For Sale – One Green and Pleasant Land

Much loved and well cared for over many generations, but now no longer needed because the custodians believe that they have the right to flog it off to pay some bills.

Maintaining the finest traditions of previous Tory Governments, most notably that of Margaret Thatcher, it now seems that our national woodlands and forests are now anybody’s for the taking.

Note I said custodians above, because that’s what the government is, the custodians on behalf of the nation, not the owners, with the right to dispose of them as they fancy.  As with so many politicians past and present, they seem to see the cross in the box on a ballot paper as a mandate to do what the hell they like, when the hell they like.

Reading today’s newspapers, it seem  100 plus prominent people have written to government, voicing their outrage at this latest proposal to sell off the family silver, or more accurately, to sell off the land of our children and their childrens’ children.

As prominent as these 100 people might be, unless millions of ordinary folk tell this government exactly what they think of this proposal, I suspect their words will be just that –words.

Given that the probable figure to be raised will be no more £100m, yet again one is forced to ask the most obvious of questions – why damage the homeland, whilst continuing to squander taxpayers’ money on that piece of political vanity called the overseas aid budget?

Britain’s overseas aid budget is not just ring-fenced at £6 billion; it will grow — by 2013 it should reach £9 billion. The Tories agreed this whilst in opposition, supporting Labour’s target of increasing the aid budget to a level equal to 0.7 per cent of GDP.

It’s bad enough to squander our hard earned money on this badly managed and allegedly often plunder fund in times of plenty.  To do it when our own people are suffering rocketing household bills, job losses and service cuts, as well as selling off assets such as our national forests and woodlands, in a bloody disgrace – shame on you My Cameron.

PPG13 amendment not all that it seems

Is there no hope for us?  Even the one man who should be above going off half cocked on all things planning – unlike certain ministers – has yet again allowed his name to be put to a piece of headline grabbing psuedo-localism.  This time in the form of another letter to all local planning authorities. 

The letter said: “…the Government is changing some of the text in Planning Policy Guidance 13: Transport (PPG13) to better reflect localism. The Government’s position on parking standards is that local authorities are best placed to take account of local circumstances and are able to make the right decisions for the benefit of their communities. As such, the central requirement to express ‘maximum’ parking standards for new residential development has been deleted.”

Parking standards will still need to be set, but it will be for local authorities to determine what that standard should be.

Wrong!  As pointed out by a planning professional in a recent email, what the chief planner has said, especially the bits in bold,  are just empty words, when it comes to any form of localism on this issue, because he has ‘conveniently’ forgotten to delete another bit of PPG13 that says:

Parking

50. In developing and implementing policies on parking, local authorities should:

2.  not require developers to provide more spaces than they themselves wish, other than in exceptional circumstances………’

So, having rushed to my copy of the Local Plan and scrawled out all references to  a maximum parking standards in residential development, in order to reduce the amount of pavement parking and front gardens being lost to parking places, I find that the developer is still able, with the blessing of government, to tell me to get stuffed!  Another victory for the localism agenda.

Local politicians to be stitched up

The government looks set fair to ensure that local politicians of all persuasions carry the can for the housing shortage in this country.  Having removed the regionally imposed housing number requires, to a great hurrah from the Party faithful in the more affluent areas of the country, ministers are now saying that it is up to councils to convince the locals that development is good for them.  See the quote from one of Greg Clark’s bag carriers below. 

Developers will be allowed to build “what they like, where they like” if councils fail to give permission for sufficient new housing schemes, a Conservative MP has said.  John Howell, parliamentary private secretary to minister for decentralisation Greg Clark, warned that if councils failed to plan for new development, it would be assumed that they had a “completely permissive planning system”.  As a result, he said a developer could build “what they like, where they like and when they like”, as long as they meet new national planning standards that are being worked on alongside the Localism Bill.

He stressed that the government’s new planning system aimed to lead to more development, not less development.

