Archive

Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

The Makeshift Manifesto

December 6, 2019 Leave a comment

MM2We are hearing promise after promise and commitment after commitment based upon what our current crop of politicians and aspiring MPs will do for us if we give them our vote.

The problem is that if any of them do get elected with a majority this week – and therefore attain the ability to actually deliver on any of the things they have promised – the promises they have made will look and sound very different when they come to fruition for many reasons, not least of all because so little thought and consideration has gone into how those promises were actually formed and made.

The UK is desperate for change

If we were able to elect the right politicians, we would not need manifestos at all.

Good politicians would do the right things and would be committed to doing whatever is necessary to get the job done – all without any consideration for what the impact of their actions may or may not be for them themselves, the Political Party they represent or anyone else who has influence upon the way that they think.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the option to choose the right politicians in the 2019 General Election.

The system that we have has ensured that different names, different people and the different things they all say won’t deliver anything different to the outcome or result. Anything and everything they do will always end up being exactly the same.

That isn’t to say there isn’t any value to the things that politicians are currently talking about.

Any good salesman knows that no matter how small it might be, selling anything has to be anchored on the basis of at least one truth.

The politicians we have are savvy enough to be able to focus in on topics that people will identify with and talk about them or make offers to the Public that suggest the politicians will address them. Promises that will be calculated as being just enough to get them elected – which is the only real job or purpose that any and all of these politicians genuinely want to get done.

We don’t know what the outcome of the Election on Thursday 12th December will actually be.

But whatever the outcome of the 2019 General Election is, the fact that we have such poor, self-serving politicians as the majority of Candidates to become MPs means it is pretty likely that even greater chaos than what we have seen in the past two years is well on its way. That chaos may really begin to hit us all very hard in our everyday lives if there really is no change in politics and politicians continue to believe that they can continue to behave just the same as they are.

So what could politicians be doing differently now if they were focused on the right things?

Actually there is an awful lot.

But successful outcomes for us all means having new politicians who are big enough and confident enough in their own abilities, knowledge and understanding to know that the biggest thing they have to think differently about is the desire to always in someway feel like they are in control.

No, not the kind of control we think of like driving a car or riding a bike.

This is the idea that politicians can control future events by the decisions they take now or at a certain time.

They can’t and never will.

It just looks like that – some of the time.

So when I say that good politicians wouldn’t need manifestos, what I mean is that they wouldn’t need to try and bribe us with whatever they can dream up to convince us.

We would just elect good politicians because we could trust them to get on and do what’s best for all of us whenever they make a decision.

We could trust good politicians to do the right thing.

Real Change

Because we don’t have good politicians, it’s worth having a think about the kinds of things they would actually be doing with the power that we have given them as part of that journey of doing the right things on our behalf.

Below is a list of the kinds of new policy ideas and changes that good politicians might be already acting upon, thinking about, questioning, discussing, researching and developing right now, if they were already in government.

It is not an exhaustive list by any means and I will apologise to any reader now who immediately finds the absence of a topic or suggestion in keeping with this document that I have for some reason or none left out.

There is, in reality today a never ending list of things that really need to be done and these are just a beginning or a start.

This is a Makeshift Manifesto

The points are deliberately short to bring focus and attention to the areas that need work in Public Policy if things in this Country were really to be changed and there was a genuine, wide-ranging commitment on the part of politicians to really get things done.

Some of the points will seem controversial, like withdrawing or rescinding the Legislation on Employment Rights that came from the EU.

I have raised them not with the intention of upsetting anyone or winding anyone up. They are there to serve as a gateway to the reality that there are much bigger and usually very negative consequences sitting beyond the mantras and sound bites that are deceptively used to draw voters in. The sweetest sounding lies and partial truths that often hurt the very people that they are supposed to help as they appear to positively impact the people they were designed for, but then negatively impact the world around them and then come back to haunt those same people too.

The way politics and the media operates today doesn’t foster genuine learning, discussion and debate. It focuses on fear and encouraging instant reactions and doesn’t allow anyone to take the time to sit down, go through ideas in the right way. It certainly doesn’t explain.

For example, when talking about subjects like hourly wages and rates of pay with young people and students, they will most often only be focused on what the value of pay to them is actually worth.

Yet when you take the time to discuss and explain how the businesses that employ them operate and what wage rises will actually mean as a result of the knock-on effects to the employer, the customers and the employees just like if not them, they are typically far more interested in what has been said. Indeed, they are genuinely receptive to the steps that would need to be taken to make the money they earn and already have in their pocket have better value. They want to see the changes come into being that would change not only theirs but everyone’s lives for the better – again, getting done what really needs to be done.

So no matter how the following points might immediately make the reader feel, they are offered up as no more than the equivalent of a light being shone on the areas of Public Policy that need to be changed; in some cases removed and in others completely transformed, simply to ensure that the battle to deliver something better for ALL People in the UK – that MPs are not yet fighting – is ultimately won.

‘You can’t do the right thing because it’s too complicated’

This isn’t costed. It can’t be done. Things don’t work like that. It’s not practical. It’s idealist.

These are all reactions that can be expected at the end of reading what follows below.

During conversations with many people about public policy generally and particularly with people who voted to Remain in the Referendum on Leaving the EU, I have become increasingly aware that the majority of us agree with all the kinds of suggestions I am making and with it the principle of ‘doing the right thing’. But they also believe this kind of change is impossible because it’s either too complicated or we will never have the right people in politics to do what it takes to get these things even considered, let alone started, completed or ‘done’.

Whilst this view is completely understandable when considering the mess that British politics is now in, it’s because politicians have not been prepared to look difficult policy decisions and challenges in the eye and deal with them properly as they should that the UK is now in the trouble that it is and so many people are suffering across our communities.

Brexit is a symptom of the very problem where the politicians who have been elected and given the responsibility to lead us and make decisions on our behalf always take the easy option. Do decision making in isolation without care for consequence. And give us government that is always thinking about the next election and is therefore on the run.

The reality is that if politics was done properly in the UK, manifestos and the false promises within them would be redundant.

Issues would be addressed and considered by Government as they need to be, rather than being wrapped up in shiny paper at election time and sold to us as part of some grand but nonetheless hollow strategic plan.

Cost, practicality, how the system works and all those things may be very relevant in considering what is only list of suggestions for consideration that follows here.

Any one of the suggestions made, when considered or even enacted in isolation might be appear impossible simply because of all the other existing policies that already interact with that area of policy, which in the immediacy of that apparently broader sense might make it seem impossible for that one thing to be done.

But none of this is impossible.

In fact, we all deserve an approach to public policy which is not fearful of even considering changes to public policy just like these.

This means that we need to change the way that we think as well as the people we elect to think on our behalf.

Only when we have political leaders who think differently will we all see and then understand how different and how better things in this Country can be if our politicians are prepared to break away from the idea that achievement only comes from compromise when repeated compromise itself means we continually end up with all the same things.

We must have real leaders in Government before we can actually be led.

A small caveat

Everything that follows is basically a starting point or a means to reaching or finding a way to an end. The overriding principle is that we should make better and more effective use of all that we have already got, rather than falling into the trap of thinking that the problems that we have can only be solved by throwing money around or by replacing whatever the problem is with something new.

This kind of thinking might be representative of ‘the way that things have always been done’. But in the long term, it helps no one.

PLEASE NOTE: There is no specific or intended order. As a result of an attempt to avoid duplication (which may have failed here and there…), some points or suggestions may appear to be located under headings which are different to where you might automatically assume they should be. It does however illustrate the point rather well that no public policy decisions should ever be made in isolation as all public policy is joined up!

Thanks for reading!

