Following my blog post about Alan Melton’s keynote speech this week interesting things have happened. Cllr Jan French and Clr Leader Alan Melton both visited this site and made interesting comments. John Elworthy (editor of Wisbech Standard / Cambs Times) commented via Twitter that my comments about the local press weren’t fair. I’ve had a chance to read the whole speech rather than just the highlights. And the online political chat community has gone haywire over Alan’s controversial turns-of-phrase.
So let me clarify. My main concern was that Alan appeared to be devaluing the importance of a local voice in opposition to development. I don’t like the term “nimby”, which I have always thought unfair and misleading and still do. Other than that, I am broadly supportive of his aspirations. I don’t want to ‘do away’ with archaeology and I value our heritage as much as the next person – but as I said previously there must be a fair balance. I believe the scales have swung too far towards the archaeologists’ interests and are now punitive and expensive for people who are just trying to do things with their land and property. And I am not referring specifically to the huge developers – who are big enough, rich enough and experienced enough to take care of themselves. I’m talking about individuals and small organisations like Parish councils – upon whom the burden of all this bureaucracy is now too heavy. Solely. In. My. Opinion.
I also worry about the idea that we might tarmac and concrete over the whole of our beautiful Fens, blurring the lines between pretty villages so that all we end up with is a giant urban sprawl. I really don’t think that would be a good thing for anybody – except a few wealthy developers. But once I read the whole of the speech it became clear that Alan Melton isn’t saying that at all. What he’s saying is that we want quality development; which fits with our communities in a sensible way, which delivers improvements in the local area, which comes with funded infrastructure required to make it a success and which will help us grow and thrive in the region. Apparently, the plan is to make it easier for those sort of applications to succeed without becoming mired in red tape and paperwork. It’s an admirable goal.
In his usual interesting way, our district council leader dressed this up with controversial metaphor and colourful turns-of-phrase. This has the dual effect of getting the story into the limelight, but also diverting the message. Okay, suggesting archaeologists are “bunny huggers” probably wasn’t entirely wise. But it sure beats the sort of dry, flavourless, super-politically-correct speeches we hear so often from other areas. And frankly, it was obviously a flippant and humorous remark – the diggers and delvers don’t need to get so upset about it. Truth be told they probably aren’t upset about it but about the potential policy it heralds. In their response, also quoted in the Wisbech Standard, some body of archaelogists or other begun crying “European Law” and whatnot and a Twitter comment from one of them said: “What right does one temporarily-elected councillor have…? etc.” No sensible person thinks we should destroy valuable ancient sites and artifacts if we can avoid it – but we surely accept that there is a sensible limit to how many, how often and how extensively this interferes with the business of modernity. This seems, to me, to be a debate worth having. Of course the law must be respected and I don’t think anybody actually said otherwise.
In the same way the local greens and scientologists warmists are also sniping and curling their lips at Alan’s remark about Polar Bears floating down the Nene. But everybody is entitled to their opinion and Alan Melton certainly isn’t the only person in Fenland with a healthy scepticism of some of the dubious remarks and scientific practices that have been made public in recent years. He may well represent a majority on the issue, in fact.
For years now the general public have loudly clamoured for less red tape, regulation and bureaucracy. People in Fenland have asked for our towns to benefit from investment leading to prosperity. This appears to be the aim of these new policies. So, the bit about ‘Nimbys’ aside, I quite like the sound of it. If this truly meant building a lot of horrible structures that nobody wants against the will of the people, I couldn’t support it. But it appears to mean building things that people want and need, supported broadly by the public while sweeping aside obstacles where the burden placed is unfair or unreasonable. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Note: It wasn’t my previous intention to suggest that the local press regularly get their facts wrong or to question the professionalism of local journalists. I’ve, many times, said how much I enjoy our local press. Rather, I was saying that I prefer to form opinions myself with as much evidence as I can gather. Journalism, even when every effort is made to remain neutral, is always coloured by personal perception and feelings to some degree. Even when “just the facts” are recorded – another person observing might notice something different. This is not a criticism in any way, just my personal view.