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Flooding: A truly democratic system should allow for changes in Planning Legislation which will limit the damage which future flooding events have the power to cause

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Christmas will not be that merry for many who have been hit by flooding over recent days, weeks and what has now become months. Even today, news that the seemingly freak weather patterns that have haunted the UK in 2012 are staying put will be sending a shiver down the spines of all those who have closely witnessed or experienced the nightmare of being in a flood.

But is the perceived change in weather patterns the only factor we should be considering for future flood protection, or are the issues governing the severity of future flooding events far more deep seated, but with the potential for control?

In July 2007 and less than 3 months into my first Term as a Councillor, Tewkesbury Borough sat at what felt to many of us like the epicentre of a disastrous flood which demonstrated just how the impact of unforeseen water damage and a systematic failure to plan ahead can actually be and how its power can touch the lives of people who would never normally have reason to live in such fear.

Over a period of 36 hours, home after home in areas that had never been previously considered at risk of flooding became submersed by the affects of just 1 days deluge right across Gloucestershire. Whole Villages went under and for some home owners, many months of pain and torment lay ahead as driveway-based caravans suddenly became the only way to live, rather than the home from home that many choose to put on the road every Easter.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of this unpredictable event was the pollution of fresh drinking water supplies at the Mythe Water Treatment Works near Tewkesbury. Residents and businesses throughout Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury were left without drinking water for over two weeks and stories of water thefts and fights at distribution points soon made many aware of just how quickly the civilised facade of our society can begin to break down when the basic elements of daily life that we take for granted are put at risk.

Daily deliveries of bottled water throughout the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward thereafter and dealing with many flood related issues on behalf of Residents to date has provided an invaluable insight into both the flooding events themselves and the way that the whole issue is handled by organisations as diverse as single-issue pressure groups, local Authorities, the Environment Agency and Central Government.

One of the most concerning elements of that experience has been the illumination of the way in which our centrally-derived Planning Laws and Policies simply do not allow people with local knowledge to exert meaningful levels of influence on building which many quietly agree does not consider either extreme levels of river or fluvial flooding or indeed the more concerning and unpredictable rain-based or pluvial flooding. It is such pluvial events as in 2007 that can present those extreme volumes of water in such short periods of time that  rivers and streams cease to exist leaving an out of control torrent to create its own destructive pathway to its gravity-borne destination.

Most worryingly still is the apparent lack of interest from authorities in these pluvial flood issues, with most prevention work concentrating on fluvial targets and where anything else may be ceremoniously rebuffed with the excuse that such events are so very, very rare and perhaps a only a ‘1 in a 100 year event’. When coupled with such arguable intransigence as the suggestion that built-up land on flood plain by its very nature ceases to be a flood plain – irrespective of where future floods might therefore go; you might see that even politicians like myself have good reason to be concerned for what the future may hold not only for those communities already experienced with floods, but also for those whose experiences may regrettably be still yet to come.

It is a frightening reality that Local Authorities with Planning functions are at this very moment in time formulating policies and projections on building development for the next 20 or 30 years. Development which when even only in existence upon paper is by that very existence arguably irreversible when Councils have effectively been coerced by Central Government to let the development genie out of the bottle, thereby granting the wishes of developers who now appear to be out of control. Developers who have pockets deep enough to challenge any refusal to grant planning permission by those Councils who may go against what may actually be official advice and challenge on the basis of what is right. Councils that may if not already, soon be on the verge of bankruptcy because of other centrally derived and disastrous ‘one size fits all’ policies that are serving nobody but their political architects.

In times when sustainability is a Government mantra, the unsustainable practice of what is in effect unbridled green-field development has to cease.

Housing need must not only be determined by local people at local level; that level of development must itself be based upon what any one local area can support and not upon what Westminster Officials decide as being a requirement.

As a Nation, we simply cannot concrete and tarmac over fields in order to sustain exploding population growth which itself is not contributing either the equivalent or more of what it then demands from a paymaster which continues to function well beyond its means.