 

Best wishes to all,

Adam Tugwell

7 December 2019

The Makeshift Manifesto – December 2019

 

1 – Taxation

  • Reform of HMRC to make it ‘customer friendly’
  • Tax the ownership of land, property and wealth rather than personal income
  • Tax Internet transactions at the location of the customer or the device they were using, not at the location of the company base
  • Simplify the taxation system, providing transparency and remove confusion
  • Aim for flat tax or limited tier system which is not based on the level of earnings, but where all earners pay proportionally the same
  • Aim to reduce and then remove VAT once all other parts of the Tax system have been changed and are working appropriately
  • New ethical ‘in the spirit of’ legislation to prohibit Tax Evasion or Avoidance where no preventative Law is deemed to exist or cover the abusive act, but where Tax Evasion or Avoidance has taken place nonetheless

2 – Industrial Relations

  • Reform union legislation to prevent and make illegal any strike that will or has the potential to effect transport and public service provision
  • Remove right of unions to have paid shop stewards or other union representatives on organisational or company payroll
  • Legislate to prohibit unions making donations to political parties, third party organisations or outside causes

3 – Defence

  • Reinstate National Service to ensure that all eligible young people qualify academically, complete parallel apprenticeships or undertake military training as a key part of their professional development and steps towards the workplace
  • Aim to bring all military hardware and software development and manufacturing into the UK or UK hands, outsourcing only where no other options are available
  • International Military Policy to be non-interventionist and non-aggressive unless directly attacked or there is a requirement to maintain an appropriate military presence overseas either to support UK Foreign Aid activities or as part of Partnership commitments with other Countries (NATO, UN etc)
  • Outlaw civil prosecution against any alleged military ‘crime’ – whether current, recent or historic
  • Continue with the Renewal of Trident
  • New Naval Ship Building programme to include adequate ‘at sea’ Fisheries Protection for all UK Waters
  • Rearm and finance the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army to ensure that combined forces are able to cover all domestic and possible/likely overseas requirements at all times

4 – Communication

  • Support the telecoms industry to provide 100% Broadband coverage across the UK within 5 years
  • Ensure that all critical infrastructure and software is provided by UK Companies, managed and manufactured in the UK

5 – Education

  • Apprenticeships at 14 for non-academic young people as part of a change to ‘heads’ vs. ‘hands’ parallel routes to age 21 where education is based on experience, academic attainment or both, rather than just exam results and educational level reached.
  • Prohibit bogus or ‘worthless’ degrees
  • Remove commercialism from all places of learning to ensure that the focus is on teaching, not running as a business
  • Cap the salaries of senior academic and management staff in all publicly funded educational establishments
  • Remove ‘private’ interest in any publicly funded educational establishment or vehicle
  • Legislate to support Teachers first and foremost in the parent-teacher relationship
  • Add critical thinking to become a required part of all curriculums
  • Means tested paid tuition fees for further and higher education students for first time applicants of all ages
  • Means tested maintenance grants for further and higher education students for first time applicants of all ages

6 – Foreign Policy

  • Reform overseas aid to provide direct and meaningful support, rather than just funds or contracts to private companies
  • Contracts awarded to private companies as part of Foreign Aid should be given to business indigenous to that specific Country, with the focus that profits and employment end up in the pockets of local people and businesses – not simply back in the UK
  • Create a non-military foreign aid logistics and development service

7 – Brexit

  • Immediate rejection of any of the existing ‘Withdrawal’ Agreements made with the EU
  • A completely Clean Exit from the European Union on WTO Terms – as directed by the UK Electorate in the European Referendum Vote on 23rd June 2016
  • No negotiations on trade until the UK has formally Left the EU and is functioning with trade on WTO Terms
  • No further payments to be made to the EU after the UK Leaves the EU
  • No balloon payments made as part of the process of the UK Leaving the EU
  • Immediate start on the alternative Borders option for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to include the establishment of the Open Border Service
  • Immediate protection orders to safeguard British Farming, Fisheries and all areas of production at risk from foreign imports
  • Immediate implementation of a temporary protectionist policy on all trade with the EU where the products, goods, foods and services are already available in the UK, to stay in place until those industries can self-sustain
  • Immediate ban on the import of all EU derived products, goods, foods and services that are subsidised and therefore underwritten by the EU, unless they are not already available in the UK

8 – Business & Finance

  • Readopt an unashamedly protectionist, UK first approach to all industries and services
  • Adopt a non-global approach to supply chains and production
  • Require all UK Business to adhere to new Covenant of UK Environmental Standards covering all production, operations and purchasing within 2 years
  • Focus new trade deals on Foods, Products, Goods and Services that the UK has not historically provided itself or for the period it remains unable to do so
  • Reform and limitation of financial services and banking to restrict or where necessary prohibit the use of speculative (betting), futures and non-transparent financial devices in any form
  • Restrict the power of privately owned credit scoring agencies
  • Regulate and restrict current system whereby banks and financial institutions can effectively create money through system of leverage
  • Confiscation of all material assets law for all Bankers and Financiers who are convicted of financial exploitation of others
  • Sell here, produce here requirement for products and services in mass Public or consumer use
  • Anti profiteering laws to be introduced
  • Restriction of intervention and right of agency in any supply chain where no value has been added via the transfer
  • services
  • Punitive fines to be introduced for unethical business practices
  • Fiscal prudence law outlawing policy decisions based only on cost and/or spending
  • Reverse changes made by Gordon Brown and the 1997 Labour Government to Pension Funds
  • Legislate to restrict or stop Planned Obsolescence consumerism
  • Legislate to prevent private companies issuing fines for parking offences
  • Create new Parking Court
  • Legislate to remove the grey area where gig economy companies can employ people on sub-contract or self-employed basis without being a full franchisee to be banned

9 – The Internet & Social Media

  • Legislate to ensure that identities of all social media account holders/users to be known to publisher and anonymity of public user identity (usernames) only given for legitimate reasons

10 – Public Services

  • Create Public Interest Companies (Trusts) to provide all municipal services and services across multiple Authorities covering traditional County areas or similar
  • Create new standard or charter for public servants
  • End the role of ‘created’ and unnecessary add-on management, back-room and administrative roles
  • End policies which facilitate and allow redundancy and rehire
  • Reform Local Government & Civil Service Pension Scheme
  • Rescind independence in decision making of all QUANGOs making them answerable Nationally to Parliament and locally to the most appropriate Local Authority or tier of Government
  • Remove EU Tender & Procurement Legislation
  • Prioritise new, small and local business over corporate business for any outsourcing requirement that remains
  • New non-financial or indirect corruption laws for all tiers of government and public services

11 – The Courts & Legal System

  • Reform and reinstatement of legal aid with appropriate fixed fee format, legal professional sector pay and enforcement body to administer and clear penalties for any abuse of the system
  • Reform of legal profession standards monitoring and regulation
  • Divorce Laws to be reformed with first point of call becoming mediation in all civil cases where no Criminal Laws have been broken
  • Mediation to become licensed
  • Create Legislation to impede influence of obstructive and unreasonable Divorce cases not settled by mediation
  • Volunteer Magistrates to be excluded from all Family Law cases
  • Reform Magistrates Service to remove innate prejudice and political correctness from recruitment processes
  • Legislation against ‘ambulance chasing’ or ‘where there’s blame, there’s a claim’ approach to litigation on basis of blame attribution
  • Dissolution of the Supreme Court and return to Law Lords or system that sits outside of political influence
  • Reform of litigation Laws to support David vs Goliath cases where small businesses could not afford to take on big business when in breech of contract

12. Law & Order

  • All convicted Terrorists to receive whole-life tariffs
  • Referendum on Capital Punishment
  • End to Police Community Support Officers
  • End requirement for Police Officers to be educated to degree level
  • End to direct entry for senior officers who have not come through the ranks
  • Resume system of Police Prosecutions
  • Aim for all minor offences to be prosecuted within 24 hours of arrest and before offender release
  • All young people from age 14 to 21 years convicted of criminal offences other than murder, manslaughter or terrorism to be immediately enrolled for National Service
  • Decentralisation of Police Stations and return to locality Policing
  • Remove all targets and statistical monitoring of Police work that incentivises behaviour or quality of work

13 – Freedom of Speech

  • Protection of the tolerant against spurious intolerance
  • Right to be forgotten to become automatic after 3 years
  • New law to support freedom of speech and right to speak with removal of right to inflict views on others verbally, in writing or through intimidation or threatening behaviour of any kind

14 – Animal Welfare

  • Rescind EU Laws on Abattoirs
  • Support construction of new local Abattoir network and mobile abattoir service for the most remote areas
  • No animal to travel more than 50 miles from farm to slaughter
  • Revise Hunting with Dogs Legislation to outlaw illegal or disruptive intervention by non-hunters, remove any right to prosecute for accidental Fox hunting, whilst tightening Law on prosecution against those seeking to flout Ban using birds of prey or other by-pass devices
  • RSPCA to lose charity status, be taken into public management and given evolved role to support work of DEFRA and all other Public Services and Agencies dealing with Animal Health & Welfare

15 – Nationalisation / Public ‘management’ of Everyday Essential Services & Utilities

  • Place all utilities and services essential for everyday public use into non-profit making status and/or create alternative public managed business providing alternative provider to all customers

