Monday, 12 June 2017

Et in Arcadia ego… (part I)

Introduction
Surprise ballot results are all the rage, it seems: deflating arrogance; defying expectation; demonstrating the real power of real people. Being at the heart of “the Shires”, huge local majorities for Brexit and a part-time, non-resident Tory MP (more interested in property and anti-environmental, non-executive, share-bearing, board positions) are givens… – however, as with last week’s General Election, seeing (what is now called) The Neighbourhood Development Plan – rather amusingly (as it covers the years 2011–2031) entitled TYSOE – A village for the 21st Century and Beyond – through to implementation (whatever that means) may not be so simple or predictable.

A few days ago, a piece of paper entitled “Save Upper Tysoe” fell through our letterbox. Yes – another campaign against another invidious building scheme: proposing another dense housing development in another unsuitable place. No – not by one of the accustomed large property developers or house-builders… – but as outlined by that aforementioned Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP).

Yes – really.

Are you aware that the Neighbourhood Planning Committee has proposed [a] huge new development in Upper Tysoe…? The Upper Tysoe proposal [of 30 houses] includes 19 houses behind Roses Farmhouse on the Epwell Road. THIS IS CLEARLY NOT ACCEPTABLE.

Which makes me think that, if our views really are “IMPORTANT” – as all the village-wide banners proclaim – then either democracy (rather than such a propagandist pretence of it) is deader than even I had begun to suspect; or this is the death-knell of an expensive exercise that should have been drowned at birth.

What follows therefore are some random – but relevant – (extended) thoughts on the matter. These “thoughts” (and their interrogation and expansion) may not, initially, be obviously connected (although I can tell you in all sincerity that they are); but they do all stem from my reaction to having the latest version of the NDP thrust upon an unsuspecting parish. Some of them build on previous posts discussing various aspects of the Plan, and how it has been managed and developed… – so, ideally, this cumulative essay would be read in succession, as part of an ongoing series… – some, however, are new. In effect, cumulatively, they view the current situation (meaning the arrival of the Plan in a time of political upheaval) through a many-sided prism: throwing light on the point that has been reached from many angles.

Please note…
This post will not discuss the contents of the NDP in detail. That is for another place and time. What it will do is pull some ideas together – some of which I have mentioned before; some of which, as I have said, are new – as to why I am convinced this NDP (especially in the ways it has been collated and presented) is A Bad Thing; and, in the long-term, almost certainly pointless.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
– King James Bible: Philippians, IV.viii

Sleeping with your eyes open
If the birth of this Save Upper Tysoe campaign (so swiftly after the dissemination of the latest version of the Plan) proves anything, it is…

  • that certain villagers now – unsurprisingly – see the NDP in the same dark light as Gladman’s original planning proposal – except that this document divides, rather than unites, Tysoe’s residents;
  • that, as I suspected, people other than myself and a few select others – albeit at the eleventh hour – have now begun to read the NDP, and, unfortunately for its authors, to understand its ramifications;
  • that producing over-detailed shopping lists for developers (an option, not an obligation), and setting them in supposedly-authoritative ironstone – rather than having proposals judged on their merits (as they are now) – is guaranteed to provoke (at the least) Nimbyism, or (at the most) prudent and passionate opposition, in the selected enclaves affected: as no-one likes being told by those who foolishly think they know so much better that they must sacrifice their small piece of the environment, their beautiful rural views, their peace and safety, simply to meet quotas; and save other more deserving (although of what I do not know) and more jealously-guarded areas from the same fate;
  • that the authors of the NDP – convinced that doing something because they had the capability, rather than doing the right thing (and in the right way) – didn’t appreciate (or want to, want to know…) the views of others; could not put themselves in those others’ shoes;
  • that the authors of the NDP didn’t understand what could unite the village – not even after witnessing the Battle of Oxhill Road – nor what could easily factionalize it;
  • that, by doing what only they wanted to do, with no constant solicitation of feedback, minimal misdirected ‘communication’, and little input from those who would just like a quiet life, they have produced something not only irrelevant to the majority of villagers, but something that has no pragmatic use; and, finally, that…
  • by never even considering alternatives (including doing nowt, rather than busybodying where they hadn’t even been invited), and just deciding unilaterally that a NDP was the answer (although to what question, no-one seems to have fathomed), they have squandered resources that could have improved the daily lives of residents in useful ways.

