Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chelmsford's democracy gains a bit but loses a lot

Democracy in Chelmsford gained and lost yesterday. First of all, the public inquiry kicked off into the Chelmsford Borough Development Plan – and later the electorate delivered a major shock by electing a Lib Dem in a by-election.

In the morning, the Inquiry Inspector made it quite clear that he was operating under the new Government rules designed to push things through as quickly as possible. We must not stand in the way of progress, must we? Whitehall knows best, as always, whether it is Labour or the Conservatives running it.

The Inspector stated that, provided the council could show it had followed all the correct procedures, he was unlikely to amend the Development Plan, let alone stop it going ahead. The fact that the procedures had produced an illogical mass of contradictions was not going to trouble the inspector much. After all, there are all those thousands of houses that have just GOT to be built; no time to lose – there's green fields out there just waiting to be bulldozed. Grade 1 listed building (used by King Henry VIII) in the way? Well, says the Conservative-run council, cannot demolish it but let's build the houses all around it instead. New station needed? Yes, we mostly agree with the Lib Dems on that, but of course it should go in the more expensive location.

The Council made much of the fact that it had public support for its proposals. But then it had asked probably the most loaded questions ever asked in a consultation. It gave the public one viable option for where to put new houses; one option that NO-ONE thought was a serious option (merely there to make the others look better) and a variant of the first option that included a bit of the second.

It was a bit like asking the public whether they would like haggis and chips or mushy peas and chips for lunch at 11.00am. If you said "well, actually I would like something else please" the Council's response was quite simply "tough - that is all that is on the menu; you have to choose one of them". And that's how they arrived at claiming over 50% support for their preferred option – the haggis and chips option of 4-5,000 houses in one place and three lumps of 250 houses elsewhere.

As if that was not bad enough, the Inspector decided he had to ignore one of the elephants in the room – an extra 2,000 houses almost certain to be forced onto the Borough by the Government, on top of the 14,000 it already knows it has to take.

So Day 1 over. Later today the small group of 'Davids' to which I belong (local residents) take on the Goliaths of the property world, with their ranks of highly-paid advisers when we debate the details of the housing allocations.

Then it was off to help the Liberal Democrat campaign in the by-election for the vacant Broomfield & The Walthams seat borough council seat. Broomfield is where the council wants to put the three lumps of 250 houses. Needless to say, this was the main issue in the campaign. We had an excellent candidate in Malcolm Taylor, who stood down from the parish council in May after many years as chairman. And he won, on a 29% swing compared to last May!

The 1198 votes that Malcolm won is rather more than the total of individual members of the public who responded to the public consultation. But I wonder which will carry most weight in the housing allocation discussions?

You can read more about the Chelmsford Development plans here and about the by-election win here. See also the webpage of the Chelmsford North Action Group, who are campaigning against the council proposals.


2 Comments:

At 12 September, 2007 08:45, Blogger Chris Black said...

Well Done!

 
At 12 September, 2007 14:05, Blogger John said...

Well done Stephen,and however frustrating the spurious representations of the Council may be,and the illogical restraints being put up by the Inspector, you and all LibDems in the Chelmsford Constituency know the real truth, as shown in the result of yesterdays Bi-election, fought and won on these actual issues. Keep up the preasure for the sake of all of us. Good luck

 

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