16 – Transport

  • Scrap HS2
  • Remove Crossrail Company and replace with non-profit making commercial trust with reformed management structure
  • Build new terminus stations in London and expand number of platforms at existing terminus stations across UK
  • Reopen lines closed by Beaching Act
  • Public sponsorship or loans to new shipbuilding enterprises
  • Create new system of Bicycle & Rider Licensing
  • Focus technological development on Hydrogen and Battery Powered Vehicles
  • Rescind EU Legislation requiring Professional Drivers to do stepped tests for different vehicle sizes in same class (e.g HGV 3 and then HGV1 only afterwards following a qualification period)
  • Rescind Driver CPC Course requirement replacing current system with short online course and tests as part of first Licensing, then regular refresher courses and tests online thereafter to be provided and managed by DVLA for all UK ONLY commercial drivers
  • Professional Foreign Drivers required to undertake same short online courses and tests to drive in UK in ALL circumstances
  • Investment in new road surface technology research to extend lifetime
  • Fines for utility companies leaving temporary roadworks without work taking place at weekends and during daylight hours
  • Utility companies to be made liable for all road repairs where they have devalued the structural integrity of a road surface

17 – Welfare & Benefits

  • Institute a universally applicable basic standard of living rate for all persons
  • Create a people’s bank
  • All Benefits to be paid into a cashless bank account with restrictions on payments tailored to the recipient
  • Removal of assumed right to benefits for any foreign economic migrant
  • Return to common sense approach to disability payments
  • End the use of profit making back to work training contractors

18 – Poverty

  • Introduce a Basic Standard of Living level based upon what it costs to feed, cloth, house and transport a person or persons living in a household at a minimum realistic level
  • Base all benefits on the Basic Standard of Living Level
  • Base all future plans for minimum wage on the Basic Standard of Living Level
  • Explore validity of Universal Income set at Basic Standard of Living Level for the short term unemployed to restrict unnecessary exposure to benefits system and culture
  • Creation of blanket provision of hostels and services for the homeless with tailored approach to individuals and arms-length care and support for those who choose not to use any accommodation offered
  • All supermarkets and food retailers with 3000’ floor space of more to be required to provide and openly promote food bank donation bins

19 – Food & Farming

  • Unashamedly prioritise British Produce
  • Require that all publicly funded meal providers buy British
  • Incentivise local and ethical food supply chains to create a producer to retail industry able to compete directly with National Retailer supply chains with food travelling no more than 50 miles from farm to fork
  • Replace CAP with short term UK Farm Subsidies
  • Remove all EU-derived quotas and restrictions

20 – Politics and Government

  • Reform of electoral system
  • Reform of political Party system
  • Minimum age of Town & Parish Councillors set at 21 years
  • Minimum Age of District Level Councillors set at 25
  • Minimum Age of MPs set at 30
  • Removal of Allowances System for Councillors
  • Introduction of time-served, time-attended, effort-made ‘end of term handshake’ for Councillors
  • De-politicisation of lower tiers of Government
  • MPs barred from holding second jobs whilst in Office
  • MPs barred from holding non-executive directorships whilst in Office
  • MPs barred from holding consultant or sub-contract roles whilst in Office
  • MPs barred from holding any company ownership role with a shareholding of 51% or less whilst in Office
  • Politicians barred from holding more than 1 Elected Office at any time
  • End the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) system
  • Local Authorities to be barred from using fines from parking and road offences as revenue or as a source of income
  • Lords to either be dissolved or be reformed
  • Reform of the Honours List
  • Reform of Commissions system
  • ‘Cronyism’ in Public Office to become a Criminal Offence

21 – Devolution & Localism

  • All powers that can be more effectively governed and implemented at local level to be devolved to the appropriate tier of Government from Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast
  • Create Parish or Town, District or Borough and County Level independent local authorities where none currently exist
  • Dissolve Unitary Authorities
  • Dissolve Mayor-led Authority Areas

22 – Climate Change

  • Create a Covenant of UK Environmental Standards for all foods, products, goods, services, manufacturing and other items to be published within 12 months and implemented within 24 months
  • Ban on all non-UK based Companies moving into UK Marketplace which do not meet UK Environmental Standards
  • Return public transport to ‘public’ ownership
  • Improve public transport to levels that improve passenger participation
  • Provide 50 free journeys on one form of public transport per commuter per year
  • Prioritise carbon capture technology both for industrial and domestic use
  • Stop pretending that House building is the only solution to the Housing Crisis
  • Invest in water capture, desalinisation and storage technologies, where possible ensuring a crossover with green energy production
  • Introduce Packaging Tax to be applied to all disposable or non-recyclable packaging on a per-unit basis
  • Rescind decision on 3rd Runway at Heathrow until expansion will be at least carbon neutral in current terms
  • Legislate to make better use of existing transport systems and infrastructure prioritising improvement over new construction
  • Tax commuter journeys taken by car
  • Incentivise reduction of car-to-school journeys for children of secondary school age and where adequate and appropriate educational transport or public transport provision exists
  • Legislate to restrict or stop Planned Obsolescence consumerism
  • Subsidise network of community car sharing pools
  • Tax ownership of fossil fuel resources on an annual basis
  • Ban imports of all products not manufactured to UK environmental standards

23 – Planning

  • Dissolve Local Planning Committee structure and remove politicisation
  • Legislate to create Local Planning Courts
  • Create new Government Planning Investigation Unit with remit to investigate historic consent, overturn decisions not made in the Public Interest and given the right to seize land and property where corruption of any kind has been found or to instruct the immediate return of land or infrastructure to the previous state it was in before the Application(s) was/were made at the cost of the Applicant.
  • Reform Planning Policy to remove anchors for interpretation and focus decision making on real-life effects and locality
  • Create National Framework of Planning Policies to be adopted and tailored locally and left as stand-alone except in times of National Emergency or need

24 – Environment

  • All flood plain building and restructuring to be immediately banned
  • Revision of Flooding policy to include equal weighting being given to Fluvial and Pluvial flooding
  • Return to regular dredging and clearance of all river systems

25 – Housing

  • Tax all multiple home ownership at increasing levels per unit and/or depending upon size and unused capacity
  • Introduce staggered and increasing stamp duty upon all multiple house purchases
  • Regulate profit margin per new house for house builders
  • Introduce Tax breaks and incentives for unused room letting
  • All local authorities to prioritise local applicants for social housing

26 – Employment Rights

  • Step away from all EU derived Employment Legislation and end Working Time Directive
  • Regulate to ensure minimum hourly wage in line with agreed contractual hours, overtime rates (minimum 1 x 1.25 minimum wage for all zero hours contract workers) and holiday pay on per hour basis
  • Legislate to ensure that all gig-economy-type roles pay ‘employee’ on basis of zero hours contract AFTER realistic costs have been deducted, whether technically employed or self-employed

27 – Licensing (Gambling & Sale of Alcohol)

  • Gambling industry to have new system of governance mirroring alcohol licensing where ‘point of transaction’ must be managed by a responsible, appropriately qualified and upstanding person who will be held accountable for the safety of all customers on the basis of legally backed right to refuse
  • Internet and/or app gambling to be regulated to reflect the above or banned if the industry cannot present workable solutions to support gambling supervision on remote basis
  • System of Alcohol Taxation to be introduced to encourage use of Pubs, Restaurants and Social Clubs for drinking

28 – Health & the NHS

  • Top to bottom reform
  • Removal of unnecessary or created backroom management functions
  • Ban on consultancy buy-in for management purposes
  • Devolution of management to ward level
  • Supply purchasing to be returned to strategic, cross-NHS level
  • Dissolution of all remaining PFI Contracts
  • Social Care to be managed by NHS
  • Regulation of damages payouts to cover legal costs
  • Creation of Damages Court to filter spurious complaints
  • Legalisation of ‘Right to Die’ under 3x ‘unknown’ doctor sign-off system
  • Sex Industry to be legalised, Regulated and managed as a Public Health concern

29 – Science & Technology

  • UK First Policy
  • Regulate ownership to restrict foreign influence and call upon new technologies
  • Subsidise development of real technology
  • New public managed pharmaceutical development company
  • Incentivise scientific development, automation and artificial intelligence only to improve production, output and quality – not purely for financial purposes
  • Revise policy on foreign investment to ensure that Companies and Technologies critical to the UK remain in UK hands

30 – The Monarchy

  • Immediate scaling down to preclude ‘shirt tail’ and no longer relevant Royals
  • Remove any obstacle to prosecution under all UK Laws for any Member of the Royal Family, whether perceived or otherwise.
  • Further Royal Palaces to be given over to Public use as museums and tourist attractions
  • Crown Properties to be returned fully to Public hands with no income paid to Members of the Royal Family from profits

31 – Voluntary Sector, Charities & Charitable Giving

  • Review of Charities and fundraising to remove unnecessary and unhelpful duplication of services
  • Create a centralised charity giving system or personal account, possibly managed by HMRC where money is deducted at source and then allocated according to the choice of the individual with gift aid automatically added

 

The list above is not exhaustive by any means. There is plenty more.