The new government obviously learnt at least one lesson during their time in opposition.  Simply setting housing numbers doesn’t mean houses get built.  Also, because these housing numbers were set regionally, it made it appear to be the government’s fault.  they weren’t going to have that.  Afterall, there were plenty of other things they were in line to be blamed for that they wouldn’t be able to pass the buck for, without taking the blame for this as well!

Enter Baldrick (or should we call him Pickles in order to bring it up to date) with a cunning plan.  Why not scrap the government imposed figures, whilst at the same time cutting the local government grant, top slicing what’s left and then only giving them that bit back if they build more houses – Brilliant!   Not only does this get the housing deficit off of our backs, it also well and truly sticks it to local government, that I never liked anyway – Double brilliant!!

Health reforms – quality measurement?

As a recent cancer suffer myself, I’ve been listening to the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley on Radio 4 this week, with great interest.  Unfortunately, I’m a hopeless patient and consistently fail to remember most of the details regarding my treatment, so I make no claim to any expertise on the subject of the NHS, apart from the fact that they appear to have helped me to live a bit longer!

The reason for my self confessed poorly informed comment today, is to do with Mr Lansley’s repeated use of the words ‘quality’ and ‘outcomes’.  This is in relation to the scrapping of the previous government’s target driven performance indicators and the new government’s belief that it should be all about the two words previous mentioned – quality and outcomes.

The problem I have with this approach, as somebody who has more than a passing interest in both, is what happens when they don’t hit these targets?  Also, what does it actually mean when the targets are not met?  The merit of measuring the numbers of patients seen within a particular time frame, was that the patient was seen by an expert within a certain deadline (unfortunate inclusion of the word dead there!) and could then hopefully start treatment post haste if required.  However, now that we are going to measure ‘quality’ and ‘outcomes’, it would seem that we are going from one end of the telescope to the other.   Whereas before the target was hit by getting you to see the right doctor as quickly as possible, that no longer matters.  Now you will have to survive long enough to get to the doctor, before they start to measure the quality and outcome of your treatment.

If you don’t measure things until the end of the process, as opposed to at the beginning, does that mean that if you drop off the perch before you actually get in to the new health care system, it isn’t actually a quality failure?  And, from their point of view at least, it might not even be a bad outcome!

If I have a quality failure at work, somebody gets their a**e kicked and the job gets redone.  If I have a quality failure in my health care, it may well kill me, or at least cause me to die sooner than I might of.  Which then of course will indeed give Mr Lansley a poor outcome to measure.

As I said, I’m no expert in these things, but measuring quality and outcomes in health care, in the same way you inspect widgets in a factory, doesn’t seem like a step in the right direction to me!  Trouble is, if I’m right (and I am very occasionally) I probably won’t be around to say I told you so!

Localism Bill – anything goes!

Personally, I’m still undecided about what benefits (if any) the Localism Bill will bring, especially given its inherent criticism of elected members.  How else are we to view the drive to introduce ‘local’ representation and neighbourhood forums populated by those who will not of stood for any form of election?

There is however, one bit of the bill that appears to be some sort of sop to those elected members who seem unable to present the views of their electorate without actually making those views their own.  I quote the text below.

Predetermination  

Clause 13  

(2) A decision-maker is not to be taken to have had, or to have appeared to have had, a closed mind when making the decision just because

(a) the decision-maker had previously done anything that directly or indirectly indicated  what view the decisionmaker took, or would or might take, in relation to a matter, and

(b) the matter was relevant to the decision.  This Clause needs to be read in conjunction with a statement issued by DCLG (http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/corporate/1768609) which says that:

These proposed legislative changes will mean councillors can be very clear and discuss freely their view and voting intention and publicise their views as they see fit.  However, councillors must be prepared to listen to arguments and evidence before making their decision.  These changes will reduce the threat of challenge.

I’ve no doubt some very clever lawyers at DCLG have drafted this clause to do exactly what the minister wanted it to – allow members to shoot their mouths off and get away with it!

Yes, very occasionally there will be issues that a person got themselves elected on and that it would be ludicrous to then exclude them from being involved in when it came to the debate and the subsequent voting process.  However, to suggest that, by simply producing the text above and make it the ‘law’, this changes completely the status of that members words in respect of pre-determination, is an insult to anybody who thinks they understand the English language.

