn.

What is needed is for national government to help – rather than constantly hinder and harrow – local government: who have been trapped by national policy and hollow words, when it comes to localism and David Cameron’s purported Big Society. What is needed is for Government to stop outsourcing their duties and responsibilities. Please stop blaming Stratford District Council: they are not ignoring their constituents; they totally understand the issues – as Wednesday’s planning committee proved – and are trying, as demonstrated by their recent actions, to make the best of a lose-lose situation imposed from above.

“Where are those who will stand up for Stratford?” asked one of your letters, this week. Well, some of them are on the front page, in Preston Witts’ article. Others are working quietly, but effectively, in local parishes. If all those who kept complaining to your newspaper mobilized as the residents of Tysoe have, and turned their hundreds of words into hundreds of hours of action and all-night graft, then maybe there wouldn’t be the need for such a question.

I know this will inflame many of your readers (and probably members of my own party: with its obvious echoes of right-wing work ethic). But I make no apology. Instead of moaning, Tysoe got off its collective backside; educated itself thoroughly in the relevant national planning laws; and fought – and marketed – a memorable and strategic battle. We may not yet have won the war; but I do feel we have shown the way forward; and that our actions have spoken much, much louder than those who simply resort to words.

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