If you would like to download the pdf version of this Blog, please click here:  Makeshift Manifesto PDF2

Adam’s Book for Kindle ‘How to get Elected – doing politics the right way’ can be purchased and downloaded now from Amazon by clicking HERE.

 

 

Boots Corner closed for 6 Months and the consequences for Cheltenham appear very much ‘out of sight, out of mind’

December 28, 2018 2 comments

Boots Corner montage 2

Yes, that’s right. The Boots Corner debacle, the traffic problems It has created for everyone beyond the Planners masterpiece and the now ghost-like roads just a stones throw from the Town Centre have been an evolving problem facing local People and Businesses for 6 Months.

The glad-handing and self-congratulation that we see pouring out in response to every legitimate concern that is tabled, wouldn’t be a problem for anyone outside the Council and the ‘project’ itself, if it weren’t absolutely clear to everyone else that the passage of time and every new thing being added is making the problems worse and worse.

Be in no doubt, the quantitative data that will be used to legitimise this train wreck of a Town Traffic Plan will inevitably support everything that Officers and Councillors say.

What it won’t do is consider any of the qualitative or experiential impacts which are the real consequence for local People, Businesses and frequent visitors or commuters to the Town. Simply because that was never what this vanity project was about.

Out in the real world, Cheltenham’s many passionate Small Business Owners know what does and doesn’t work in the Town Centre. They’ve done the trial and error already, many times over and know intrinsically how footfall and the number of customers who enter through their doors is directly affected and proportional to the cars and traffic that travel past and have direct access and line-of-sight knowledge of who they are and what they are offering to customers.

They possessed this knowledge long before the Boots Corner project got underway and have since increased their level of knowledge and understanding in a very practical way. Information which the arrogance and ‘we know best’ attitude of the controlling Councillors and the Planners both before and since the Scheme was launched has been overlooked.

The only figures and data which now matters to the Council are the number of feet on the High Street. And the answer to the question which should automatically follow this reality simply raises many more questions and a justifiably significant level of concern about what the priorities of Cheltenham’s District Authority now are as opposed to what they should actually be.

Take a walk in the streets behind boots, M&S and John Lewis and only the most unaware of people could walk away from the experience without recognising the physical and atmospheric change to what is still a part of Cheltenham Town Centre.

Whilst the confusing mish-mash of changes to what used to be a straightforward and accessible road system may seem much safer to some faceless bureaucrat in an office somewhere, the strange silence of these roads doesn’t foretell a beneficial change taking place for any of the businesses that cannot afford the significant rents and mortgages of the revamped High Street, forcing them to go beyond.

No, it tells us that the priority in Cheltenham is only big retail business, and that the lifeblood of the town which will always be it’s plethora of Small Businesses is being condemned by both the actions and words of both elected and appointed Public Representatives.

Unpalatable as it may be to idealistic Councillors and influential Officers who have been culturally conditioned to believe that they have no other way to respond, people notice and remember the places that they want to go when they are travelling through the Town in their cars.

Yes we may have a wider, cultural problem with the dependency upon four wheels that there is.

But there is nothing practical in trying to pretend there are not natural laws at work and that human behaviour itself dictates that the lack of foresight and absence of intuitive consideration of what these changes to the Town Centre have already and are set to do, confirms that this Council will only ever deliver on its own ideas, whilst paying scant regard to the consequences of its actions upon others. Namely the very people it exists for and is there to serve.

What is effectively the closure of what used to be the inner ring road is an avoidable blight on a large swathe of Cheltenham Town Centre which will mean existing businesses will fail, new ones will never get the footfall that they need to keep going, and instead of being a destination of business opportunity for the many, this idealistic approach to managing a Town Centre will instead only really be of benefit yet again to the deep pocketed few.

For the people who know and love Cheltenham for the great Town that it already is and has been for a considerably long time, John Lewis and The Brewery are great enhancements for the Town to have. But they should never be interpreted by anybody as being all that Cheltenham is now about.

Changing this Council may be the only way that Cheltenham can now overturn this injustice, as political action is the only way that self-serving Councillors are likely to be pushed to respond to any thoughts, feelings or ideas other than their own.

Cheltenham & Boots Corner: When things don’t add up, questions need to be asked

November 2, 2018 2 comments

BCWith the Boots corner closure remaining firmly in local minds, the Council attempts to write the concern off as nothing more than the views of a ‘vociferous minority’.

Regrettably, this is how Local Government glosses over disquiet in the UK today and hitting the spot when it comes to overturning undemocratic decisions is a very hard thing to do, as the whole culture has evolved to protect itself.

In reality, even elected Councillors that do have their local communities and constituents at the heart of what they do, can find it an almost impossible task to get the right questions answered, as the system is geared to allow the close-down of unwelcome debate.

That said, persistence is the greatest ally in achieving worthy aims in Government, and if you keep asking questions, and then the questions which then follow any answers that you might get, the right result is far from being impossible – even if it doesn’t arrive within a timescale that you might find comfortable or like.

If I were representing people in Cheltenham right now, there are a number of questions that I would immediately ask. I would anticipate having many more, depending upon the answers I received or found. They would be as follows:-

Why has Boots Corner been closed?

Whilst it sounds like the answer should be obvious, it isn’t. BUT it is in the interests of the Council and/or whoever benefits from the closure for members of the Public to think that it is. Be sure not to fall into the trap of reading or listening to opinion, such as the article in last Sunday’s Observer, which framed the whole issue as being about pollution. That is just a useful excuse that takes the debate in a very different direction and is designed to make the real issues subservient to those that are in vogue.

Who or what is the driving force behind the change?

Is it the whole Council? Is it one of the Political Groups? Is it Officers? Were there Consultants involved? If there were Consultants involved, who paid the bill and what was the Brief?

What is their reasoning and motivation for the change?

Why now? What do the changes to Boots Corner really achieve? Is the reasoning given the full story, or is there more that we should know?

Who are the real beneficiaries?

Who stands to benefit from the changes at Boots Corner? What will those benefits be? What evidence was used to suggest that these results would be achieved? What modeling was used? What real-life examples were used and how do they relate to the very idiosyncratic nature of Cheltenham’s Road Plan?

What else is happening which is related?

There’s no such thing as coincidence. What else is happening on the same timeline as the changes to Boots Corner? What bigger Strategy is at work?

How did the Council reach the conclusion that the change was necessary?

What was the process within the Council that led to the decision to make the changes at Boots Corner? What is the chronology and timeline of the events that led to it? Who was involved in the process? What influence did each of the Parties involved have?

What evidence or tests being met will confirm the change as permanent?

The changes have been portrayed as being temporary or as a trial. What evidence will be used to decide if the changes at Boots Corner should become permanent? How have those levels been defined? Who has defined them? Who will write up the final Report, Conclusions and table the Proposal for the Council to decide?

What has been used as the basis of those tests?

Where did the ideas or methods come from which have been used to define these tests?

What has changed?

What has changed since the last time the Council and/or other Local Authorities considered closing Boots Corner and decided not to?

What is the long term Strategy?

 Is the closure of Boots Corner part of a much bigger plan? Does the Council intend to pedestrianise the whole of the High Street and Centre of Cheltenham? Is there something on the horizon that isn’t Publicly known?

What consultation with the Public has taken place?

Did a Public Consultation take place? If so, how was it carried out? What questions were asked? Who took part? How many people took part? What were their responses? What questions were raised? How were those questions answered?

What consultation with local businesses has taken place?

Did a Consultation with businesses take part? If so, how was it carried out? What questions were asked? Who took part? How many businesses took part? What were their responses? What questions were raised? How were these questions answered?

What consultation with Developers and Landlords has taken place?

Were Developers and Landlords consulted? What role did they play? What influence did hey have?

What influence has the arrival of the John Lewis store had on Boots Corner and other changes to the Town Centre Traffic system?

Has the arrival of the John Lewis store and its opening this Autumn had any influence on the Council’s decision making? If so, how?

Who designed the current plan?

Who designed the revised traffic and/or road plan to facilitate the Boots Corner closure? What modeling did they use? Why was that modeling considered appropriate as the basis for the changes?

What work was undertaken on traffic displacement modeling?

What work was undertaken on traffic displacement modeling? (Literally, what were the recognisable alternatives for drivers?) Where are the plans and figures showing where the traffic would go when Boots Corner was closed? How do the Council know what alternatives people who used to drive through Boots Corner to access the North of the Town Centre and beyond would use?