Long term housing projections should cease, not only for being the gift that they have become for unscrupulous land-banking developers, but also because we simply do not know what lies in store for us as a population next year, let alone that which may be the case in 30 more.

It is local people and their representatives who should have both the power to decide upon what is and is not sustainable in building terms, along with the right to say no to developers without any fear of unseen bureaucrats undermining or reversing those very same decisions based upon an external and self-serving strategy.

Mankind may not have yet discovered the way to change the weather, but a democratic system should actually allow for changes in Legislation which will limit the amount of damage which future flooding events have the power to cause.

Local people should have the choice to protect their homes, businesses and even lives right now. Not when there is nothing left insurable.

Equality in Education has been destroyed by the idea that all can make the best of the same opportunities

images (31)I seem to have the phrase ‘cause and effect’ branded in my thought processes right now as I look at all of the problems with Government and no less so when recently reading yet more bad news about struggling school pupils failing to catch up.  But is anybody really surprised?

One of the greatest problems with modern government and law-making is that once an issue has been addressed, the people who have been put in place to deal with that issue then have nothing to do – unless of course they create something else to justify their existence. Have a good look at every area of life where some kind of policy has been created or exists and you might just begin to see what I mean.

The problem with this process is that whilst you can easily see that some things do benefit from being revised from their original form to meet a need which was not originally considered or indeed, to bring that a policy or law up-to-date to meet or to be applicable to contemporary need, the rise of the bureaucrat and ‘professional’ politician has led to unnecessary meddling and the creation of having laws for laws sake. This is particularly evident in matters such as education.

The value of education has been appreciated for a long time but the system we have probably began the headlong descent that we are now experiencing when the concept of real apprenticeships was lost and the school leaving age was raised to 16 in 1972. Speak to what some might call ‘old school’ educators and they will tell you that children were either ‘heads or hands’; the inference being that they were academic or practically inclined. Would you hear a teacher say the same in a similar conversation today? No.

The 1997-2010 New Labour project oversaw much of the destructive push towards blanket qualification levels which now seem to be the accepted way to enhance an evolving society. Put simply, the approach of such meddlers is to work on the basis that the easiest way to improve education is to make the education fit the population, rather than encourage the population to meet the demands of the time. Now is that real equality or just a twisted view of it which is taking our once highly educated and envied Nation backwards?

Everyone is different for many reasons, not least because of their genetics, demographics and social conditioning. It is therefore sheer folly to believe that by applying the one-size-fits-all mentality that you will create a perfect and fully functioning society by making everyone equal ‘by default’. We currently see high levels of youth unemployment and dissatisfaction with the system (Something apparently highlighted by the August 2011 Riots), but again no real attempts to address the causes of these problems being made by the very people who could genuinely make a difference.

There are many young people who don’t want to be in ‘school’ and others who just don’t get the benefit from a dumbed-down degree system where 3 years of undergraduate study provides what could be a lifelong debt and a qualification that industry views as useless, all against the backdrop of a Government that cannot afford to provide such diversions in the first place. The balance has been lost and somebody needs to get this all back where it should be so that each and every individual can follow a route to a career which gives them the best opportunities to realise all that they can achieve based on what they are capable of doing; not what some idealist in London thinks it right that they should do.

Rather than scratching heads about the escalating problems created by the decline in standards in education, why not get back to a basic appreciation of the fact that everyone has something unique to offer and that in itself requires real diversity of opportunities and not one which is offered by an encyclopaedic exam syllabus. Put 14 year-olds who have no academic inclination – or don’t recognise one at that age – into real 7-year vocational apprenticeships in industry and SME’s where time and application give them the career footing that they would otherwise never achieve?

Why not begin to rebuild the ‘time-served’ bank of talent and experience that no amount of schoolroom activity can provide our dwindling industries and hungry-for-help businesses with, in a cost effective way which reduces the burden on the State and will probably address all manner of other issues hurting society at the same time such as youth crime?

I can almost hear the ‘it won’t work because…’ right now. What – because of employment laws or other legislation? – That’s exactly the point and the very reason we are getting into more and more of a mess isn’t it?

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