Them and us
I am sure that there are many on – if not all of – the Neighbourhood Planning Committee (or NumPtees, as a friend of mine has christened them – somewhat tongue-in-cheekly) who think very highly of (their part of) the village; who may even love it – and maybe even as, or more than, deeply as I do. I do wonder, though – thoughts raised (or, in my estimation, lowered) not only by the Plan itself, but by local and national election (and referendum) results – if they think highly, or love, the people who live here?

In The Road to Somewhere [David Goodhart] argues that the key faultline in Britain and elsewhere now separates those who come from Somewhere – rooted in a specific place or community, usually a small town or in the countryside, socially conservative, often less educated – and those who could come from Anywhere: footloose, often urban, socially liberal and university educated. He cites polling evidence to show that Somewheres make up roughly half the population, with Anywheres accounting for 20% to 25% and the rest classified as “Inbetweeners”….
     Goodhart insists that the views of Somewheres have been overlooked for decades, over-ruled by the Anywheres who control the commanding heights of political and cultural power, from the civil service to the universities to the BBC.
– Jonathan Freedland: The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart – a liberal’s rightwing turn on immigration

There is little evidence of true (small-s) socialism in the village (although Percy Sewell’s resurrection of the Village Hall is an intensely moving outlier…); but rather a great deal of cliqueyness (Goodhart’s “Anywheres” and “Somewheres” – divided by different needs, wants, and beliefs, perhaps?). And, to be blunt, I see very little indication of the Plan’s authors having walked even an inch in their peers’ (meaning every single resident of its jurisdiction) boots. Indeed, there is little to suggest that any communication – which, by definition, has to be bidirectional – has taken place with the majority of us (those in the village, perhaps – as an outsider essential to the village once said – “who don’t have family buried in the graveyard”). And, even when we have replied (often in great detail), our responses – especially those critical, or negative (or even contributory) – have been hidden, then summarized or moderated, then obliterated.

Search for “Neighbourhood Plan” within this blog, and you will find reams of rejoinders going back years: which I had hoped (all too idealistically) would have an ameliorative effect on the Plan, as it staggered from draft to draft, like a too-many-drunkard heading (approximately) homewards after The Peacock Inn has finally shut its late-night doors. At the very least, I had hoped that my inputs (long, admittedly; many, also; but written with deep consideration and affection) would be available, if not obvious, to readers of the succeeding versions (along with everyone-else’s thoughts – many of which were also a mixture of constructive negativity and love of parish…).

Not surprisingly – given the Plan’s embodiment of an exclusive (and/or narrow; possibly biased) way of thinking (which actually comes across as superior and smug) – I cannot find these incorporated anywhere within the 120 pages we have been directed to pass comment on. (The implication being that any such criticism, now, will suffer the same futile fate. “Your views are IMPORTANT” – only if they concur with ours…?) My inputs – put together with a great deal of thought; over a long period of time; readily sacrificing my already poor health to the pipe-dream of improvement and inclusivity – have been summarized to the point of obliteration.

Please note…
I would – as I have repeatedly stressed before – ask (well, demand…) that all those posts – and this one, of course – are accepted as proper evidence; that not only other residents, but also the Plan’s formal inspector, will be provided explicit, complete, and unhindered access to them; and that they will published together with every single other response as an intrinsic part of the Plan. Only in this way will the necessary value be added; and it demonstrated that some villagers (despite a distinct lack of direct personal contact) have actually responded to the pages of bumf labelled (incorrectly, without any demonstrable fact that its authors understand the true meaning of that first word) as Marketing and Publicity.

That even Google can’t answer
The current draft – however self-evidently incomplete – raises more than a few questions – the two (and a bit) most obvious being:

  • Why have they collated areas for housing development that fulfil much more than the requirements of the Local Plan? As The Good Lady Bard has pointed out: “We only need 40 houses. Why are there 66 on the plan?” To which I have no meaningful answer. [Perhaps the Plan’s creators have cunningly crystal-balled such campaigns as the Save Upper Tysoe one; and, like an airline overbooking seats, have compensated accordingly…?]
  • Has none of those creators looked down on Tysoe from above – from the Epwell Road, from Old Lodge Farm, from the windmill… – and wondered how the place grew so gobsmackingly idyllic without any overall plan? Has no-one stepped back, and gained perspective, looked at the bigger picture, tried to understand the context? [Rather than dictate future growth (with, it appears, identikit buildings plonked down, regardless of situation, regardless of need, regardless of aesthetic), why not let Tysoe continue to evolve sporadically – as it has always done? Just because those that selected themselves (without the behest or backing of the majority) to make decisions they don’t appear to understand the ramifications of, have committed their thoughts to paper, opining that this is the only way forward, doesn’t mean that this is the only way. We seem to be so afraid of diversity and spontaneity, of not having control, that I wonder if we villagers are allowed to think for ourselves anymore. “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever,” wrote George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Big Brother loves us, and has spoken – whether we like it or not. There is no alternative. We are all conservative, now. “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”]

Whose village is it, anyway?
It really doesn’t matter one jot what others may think on the subject: this is My Village; and I earned such a sobriquet the moment I volunteered to help with the campaign to rid The Three Tysoes (especially Middle Tysoe – which isn’t where I live…) of any infection by Gladman Developments. To be blunt, it really became mine the day The Good Lady Bard and I had our offer accepted for the house we live in, in Upper Tysoe, over six years ago.