What steps were taken in response to the traffic displacement modeling before Boots Corner was closed on 28th June 2018?

What steps were taken to address the impact of the traffic re-routing which was going to take place after the Boots Corner closure BEFORE it actually took place in late June?

All of this information should be available in the Public Realm, but it is far from an exhaustive list of questions, and I am sure that many more would arise as you go along.

The primary sources of information should be the Minutes of the Meetings of the Full Council and also any of the Council’s Committees which have been working on or ‘overseeing’ the Boots Corner changes.

This is where all of the decision making, the reasoning and the evidence that supported it should be open to Public view.

If not, Freedom of Information Requests (FOI) should enable access to anything else that isn’t disclosed because it has taken place outside of Public Meetings.

Please Remember: The Boots Corner Closure is a matter of everyday Public concern. As such, legitimate questions should always be answered when asked or presented appropriately. If the Council and any party involved has been fair, balanced and done everything properly to ensure that the best interests of local people, businesses and anyone it has a duty of care to are served, they will have nothing to hide and everyone working on their behalf will be as open and helpful as they can be. They certainly wouldn’t need to rely on or have reason to resort to ridicule or any other form of personal attack as part of their response – whatever the medium.

Cheltenham BC and Boots Corner: Like local government across the UK, officers and councillors aren’t listening to the real boss, and change is well overdue

September 29, 2018 2 comments

Boots Corner

I’ve been out of local government for nearly three and a half years. But I have continued to watch the continuing chain of messes being created within our Gloucestershire Boroughs and Districts. Usually because someone or a very few people with power and with influence have personal ownership of and therefore investment in some ‘great’ idea. Ideas which are nearly always in some way about them, their career, their legacy or future. Wholly impractical ideas which are then misrepresented as being beneficial to the people they are actually responsible to. The people that they all represent.

There is some rich irony in the fact that lessons are never learned by these same people who have responsibilities not only to themselves, their jobs or their Political Parties.

Lessons are there to be taught through everything these public organisations do. They may appear to arrive in different form, but the same mistakes are being made time after time, over and over again.

Planning, for all the questions which surround it’s often arbitrary processes, has regrettably become the most day-to-day example of all that’s wrong in local government.

The Local Planning Process continually demonstrates all that is wrong with the wider system itself. But the problem is only in small part due to laws and regulations, and actually more about the people who manage and implement government processes, their ideas, motives and yes, the ties that bind them to their ‘interpretations’ within the protectionist culture and environment in which they work.

Watching the Boots Corner fiasco unfold over recent months has been like reading a text-book example of what happens when Planners and their Political Masters get things wrong. What people experience when Councils come up with a ‘great idea’ to improve things, but overlook the most important consideration in the room: What the impact and consequences will be for the people and businesses whose interests they are actually paid and elected to look after.

It doesn’t take many conversations with local business people, residents, employees and regular visitors from local feeder Towns to know that these changes at Boots Corner are idealistic at best, but practically awful.

The changes are having an impact not only on the Centre of Cheltenham itself, but are loading traffic onto the already congested main roads around the Town at rush hour, and now jamming back streets and almost certainly creating rat-runs unseen at every opportunity in between.

The change at Boots Corner is unnecessary. It’s not improving the Town Centre and nobody apart from the Planners and whoever on the Council they have convinced of the validity of this Scheme really has any idea what the real benefit of these changes are to anyone using Cheltenham Town Centre.

And that’s right now. Just wait until the long-awaited John Lewis Store opens its doors and visitor numbers really do burst through the lid.

Now don’t let anyone tell you that the Council is not aware of how people feel. If you follow local news, you cannot miss the disquiet that the changes in late June have raised. This is not Nimby-ism. It’s real people voicing genuine concern over the impact of poor decision making which is now having meaningful impact on their everyday lives.

The travesty is that instead of listening, and for fear of admitting being ‘wrong’, the Council is doubling down and now adding oversized flowerpots, cycle racks, benches, a lot of unhelpful white lines and yes, some artificial grass sat on the lump in between.

And there’s unlikely to be any mistake about the drawn-out nature of the timing of additions either.

Why? Well it’s all to give a repetitive sense to us all that this change is permanent. That when they tell us all that the trial was a success, that with hindsight it will feel like its permanence was always inevitable. That there was no option or reason to change their minds at any point in between.

But this simply isn’t true. And any tales you are told about decisions taking a long time to reverse in Council, or that a trial period must be seen through to its end to be valid are disingenuous at best.

There is no inevitability of confirmation for these changes at Boots Corner or indeed permanence of this change. It simply hinges on what the Officers and therefore the Councillors ultimately decide and however they choose to harvest and then interpret their ‘data’.

The fact is the Council could reinstate the pre-June road system within a few days if they really had doing what’s right for Cheltenham, in mind.

However, it is only fair that no Officer or Councillor be singled out and in some way blamed for what is happening in the Centre of Cheltenham right now.

The whole Government system is rotten with a protectionist and self-serving culture, only made worse by the quasi-bankrupt state of the Government and Public Sector, with austerity being a big part of the problem, but a significant way from being the cause.

But this in itself doesn’t mean that Cheltenham and indeed any of our Local Authorities cannot choose to be different.

The Council has the choice to be big about it. To listen. To gain respect from local people and businesses for trying something new but recognising it doesn’t work, for listening AND HEARING what is being said and quickly responding. To be adaptable to changing things that aren’t right and not get hung up at a personal level about what appearing to take a step back might look like.

Decisions are being made big and small within local authorities up and down the Country which have very little to do with with the people. And in case anyone isn’t sure, that’s the boss that Officers and Politicians ALL ultimately work for.

Locally the latest one is Boots Corner. In terms of direction, this one is definitely going the wrong way, and poor decisions which are having a real impact on daily life in Cheltenham are not the kind of change in local government that we all so badly need.

How about surprising us all and doing what’s actually right, rather telling us that’s what you are doing?

 

You can read some more of Adam’s writing about the realities of Local Government and the wider Public Sector here and here.

 

Trashing distasteful parts of history puts us at risk of repeating the same mistakes in the future, which only the same level of hypocrisy would allow us to then deny

January 12, 2018 1 comment

download (14)The debate over Virgin removing copies of the Daily Mail from sale on its Trains in the past week highlighted the worrying trend for people to attempt to remove anything from their sphere of influence which they find in some way unpalatable – doing so without any level of regard for the real cost or consequences of doing so.

Whilst this vogue appears new to many, it has been within our awareness for a good period of time. It hinges on blame culture and the overindulgence of the personal slight. It takes the self-righteous influence of the myopic ever nearer the creation and manifestation of a very twisted and unrealistic worldview.

One of the reasons why it is so unrealistic is because it is built upon the foundation of idealism; that of denying that which cannot be denied.

Even in politics now, we have reached a point where apparently well-educated people with significant responsibility placed upon them by many others, believe and apply the fallacious principle that “if I say it is so, then it will actually be so”.

An eye on the future is however one thing, but looking back turns the same coin on to its other side.

History is planned, created and experienced in the present moment by us all. Yet it is an infinite chain of perspectives or opinions, based upon what are almost always a very small number of facts – some of which even the very people who were present and involved may not themselves have actually known.

That we live in a world where opinion has a level of power which just tolerates the occasional fact should really be far more alarming to us all that it really has become.

That individuals have the power to blight the lives of others, simply because they hold a conflicting view, should be something that concerns everyone.

That others are now trying to rewrite history and remove our heritage is a risk and threat to the future of us all and once completed may never be undone.

Culturally, we indulge the notion that only bad news sells, in almost everything we do – almost to the point where is becomes only the bad news about anything itself that we remember, overlooking many more good-news-stories that are available to us as we do.

The most dangerous of steps now being taken – usually by people who believe that they have been in some way slighted by the actions of people that not one of us has or will ever know – is to apply this approach to history, focusing only upon the bad parts of his story, so that the good which may have come will automatically be overlooked and quietly denied.

The politically correct form of censorship manifesting itself through the attempted removal of historic names from buildings and even trusts, like those of Rhodes in Oxford and Colston in Bristol may look like the delivery of justice to the shallow depths of the egocentric. But in terms of what this action overlooks, it is to all of us as a culture and society – in no way any such thing.

Nobody can realistically refute the pain and suffering that colonialism and slavery visited upon many millions of innocent and powerless people over tens and hundreds of years.

Yet the industry and commerce that both were part of also brought prosperity, wealth and yes – learning to all corners of the globe.

It supercharged the path towards a more enlightened and civilised way of being which itself allows the same individuals the freedom and platform to influence the world around them – for better or worse today.