The last paragraph especially demonstrates the nonsensical nature of this clause.

‘…….mean councillors can be very clear and discuss freely their view and voting intention and publicise their views……’

But then having done all of the above, ‘…..councillors must be prepared to listen to arguments and evidence before making their decision.’

I think they should change the word ‘prepared’ to pretend, because that it what somebody who has discussed and publicised freely, their view and voting intentions, will really be doing.

Worse still and hopefully an unintended negative effect of this clause, will be the pressure members will now come under to declare their view on an issue. It will no longer be acceptable to keep an open mind, listen to all the evidence, and maybe even put the case for those who have asked for your help, but then vote with your conscientious.  The public will now have the right to expect you to take a position or suffer the consequences.

Pinchbeck Road/Woolram Wygate junction

The County Council Highways Dept has agreed with the two developers that they would issue the necessary Orders themselves, rather that the highways dept, directly to the various Utility Companies (water, gas, electricity, telephone) for the works required to relocate or protect their underground services, mainly on Woolram Wygate.

The two developers delayed the issue of those Orders until they had their planning permissions in place, which was understandable, as any delay in gaining planning permission would probably have meant that any Orders that were already in place would of run out of their time limit.  The successful outcome for the applications at the Development Control Committee meeting on 5 January 2011,  means that both developers have now commenced arrangements for the issue of the Orders.

A programme period for the work required once the services are moved etc, has been produced, but the start point for this will depend on when the Utilities works are completed.

Initially, it was hoped that all the Utilities works would be finished before the 2011 Flower Parade, so that the remaining works could start soon after the Flower Parade.  However, this may need to be revised, dependant upon the requirements and constraints of the Utility Companies and how the remaining work can be fed in to work schedule of the County council’s road works contractor.

Check out the Conservative group website for more news about Spalding Wygate ward http://southhollanddcconservativegroup.co.uk/3818/welcome

No shortage of experts on the unknown

Just before Christmas I got caught out by what must be the public sector equivalent of the time share scam.

You know the sort of thing, shiny brochure lands on the doorstep, or in this case, in the Inbox and before you know it, you’ve parted with your cash and your eagerly awaiting the opportunity to sample what you’ve bought.  Then you actually get there and very quickly realise that you’ve been had, it was all BS and bling and all you’ve got is a fancy venue and a shiny folder with next to nothing worth having in it.

My somewhat ham-fisted analogy, refers to a must attend seminar in London, offering to give me the inside story on the Localism Bill and how it would affect the way councils do planning.  This should have been just the job, after all it was scheduled to take place only a couple of weeks after the Localism Bill was published and one of the speakers was to be somebody involved in the whole process, the Chief Planning Officer.  One small problem; the bill was delayed, so what should have been a major piece of information transfer turned out to be various speakers waffling their way around a subject they either couldn’t talk about in any detail or didn’t know about because it hadn’t been published.

Since the end of the recent festivities, I must have had at least another half a dozen invitations to attend other ‘must attend’ events.

Apart from the fact that many of these events have a starting price of at least £299 (plus VAT of course) and some much higher, what really gets to me is their claims to be offering some really expert and invaluable insight in to the latest government thinking.  Trouble is, the government doesn’t actually seem to know what it’s thinking itself, especially when it comes to local government and the planning system, so what gives these so-called experts a view in to the unknown – psychic powers?

The 200+ clauses in the Localism Bill are still just that from what I’ve seen – clauses.  No meat on the bones yet; in fact hardly any bones!

The people churning out all this cyber trash must have missed the bit about 20%+ cuts in local government grant funding and therefore think that the local government cash cow is still ripe for milking.

The lesson to be learned from this? Save the taxpayer some money and don’t attend anything claiming to give you a head start on government policy until at least 6 months after it has been published.  In fact maybe don’t bother at all, after all localism is supposed to be about making up as you go along; just as long as you do it locally!