As someone who values egalitarianism, I neither believe that (such) time of service/residence equates to seniority; nor that others should decide for me whether or not I belong, whether my claim is valid… – although, having proved both my love and worth throughout, a little approbation would have been nice (and fitting)! However, because my affectionate instincts stem from honest sentiment (and a need to do The Right Thing the right way), rather than a greedy (or selfish/political) desire for power, I (and a handful of others, similarly inclined) have become rapidly despised. Of course, it probably does not help that many of us have the word ‘Socialism’ branded on our hearts and brains; that we care for the many, not for the few; that status (however defined) means little, if anything, to us; that we believe respect is earned through quiet deeds and words, not through proclamation and the carrying of big sticks; and that we don’t have much representation, locally or politically (or even amongst the village dead…). The ‘otherness’ we represent – in not fitting in with an overarching Tory ethos (one that is easily ascertained from listening to our MP justify his income; or the fragile and hollow Prime Minister dead-parrot echolalic soundbites; but especially from the contents of this stopgap Government’s latest, concept-depleted manifesto) – seems to be all that is required in generating what, at times, has felt like pure hatred.

Our countryside and rural communities have been moulded by generations of farmers…. We will continue to take action to improve animal welfare…. We will grant a free vote, on a government bill in government time, to give parliament the opportunity to decide the future of the Hunting Act.
The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2017

[“Do only farmers live in villages?” I wondered: questioning my own existence. “Other people have shaped our villages, too – randomly and beautifully,” came back the reply. “And not everyone thinks ‘animal welfare’ includes butchering those sentient beings who were here long before we polluted and desecrated their land.”]

Man is what he believes
Perhaps it is that those who disagree with us really do believe that their ‘truth’ is sacrosanct; that any deviation from such solipsism is heresy… – but then why do we-that-believe-differently so upset them (and how come we believe differently, in the first place… – “From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink – greetings!”)?

The only reason I can see for the childish, meaningless, and – let’s be blunt about this – pathetic responses to any challenge is that they know their entitled ‘values’ are card houses built on untrustworthy sand. How, therefore, dare we criticize, or disagree, or poke holes in their arguments? They have never questioned the tenets of their lifelong certainties – so, how dare we? Oh, the temerity…! (“Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.”)

Standing as an exemplar of such disunion – when its authors would, I am sure, rather have it presented as a perfect encapsulation of every single inhabitant’s united convictions – is, of course, the NDP. Even though I sometimes feel like a lone voice crying from the wilderness of informed sanity, I refuse to dilute (especially not to the homeopathic extent some would wish for) my continuing opposition to this – particularly to the form it takes; but especially to its uninformed suppositions that it will, somehow “protect” My Village, and can only be A Good Thing.

Somewhere during its extended history – and I would posit (from the evidence contained within the many drafts, as well as my responses to them) that it was very early on – sight was lost of what such a plan was meant to be; and, therefore, what it could achieve. It also rapidly became a document for The Few, not The Many: as its lack of necessary objectives led to content driven not by what was required, but by what individuals could (and wanted to) achieve.

Money is not the only answer, but…
You may think that I am exaggerating the difference between the Them and the Us; that such ‘othering’ could not really exist in this supposed rural idyll. (“In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it.”) And yet, while writing the above words – in a simultaneity that is as enlightening as it is horrific – The Good Lady Bard, reading the latest draft in one of the village’s retail outlets, was being verbally assailed – and in the most ludicrously patronizing manner – for not only not “liking” “our” plan; but standing up and having the bare-faced cheek to challenge its contents (and knowledgeably, too). (“The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought.”)

It seems that just because successive groups of people have managed to produce a set of three documents totalling 120 pages – no matter that it does not constitute the definition of a Neighbourhood Development Plan; that mostly irrelevant detail is mislabelled as “evidence”; that any evidence of opposition has been erased; that it has about as much legal standing as a dandelion… – we are supposed to be impressed by their work ethic. (Or something.) To question it – as my partner discovered – is therefore an act of treason: equivalent, I would guess, to me shooing off a very arrogant Conservative canvasser after proclaiming my membership of, first, the Labour Party, and now the Greens. (Marxist bastard!)