There is no escaping the dark parts of this Country’s historic chapters. But there are also many beneficial lessons to learn by looking them in the eye – not least of all for the purpose of ensuring that we have enough awareness of what can happen when the conditions for oppression and exploitation are right.

The irony of the drive to trash these parts of history, is that they are being repeated all around us in many ways, albeit wrapped differently today. They may not look the same, but they have very much the same effect emotionally on the oppressed within the quiet of their own minds.

Indeed it is a great shame that the energy and passion focused on the drive for political correctness is not itself redirected to help others who are alive and need real help – but in ways that this same lack of human awareness on the part of social justice warriors leaves them unable or unwittingly unable to define.

People are increasingly being enslaved and oppressed by the world around them, financially, by rights, quixotic ideas and by the bureaucratic systems that political correctness is slowly ratcheting around all of us, like a slow pull on a closing cable-tie.

To try to destroy the lessons of history, whilst overlooking live-time oppression is one of the most hideous forms of hypocrisy in action today.

Focusing on events to learn lessons and use them to help others going forward would be much better for us all than playing a disingenuous game of out of sight, out of mind.

image thanks to unknown

Flooding: It’s wet, getting wetter and the funds are drying up. Government Reform and Policy change is the only way to get all the protection that we need and that process must start now

February 10, 2014 1 comment

Flooding and the affects that it can have on all of us has been a consistent theme since the very beginning of my time as a local Councillor near Tewkesbury.

In July-August 2007, Adam spent over 2 weeks coordinating and delivering bottled water across the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward. Pictured here in Pamington delivering to the service point set up by then County Councillor Gordon Shurmer

In July-August 2007, Adam spent over 2 weeks coordinating and delivering drinking water supplies across the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward. Pictured in Pamington unloading at a service point set up by then County Cllr Gordon Shurmer

If you come from outside the immediate area, memories of the summer of 2007 and the notoriety of the July ‘Floods’ in Gloucestershire tend to focus attention more on the water shortages that hit the County for those who still remember, rather than the significant and extremely rapid flooding event responsible which took place in just one day on Friday 20th July 2007.

In less than 48 hours, the life that we all so easily take for granted was compromised. Not because of a war, famine or catastrophic crash of our economy, but because the drinking water in our taps was literally switched off when flood water polluted the tanks at the Mythe Water Treatment Plant near Tewkesbury. These floods suddenly affected everyone, and not just those who had been flooded out; many of whom were themselves within whole neighbourhoods where river torrents coming through your home would normally be the very last thing on your mind on a midsummer day.

The complacency and complete lack of urgency demonstrated by officials that follows an event of this magnitude when life is perceived to be ‘back to normal’ is a strange thing to deal with if you have had firsthand experience of it. But this is exactly what people in Tewkesbury and the surrounding Villages have had to frustratingly deal with ever since and what the people of the Somerset Levels have clearly had to endure now too.

Sadly, Towns, Villages, Hamlets, Communities and Businesses simply at risk of flooding don’t have the newsworthiness of water in the way it does when it literally covers the ground. This is a real problem for anyone living with the realities of these events as news teams seldom camp out for anything good. Most people would much prefer not to have the camera crews taking up semi-permanent residence ever again to report such stories. But it seems that it will take exactly that to happen before any sense of urgency to deal with existing and weather-changing threats or those that Developers may indeed be creating, will be adequately addressed.

Taking nothing away from the many people who spent up to a year living in caravans on their driveways after the 2007 pluvial ‘event’ who now also have insurance ‘blight’ as a result, some areas around Tewkesbury and Gloucester such as the historic Village of Walton Cardiff in the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward that I represent regularly have to face the prospect of river or fluvial flooding too.

Residents there have sadly come to be so used to it, that one homeowner with the means to do so has even bought an amphibious buggy which he uses to help other Residents when the roads become impassable. Whilst community-minded in the extreme, I will probably be far from alone in having concerns that such acts are taken by Government Politicians to mean that there is a general acceptance on the part of those living with the risk of flooding that they are simply happy with the status quo. Let me tell you; they aren’t.

The constant threat of both types of flooding is never far from the minds of those whose homes are at risk of either the flooding that it is ‘reasonable’ to expect, or that which ‘normal’ disaster planning doesn’t allow for that comes in the form of events that the Environment Agency and other Organisations communicate in terms such as ‘a one in a hundred year event’.

The problem is that the Floods in question aren’t only happening once every one hundred years or whatever the particular ‘banding’ may be and the type of lottery derived statistics that are being used as this benchmark for support to our communities is now proving to be a form of gamble that’s only paying off for those who are most distant from the problem.

There are actually some very painful realities sitting behind the lack of support for our communities. Getting the results that we all need relies on a significant number of issues needing to be addressed and whilst I have no intention of dismissing the action that the Prime Minister and Eric Pickles are now reactively taking to the Somerset problems in particular, it is only by dealing with all the problems comprehensively – and accepting that matters which on the face of it have little to do with Flooding also have an effect – that there will ever be any genuine first and meaningful steps to dealing with this situation in its truest depth.

The interactive nature of these contributory issues with other seemingly non-related Policies make statements like that made by the the Environment Agency Head Lord Smith last week potentially misleading. Suggesting that there may be a hard choice to be made over whether we protect Towns and Cities or Rural Areas is arguably very subjective indeed. Whilst in the sense of funding for defence and maintenance work accurate, a statement like this doesn’t take into consideration the other contributory issues that come with it. The issues include:

Funding

In isolation, we can all easily draw the conclusion that solving Flood Defence problems is just about the money that Local Authorities, Central Government Departments and Non Government Organisations such as the Environment Agency have to spend. But it isn’t.

Essentially any work that is undertaken does have to be paid for by the public purse as Flood Prevention is fundamentally in the public interest. However, the days when such an issue in itself was enough to trigger an immediate and responsive spend on a ‘size doesn’t matter’ basis has long gone – if it ever actually existed before in anything other than wartime.

The problem for us today is that the Country is now effectively bankrupt after generations of profligate spending by Government on Policies which are considered populist only in the sense of the number of votes that they will win. They should have been in the best interests of the wider community – which is arguably how every political decision should actually be made.

Budgets are and will most likely continue to be cut from all Publicly Funded Organisations and will continue to do so whilst the gargantuan plate-spinning effort to keep the Economy and Public Spending from smashing on the floor continues. Lack of discussion and reference to the National Debt, whilst overplay on the prospect of reaching a zero Deficit in maybe a few years time is a key indicator of the high stakes game that is already well in play. Any upward change in spending that might come from a change in Government could actually bring matters to a conclusion even sooner.

The £100 Million promised just to the Somerset Levels alone this week might sound like a lot of money to those struggling to survive on an average wage. But in real terms and without any unfortunate pun intended, it is in reality a mere drop in the ocean of the fund that would actually be needed to cover the cost of protecting the UK against Flooding if no other options were to be genuinely considered.

Painful as it is to accept, the fact is that without significant change in the way that all parts of Government raise and spend money, there will never be anywhere near enough funds to address the Flooding problems with a cash only solution and Government really needs to start being straight with people about this.

Planning

Prevention is almost certainly better than waiting to work on a cure. Whilst many people who have experience of a Flood Event will already have significant anecdotal evidence to illustrate how building on flood plains has exacerbated the problems that we already face, it is the Planning Policies and Procedures which exist today that provide part of the greatest threat to both individual properties and whole communities.

Unloading water at the Wheatpieces Community Centre, Walton Cardiff, near Tewkesbury, following the July 2007 Floods

Unloading bottled drinking water at the Wheatpieces Community Centre, Walton Cardiff, near Tewkesbury, following the July 2007 Floods

A good example is that Planning Policy arguably only takes fluvial flooding into account, the effects of which themselves can open to the bizarrest forms of interpretation possible. A case which demonstrates this well would be the Wheatpieces Development within my Ward, some of which is well known locally to have been built on what was mapped historically as flood plain. However, I understand that it is not considered to be as such for Planning purposes by the Environment Agency – and therefore Planners – because the houses built on these areas were erected on built up land or infill which when the earthworks were completed then complied with the requirement of being the required ground level height above Ordnance Datum Newlyn, which I also understand was at the time of Permission being granted, some 12 Feet.

Such an undertaking is for current Planning purposes apparently enough to quantify that a development has not been constructed on Floodplain, but then gives sparse consideration for the knock on effects that creating an island in the middle of natures own flood remedy will have had on properties that would otherwise have been at significantly less risk of flooding. Build as many reed beds and flood tanks under a new development as you like, but when storms of the nature we are now experiencing come in the increasingly menacing way that they do, such developments can be akin to dropping a breeze block into an overflowing bath.

