Sunday, 30 November 2014

Ignorantia iuris nocet…

…or one rule for us, and six for the others…

Men’s hearts ought not to be set against one another, but set with one another, and all against evil only.
– Thomas Carlyle

When Keith Risk first stood up, in the village hall, just over a year ago, to ask for help in fighting the proposed development on Oxhill Road, one of his themes was unity: uniting the village residents in opposition; uniting with our neighbouring villages; and uniting with – and supporting – our Parish Council in their crucial and central gubernatorial rôle.

As with all councils or governments – national, regional, district, town, parish – Tysoe Parish Council only achieves its aims, its many successes, through longstanding rules and procedures: which define how it works, what its remit is, how meetings are held – i.e. due process. Surely, the only way we can win this battle is by playing by the rules?

However, it has become increasingly apparent over the last year that some people – perhaps because they live in big houses, and they feel this makes them important, and gives them an unearned (high) status: enabling them not only to flout these rules, but to render subservient people and regulations that stand in their way… – somehow believe that They Are The Law; and that What They Say Is Always Right; and that they can selectively pick and mix whatever legislation suits them; or just ride roughshod through anything that gets in their way. It seems that people who live in big houses do sometimes throw stones – but not necessarily in the right direction, or for the right reason. Did we really need to show a divided face to the Planning Inspector? Two faces do not make anyone more appealing.

So it is that, at tomorrow evening’s Parish Council meeting, a hare-brained scheme to somehow win over Eric Pickles, the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – more “rapacious” even than the developers that our hard-working MP has christened – will be thrust forward: and without any warning whatsoever being given to our beleaguered Parish Councillors. There are rules for how much notice must be given for such things; and there are also the mores of common decency and politeness, of course. But none of these seem to matter to those who come across as thinking themselves above such things. In fact their actions give the impression that they envisage themselves as puppet-masters: attempting to take control and untangle the strings of what they must consider a hapless Parish Council – twisting their necks into agonized positions so that they can actually manage to look down on a peerless and humble group of people who work extremely hard in looking after this village extremely well.

“Due process” of course, also includes the fact that our Parish Council is democratically chosen, and involves the residents in its decisions. It is not self-selecting, dictatorial, or arrogant.

What has prompted this anger is the following email: which has been sent under the guise of helping the village, when, to me (and many others) it shows obvious signs of self-promotion. (I have therefore removed the name at the top to protect both the guilty and the innocent.) It went flying around certain quarters of the village early today (fuelled by bigheaded petrol?); but appears not to have been sent to Parish Councillors (certainly not the PC’s chair), or those who are known to be democratic, or even, in my case, somewhat anarchistic (in that people have to earn their respect from me – admittedly not easily won – rather than expect me to get down on one knee and tug where my forelock used to be, just because they've told me that they are important).

…the rule 6 group intends to go to the parish council meeting on Monday to ask that the Gladman planning application be recovered by the Secretary of State. This would mean that the appeal inspectors decision, due by January 20th, would become a recommendation and the Secretary of State would then decide on in due course. The appeal can be recovered in the case where the site is “greater than five acres and would significantly impact upon the governments objective to secure a better balance between housing supply and demand and create high quality, sustainable mixed and inclusive communities.” Given the state of the neighbourhood plan which shows that the Gladman site is the least popular in the village, the village is not in favour of such a large scale development and the village wants more local involvement in development [the group] would argue that the Gladman application should be recovered.

[The group] would like the parish council to ask for the application to be recovered so as to add weight to any individual requests. A recovery would also buy more time for the neighbourhood plan. The Neighbourhood planning group [sic] would welcome any support on this matter at the parish council meeting on Monday.

There will be more information and explanation at the parish council meeting.

There are many things wrong with this email – primarily that Eric Pickles (once nicknamed Jabba the Cut) is infamous for gobbling up little villages such as ours (the tragic case of our neighbour Hook Norton should be warning enough); and drawing his attention to our little corner of Warwickshire will do nothing to improve matters. In fact, with the Corporate Strategy on permanent hold – possibly until Councillor Saint or Sinner is held to account – then any attempts to delay a decision being made re Gladman’s desire to carpet-bomb us with little houses made of ticky-tacky will simply be futile. It is the modern-day equivalent of Oliver Twist asking the master for “some more”. (And eighty houses is much more than enough, thank you.)

Secondly, as stated above, as the Parish Council has not been notified of this agenda item in advance, how will there be time for “information and explanation”? If past meetings are anything to go by (and they usually are), this looks suspiciously like agenda-hijacking: with self-inflated egos launching their inflated hyperbole from their inflatable pulpits. It is high time someone took a ruddy big needle to puncture such people’s self-seeking narcissism. Living in a palace does not make you a king.

Thirdly, if you actually read the relevant legislation and recent associated guidance, it says:

A “recovered inquiry” is basically a planning appeal (against a local authority’s decision) which the Secretary of State can decide to determine himself, rather than allowing a planning inspector to take the final decision, as is the normal process. The law stems from section 79 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

But the “local authority”, Stratford-on-Avon District Council (SDC), is on our side – isn’t it? So this is not against its decision… – unless, of course, you are in favour of, or even backing, the development: which would mean that the final nail has been driven into the coffin not only of unity itself, but also the pretence that there ever was any.

It is also hectares, not acres, by the way:

…proposals for residential development of over 150 units or on sites of over 5 hectares, which would significantly impact on the Government's objective to secure a better balance between housing demand and supply and create high quality, sustainable, mixed and inclusive communities…

…and, although the application site itself comprises approximately 5.4 hectares, the “potential developable area” is only “3.9Ha (approx) for up to 80 houses” – so I do not know if this is relevant (surrounded as it is by Tory doublespeak).

Finally, the ‘note’ I am quoting from allows for the “Use of neighbourhood plans and housing”:

On 10 July 2014 the Secretary of State announced that he would like to “consider the extent to which the Government’s intentions are being achieved on the ground”, in relation to the neighbourhood planning regime introduced under the Localism Act 2011. For a period of 12 months the recovery criteria has now been amended to include: proposals for residential development of over 10 units in areas where a qualifying body has submitted a neighbourhood plan proposal to the local planning authority: or where a neighbourhood plan has been made.

But how is the email’s claim that “the village is not in favour of such a large scale development and the village wants more local involvement in development” going to sway Eric Piggles – when he has a track-record of paying lip-service to localism and treading roughshod over what villages want or need? And how is it going to “add weight to any individual requests”? And who are these individuals? And what are they requesting? More poppadoms…? You cannot appeal to a fellow dictator, and expect them to suddenly change their tune because they see their own arrogance reflected in your eyes. Do we really want to make a pact with the devil?

The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is not a decision for anyone to make but the Parish Council. And there is a good reason they have not proposed it themselves – not because they are unaware of it (their knowledge of the current planning régime is demonstrably excellent), but because they believe that it is the equivalent of tilting at windmills: pointless and self-defeating.

There is currently a great deal of apathy with regards to politics: and, sadly, it seems to have seeped to its very grassroots. This does not mean that we should just let ourselves be bossed around though, by usurpers, without questioning the motivations and knowledge of those who would claim to represent us. Instead, we should support the Parish Council: because they represent us. We should support them because they know what they are doing and are not in it for the glory. We should support them because, as a body with true power, they have the true needs of the village seared into their hearts and brains. We should therefore support them because they know what is right, and do the right thing.

There is more power in unity than division.
– Emanuel Cleaver

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