Such behaviour is simply not acceptable, we are told. If we want to be seen as true members of this community (whatever one of those is), we must fall in line with the other unquestioning zombies: those who (claimed to) believe May is a goddess; Nadhim a decent MP; and that every word of robotic, Crosby-Hill-&-Timothy-fied (a team nowhere near as inspirational, or entertaining, as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) gibberish their party representatives uttered is infallible gospel. (“Orthodoxy is unconsciousness”.) The lesson for today? Anyone who thinks; anyone who cares; anyone with an active heart and mind is simply Wrong – and cannot Belong.

These people simply do not like the fact they have been found out. But this will in no way stop them from issuing yet more bullshit. If we say the NHS will get £350 million a week after we have wrecked this country, then it is The Truth. If we say this is a Neighbourhood Development Plan, then likewise. The emperor is not only naked; but skeletal – Big Brother has, of course, been stripped of all flesh.

Funny how quickly such infection spreads. Funny, too, that Orwell’s nightmare was date-stamped thirty-odd years too early. Funny, ha, bloody, ha. (“What opinions the masses hold, or do not hold, is looked on as a matter of indifference. They can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect.”)

This little piggy went to market
Doublespeak banners proclaiming “Get involved! Help protect the character of Tysoe”, when a Neighbourhood Development Plan does nothing of the sort – especially not this one: with its emphasis on site availability; and a second volume of evidence, which is also “nothing of the sort” – concentrating on explanations of why developers should clutch the shopping list that has been provided to their very bosoms. Even if the NDP could be used to defend against such targeting – which it cannot (it is simply another stratum in the geologic pile of documents for planning committees to consider/ignore) – it will be difficult to fight back with a document that ostensibly encourages the thing that it is then being used to oppose.

And where is the actual evidence? Explicit and intelligent comments from those in the village that understand what an NPD really is have – (like mine) as I have already stated – been summarized to death. Only those in Lower Tysoe – understandably reluctant to be lumped in with the growing (sub)urbanization of the two conjoined other ‘villages’ – are given voice. You would – were you either naïve or simply unaware (which must cover a large proportion of our population, considering the ineffective penetration of that nothing-of-the-sort Publicity and Marketing (most of which had passed me by…)) – think that the inhabitants of The Three Tysoes were uniformly in favour of the proposed desecration(s). (I wonder if there are similar, simultaneous Save Lower Tysoe and Save Middle Tysoe campaigns being born, as I write?!)

At the moment, omission of such renders this seeking for approval “a paper exercise” (a phrase borrowed from The Good Lady Bard). And, without sensible, clear objectives, an expensive one with no obvious remit. (Is there a record of how much money this has eaten up – and why and how? I presume, from the vast increases in Parish Council funding listed on our council tax demands, that it is in the high tens of thousands.)

And, finally…
On 20 May 2017, between 07:59 and 08:09, I left the following two comments on the Tysoe Parish & Community webpage announcing the availability of the “Neighbourhood Plan (sic) – Pre-consultation draft Neighbourhood Plan”:

Isn’t having the NP spread over three files just ensuring that those of us who would prefer to read it online will either struggle, or simply be put off? When some accepted plans have only been single, short documents, why does ours need to be so complex? (We must be well on the way to satisfying our new housing requirement, anyway….) By the way: has any allowance been made for those who are disabled, and may need to access it in alternate formats? Thank you.

…and…

As I cannot access the Feedback Form [which, at the time, linked to nowhere], I will leave a final comment here…. I do not understand why those responsible for the NP (especially in the form of an easy-to-read map: perfect for pinning on developers’ walls) have created a target/shopping list of fields for Steve Taylor and his ilk to plaster with planning proposals. I know that NPs cannot actually stop development from taking place; but neither should they go out of their way to actively encourage it… – and definitely not to this extensive extent. It breaks my heart that we spent so much time and energy defeating Gladman, only to now appear to be on their side.

They were, of course, moderated “to the point of obliteration”, “to death”. Someone decided that such views should not be shared. And you just thought I was being paranoid, didn’t you?!?

It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation. In the old days the heretic walked to the stake still a heretic, proclaiming his heresy, exulting in it. Even the victim of the Russian purges could carry rebellion locked up in his skull as he walked down the passage waiting for the bullet. But we make the brain perfect before we blow it out.
– George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four

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