Some will call it cynical to say this, but evidence strongly suggests that the deficiencies in Planning Policy today leave existing homes and developments open to threat from the increased risk of flooding which is created by new developments – the properties upon which are unlikely to face the same threat. Couple this with the headlong rush by successive governments to build houses as the silver bullet to solve all ills, and you might begin to realise the level of threat that a Planning Policy which does not consider the whole picture has actually become. Planning Policy isn’t actually working in the best interests of anybody other than the Politicians, builders and companies that lend people the money to buy the new houses.

The irresponsibility of the Government and Opposition in hanging the fate of the Economy and those desperate for affordable homes on house building is not only fueling the growth of an already uncontrollable credit bubble; it is also determining a fate of misery and loss to the owners and occupants for many existing homes who will almost certainly be put at greater risk of flooding.

The role of ‘Respondents’ of the Planning Process

Symptomatic of our correctness culture has been the exponential rise of the Quango and distribution of powers to what are non-elected Bodies, some of whom don’t even report to Government Ministers. A number of these are involved in both the Planning system as ‘Respondents’, but also within the other processes which relate to Flood Prevention.

A great weight of responsibility has been given to many of these Organisations and their opinion, view or interpretation of their Policy in relation to specific cases and subsequently are seen to have what can sometimes feel like limitless power to those who have witnessed it.

Alone, their objections can halt an application on the spot, whilst the absence of an objection from any such Respondent can and does lead Members of Planning Committees to conclude that objecting to an application is little more than a futile act, as with these agencies not objecting, a Planning Inspector will surely approve it should the Application then go to Appeal.

With all working to very centralised; one-size-fits-all Policies which are without any real consideration for the very localised issues that the Planning System does encounter and specifically Flooding issues, the realities of the influence that these bureaucratic entities have is significant. Developers know that if they table Applications that effectively tick all the boxes that each of these Organisations have on their checklists, Local Authority Planning Committees simply won’t have a prayer if a developer then takes a rejection to Appeal  – which they rarely have hesitation in doing so.

The influence that these Organisations have over the Planning Process is simply too much and is at best an arbitrary way of dealing with what are ever increasingly sensitive issues that require a level of interpretation, consideration and understanding which genuinely reflects locality and the concept of Localism that the Coalition Government has done so much to sell itself upon.

Maintenance – when money isn’t a problem

The Environment Agency once again plays a critical role in the preventative maintenance which is already or should already be undertaken on watercourses and rivers, as do Local Borough, District, County and Unitary Authorities that have Drainage responsibilities.

The often complex relationships or rather chain of decision making that arises as a result of multiple organisations or ‘stakeholders’ being involved in a decision relating to Flood Prevention will almost always cause delays, or worse still, like the Planning Process, will result in one of them being perceived to carry more weight, and for the buck to effectively stop with them. In a compensation and blame culture, taking action actually appears to be the very last thing on the mind of the Representatives of these Organisations, and this can serve no purpose other than their own.

Sadly I do not recall one conversation with Residents or indeed other Politicians which has reflected positively upon the work of the Environment Agency. I have spoken to Farmers who have watercourses and rivers crossing their properties and most look back comparatively fondly on one of the forerunners of the Environment Agency, the National Rivers Authority (NRA) which is remembered for a much more proactive, less obstructive and therefore constructive approach to clearance and dredging.

I can remember seeing specially modified tractors working the banks of the contributory rivers to the Severn during the period of the NRA’s tenure and it is clear that anecdotal evidence of the benefit of such work correlates well with a period when fluvial flooding seemed to affect a whole lot less of the area.

The NRA itself adopted the responsibilities which were once included within the portfolio of the ten former Regional Water Authorities with what we now know to be this expensive, but critical form of work not being adopted by the privatised Water Companies. One could easily conclude that the formation of the Environment Agency and absorption of the NRA within it in 1996 was seen as the ideal time to cut back on proactive and costly Flood Prevention works and that this may have been considered a much safer time to do so rather than the late Eighties when Privatisation itself took place.

I will add that one of my own experiences of questioning an Environment Agency Representative during a post-flood seminar held at Tewkesbury Abbey in the weeks following the 2007 Flood, I can honestly say that I found the responses given to my questions on dredging and clearance to be conflicting. I walked away with the distinct impression that giving excuses rather than any meaningful response was the chosen modus operandi  of this Organisation – even when they might have honestly said  ‘there isn’t the money available’.

Distance and lack of situational objectivity on the part of decision makers

Flooding is an issue that is simply not recognised for the problem that it is right now, has been and will be by Government and the Staff of the Organisations that matter. People making  decisions do not have the first hand knowledge or exposure not only to the Flood incidents themselves, but to what can be the very localised nature of the contributory factors as they exist today and how they may come into play as the result of apparently unleashed development.

Officers of all the Organisations discussed who may be rightly and properly qualified to be called experts arguably don’t use their expertise in the way that the public should rightly expect. Tick box decision making appears to have replaced that of using common sense and recognising the need to seek the fullest perspective, arguably for little more reason than the threat which comes from taking responsibility within the protectionist culture which is now an inherent part of Government Administration.

The earlier system of buck-passing which grew decision making into a very expensive system of ‘one-job, one-role; keep passing it on until we can justify engaging a consultant’, has systematically inflated the size of ‘back room operations’, and taken money that was available away from frontline service delivery, where ironically as a result, the need for even more precise and robust decision making becomes ever more critical. We can all see the results.

The Weather

There is no question that weather patterns are changing. We don’t however know if this is due to a phenomenon like global warming, or whether it is actually part of very extensive climate changing cycles which have affected the earth historically, and which there is evidence to suggest might be the case.

Whatever the cause, it is clear that Government and the Organisations involved have not developed a proactive bias to Flood Prevention measures and that the approach taken is far more reactive in nature. It is what could easily be called ‘out of site; out of mind’ management, as work only seems to be concentrated on issues which are in the Public view – or can be guaranteed to be regularly so.

Many will probably be quietly asking whether the ‘intensity’ of effort now focussing on Somerset will for instance continue once the roads are passable and life is deemed to have returned to ‘normal’.

These are apparently ‘irregular’ events after all. But it was indeed telling that the Military first arrived in the form of just two Personnel who apparently decided that there was nothing at that point which they could do. Given that much of the amphibious and landing–type craft which could at very least help these stranded Communities are likely to be based with Royal Marine and Royal Naval Units in the South and South West anyway, should it really have been that difficult to put some of these vehicles on low-loading lorries and get them to the Levels within a few hours? 

Either way, attitudes must change even if the funds are limited. Government has been entrusted with great power on our behalf along with the responsibility to use it. So why aren’t they?

The painful reality is that there are likely to be other contributory factors that I and certainly others are not aware of, but which are important all the same.

Money is the overriding factor which has, is and will continue to inhibit the development of capital flood defence projects whether they are inland, riverside or on the coast and there is a danger that neither the realistic sums which could be raised for these projects, nor the changes in the many other policy areas that could positively assist will come into being unless there is a complete change in the way that Politicians assess, develop and then act upon their priorities.

Tewkesbury in Flood. Image thanks to www.theguardian.com

Tewkesbury in Flood. Image thanks to http://www.theguardian.com

As we have seen in Tewkesbury with the effect on water supply; in Devon with the effect on Railways and in Somerset with the effect upon land and roads; doing nothing places critical Infrastructure at risk. So funnelling truckloads of borrowed cash into any service or benefit that will put around 350 MP’s or more in power for the next five years when all they will then do is think about doing the same again – all to the incalculable cost of the majority of Taxpayers – can simply no longer be sustained.

With money being the problem that the Government doesn’t want to talk about, it is unlikely that any Minister will stand up any time soon and simply say ‘we don’t have the money to do all the work that needs doing’. Even less likely would be finding one of them saying and actually meaning ‘we don’t have all the money, but we will make all the changes that we possibly can which will serve all of your interests’ best’.

When these Politicians have moved past the sound bites, the portrayals of being belated men of action and giving hollow apologies when pinned down by interviewers, the best advice any Politician could now take would be to stop treating the Electorate like they are idiots and that the issues facing Government are beyond their understanding.

Good communication crosses all barriers and honesty coupled with the emotional intelligence that can only be utilised by those who are fully ‘in touch’ with issues will surely build the foundations of a wholly different kind of support. They might start by:

Listening Locally

It will be in everyone’s interests to develop a culture where local voices are heard even when they don’t have the profile of people like Michael Eavis, the founder of the Glastonbury Festival who wrote a very useful and telling article in the Mail on Sunday on 2nd February 2014.

Mr Eavis brought precisely the kind of invaluable and historical knowledge of the Somerset Levels to the table that no doubt many people could, if they were given the opportunity to do so.

Too much useful information is discounted because of the emotional buy-in that often accompanies very local issues and which is often badged as being Nimby-ism. Yes, there are people who will say no to everything simply because they don’t want change or others who make demands simply because they want something for themselves. But applying this very negative and destructive view on anyone who is promoting a local view, without taking adequate steps to discern the value from what they may be saying, is ultimately selling everyone short and is far from the hallmark of a fully enlightened form of Politics.

Reforming the Planning System and creating Local Planning Courts to make Localism really mean something and empower local people in the process

In the absence of the money that we need being available without either borrowing or taking money from services which may actually be invaluable elsewhere, Planning and its reform will be a key factor in proactively addressing future Flood Events.

Power of veto – whether negative or indeed positive, should never be held in the hands of unelected bureaucrats or people who are neither trained nor prepared to make decisions which truly reflect the very localised and area specific issues which relate to flooding.

We must move away from tick-box decision making which brings little more than the one-size-fits-all mentality to almost every Planning Application that will have an affect on the wider community and particularly so when it comes to Flooding.

Agencies and Local Authorities should inform, but ultimately not define the planning process and the only eventuality in which Government Ministers should intervene should be at moments when the genuine National interest overrides that of the local community and those who will be directly impacted by developments within it.

This could be done by transferring all Planning Decisions to a local ‘Planning Court’, in which evidence could be given by the Applicants, all respondents and interested parties to a Judge or panel, but where the power of appeal is limited to the same or a similarly localised Court, and where the Policies upon which decisions are based are those developed democratically by the Local Council’s themselves.

Such a process would be much more tailored to localised needs and allow and encourage Agencies to advise rather than administer, and leave people feeling much more empowered when it comes to their fate. It would also give the opportunity to consider new forms of information that come available through advances in technology and understanding, such as up-to-date computerised flood or water behaviour mapping, which would allow considerations to be made for issues such as pluvial flooding, which is likely to become ever relevant.

Central Government would have its role to play in assisting this by changing all appropriate Policies to reflect a genuine need-led, rather than projected development requirement and bringing into being all forms of legislation to prevent economic reliance and profiteering from building developments and multiple property ownership which skews the market.

Moving responsibility for Preventative Maintenance back to the Water Companies

It seems incredible that dredging and maintenance didn’t remain the responsibility of the Water Companies after Privatisation, but now makes a great deal more sense as we begin to gain a better understanding of the true costs involved and the resistance of any private company to undertake work which may be in the public interest, but which itself is distinctly non-profitable in nature.

The Water Companies gain significant benefit from the use of rivers and watercourses both as a source of water and as a route of discharge for treated effluent which no longer has value in its current form. These Companies could once again be harnessed with the responsibility for all the services that they once were before Privatisation and thereby take a more commercial approach to long term flooding defence and maintenance provision, which it would seem most natural for them to do so.

With successive Governments already responsible for failing to adequately regulate the profiteering nature of these Companies, the risk that the transfer of this responsibility would be seen as just another opportunity to raise fees would be real. As such, this would be another vital area where Government would have policy making work to do, but where the blood and guts approach of a return to real conviction and end-user focus politics could really make a profound difference in future flooding risk, whilst also dealing with key components of the real cost of living crisis.

Government Reform to facilitate the Funding that can come from no other source

Ultimately, only significant capital spending of a level which the Country currently cannot afford would provide the sea defences, river defences and perhaps even dykes of the kind seen in the Netherlands that the UK may now actually need to protect against and limit existing threats that exist right now. And there is of course the requirement to ‘future-proof’ or to then prevent against the impact and escalation which comes from the changes in weather patterns.

The money to do this will never be available whilst Government spending continues on the levels based only upon election-focussed service provision and a benefits system which propagates legitimate abuse. The services which attract most public money are themselves at risk from the same black financial cloud hovering above us, but could be run far more cost effectively – and arguably at lower cost – with the kind of holistic, joined-up and end-user focus reform that so many services provided by Government now need. Public servants must be encouraged to move away from the ‘what’s will be the benefit or risk to me’ culture and start focussing on a ‘how we can do the best possible for Taxpayers’ culture instead.

Sticking plaster solutions are no answer either to Flooding issues or to the many other problems which the Government faces. Parliamentarians seem so unwilling to tackle complex policy making and reform for the greater good and meanwhile, almost everyone else suffers.

Getting to the place where communities need to be; a place where they feel safe, protected and able to maintain a basic standard of living that doesn’t require lending money or a compromise of the services that they should be able to expect is a long and tough journey.  People must again be trusted locally by Parliamentarians and empowered to deal with the matters which relate only to their own fate, without centralised Policy or non-elected bureaucrats being able to override them.

A Coalition Government will never be equipped to even begin taking the steps which will be necessary to achieve this because they are by their very nature a relationship built upon compromise. You will never get the very best solution for all when a compromise has been necessary.

We can only hope that the next Government will take their responsibilities to all of us far more seriously. But with things looking as they are, it may not happen next time either.

See Adam’s related Blogs on:

Flooding

Dealing with the Energy Companies

Why the Political focus on house building is wrong

The Real Cost of Living Crisis

The influence of Utility Providers on the cost of living

Building on the Greenbelt could be avoided if Politicians were prepared to tackle the causes of Housing Crisis head on. Their failure to do so may leave many of these new homes empty and not just immigrants living in modern-day slums which are currently known as ‘beds in sheds’…

December 19, 2013 Leave a comment

On a day that the reality of modern day, back-garden ‘beds-in-sheds’ or rather the slums springing up across the UK to house immigrants hit the pages, we also see the news that more than half of Councils plan to build on our green belt.

You may be forgiven for thinking that there is an obvious link. But the only real relationship between these two issues, neither of which should arguably have ever have become fact, is that they provide a very telling story not only about the excessive cost of housing, but also the very painful reality that members of our communities from one end to the other are being overlooked by Government Policy.

In a recent blog, I discussed the issues that sit rather uncomfortably behind the incessant drive on the part of Politicians to build more and more houses as a method of stimulating the economy and solving the UK’s housing crisis, whilst actually doing anything but.

As they do so, they are overlooking the permanent damage that will be inflicted upon Towns and Villages up and down the Country, whilst failing to demonstrate either an understanding of the factors which are causing the problems for so many people, or indeed how many more issues that this form of recklessness sold to us as responsibility will cause.

why_do_we_behave_like_lemmings_4677351My own concerns about the foolishness which is leading the development of these Policies throughout the Local Authority Network and specifically at local level – where many Councillors behaviour can most politely be described as being very similar to that of Lemmings going off a cliff, is well known.

My inbox regularly has mail which has been written by local people from right across the area that Tewkesbury Borough Council covers who are rightly and quite simply horrified by the Plans which are now well on the way to being put in place. In many cases these very Plans are being very effectively picked apart by these impassioned members of the public who have very little experience of how the Planning System actually works. Will it make any difference? Probably not.

I recognise the value in the arguments they make. Somehow things really don’t add up when questions about the impact on such essential matters as future infrastructure, the merging of historically separate Towns and both fluvial AND pluvial flooding issues seem to go unanswered.

I also appreciate that I may be doing a disservice to the multitude of other very localised issues which face other communities across the Country which are just as important to the people that live there, but which I have overlooked just because I don’t have first-hand knowledge of them and most respectfully have no reason to do so.

The problem is that the Policy frameworks and guidance on which all local ‘Strategies’ are being set have been stewarded into being by Westminster-based Politicians who should not only know and understand these things, they seem oblivious to the fact that their own knowledge and outlook is actually so limited and are just as immune to hearing or seeing the very clear messages that are out there to tell them all about it.

With Politicians drunk and dependent upon the power and retention of their own positions, and whilst they bound around oblivious to the issues that are facing everyone else, there are sadly no forms of breathalyser out there which will demonstrate just how out of control the drivers of this vehicle may be for the unknown period it will take before it crashes and causes us all some significant damage.

The one thing that is certain is that concreting over the green belt to build houses that nobody can actually be sure we will need won’t solve the housing crisis on its own.

In fact, without dealing with the real issues that sit behind the housing problem and tackling them head on, many more people will find themselves unable to afford to live in them anyway and may have to face the unenviable horror of joining those who are living in what should by now have been consigned to long-term history in the form of anachronistic slums.

Image thanks to unknown source

%d bloggers like this: