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Monday 8 August 2011
Letters: The Localism Bill
This Bill will turn our green land into an urban dystopia
What a good idea the Localism Bill sounded (Letters, 28 July).
An end to centrally imposed housing quotas; the empowering of communities to plan for their own futures. But the more detail has emerged, the more the underlying agenda has become plain for all to see: a cynical and sleazy betrayal of our countryside, which must be sacrificed on the altar of short-term economic growth, irrespective of the environmental and social consequences.
Government ministers queue up to beat their chests while uttering the ugliest pro-development rhetoric, salivating gleefully at the prospect of the rape of our landscape to secure a short-term recovery from a severe recession. The cheerleader, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announces on 23 March that the default answer to development is "yes". The National Policy Planning Framework redefines sustainable development as anything goes. Planners are derided and mocked as the enemies of enterprise.
An urban dystopia beckons. The ghost estates of Ireland, vast numbers of unoccupied houses constructed during an unsustainable development boom, morph into our green fields. To quote the words of the prophetic miserabilist Larkin, that will be England gone, the shadows, the meadows, the lanes.
Land is not an economic commodity: it is a precious and finite natural resource. We must recognise that the social and environmental value of our landscape at least matches its economic value. Our Government has overlooked this, and we are sleepwalking towards the catastrophe of a development free-for-all.
Town centres should be the beating heart of their communities, but too often they are a source of disappointment.
For the past 20 years, local public/private partnerships, led by town-centre managers, have sought to maintain the viability and distinctiveness of their local centres. Too often the best efforts of local people to improve the appearance, security, and marketing of their town, and to foster new local investment, have been overcome by a planning system that benefits large-scale, non-local corporate interests.
There has been a presumption in favour of new development; supermarkets and shopping malls are filled with the usual corporate suspects. How can local businesses reinvest with confidence in competition with the supermarkets and national multiple chains? The market segments open to them become more and more marginal. How can local initiative cope with well-funded vested interests?
This state of affairs will continue given the text of the Draft National Planning Policy Framework out to consultation until 17 October, which states that local planning authorities "should approve all individual planning applications wherever possible", and grant permission where a Local Plan is "absent, silent, indeterminate, or where relevant policies are out of date". As the preparation of a Local Plan is very time- consuming, and subject to wide consultation, the fact is that large swathes of the country are now without an approved plan. Accordingly, the proposed National Planning Policy Framework is a development charter for corporate interests and a new blow against distinctive traditional town centres. What price "localism" when central government ensures local initiative will be overwhelmed?
Saltburn by the Sea
Redcar and Cleveland
Contrary to what Terence Blacker says (5 August), the status of the countryside is unchanged in the draft National Planning Policy Framework. The Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest continue to be protected, and for other areas it is for local councils to decide what areas should be included in their plans for development – exactly as it is at the moment, with the exception that local councils' views cannot be counter-manded by the previous government's unelected regional assemblies.
In addition, recognising that not all valued green space is within the countryside, we are creating a new designation to protect local green spaces of particular importance to local communities. Further, ancient woodlands continue to have robust protection in our revised framework.
I strongly believe that we can reform the planning system to make it more accessible for people and communities without undermining the protection of our valuable local environment.
Rt Hon Greg Clark MP
Minister for Decentralisation and Cities, Department for Communities and Local Government,
EU is not to blame for this crisis
Your front-page assault on the European Union in the economic crisis misses the point majestically (6 August). "Why doesn't the EU do something?" would be a fair question in this crisis if the EU had the power "to do something", specifically, if it had fiscal authority.
But nationalist anxiety about a terrifying supra-national power, the "German ramp", and the "diktat of Brussels" – have left the EU unequipped to deal with a great crisis. Every step toward effective powers has been met by a hullabaloo of "protect our sovereignty", but sovereignty is the problem.
The requirement of referenda on extending central authority have left taxes in southern Europe under-pitched - also underpaid by the sovereign rich! Budgets have been lax and irresponsible risks taken by sovereign banks.
After all of which, the EU becomes the supra-national scapegoat. All around, sovereign states are making infantile mistakes which federal fiscal power could prevent. Yet the EU is condemned by friends for a central weakness laid upon it by the irrational propaganda of its enemies.
Back in 2008, Brown and Darling rescued the ailing Northern Rock by splitting it into a "good" and "bad" bank with the latter bearing the burden of defaulted loans. Our leaders should consider a similar strategy for tackling national debt and rescuing faltering economies. Creating a national "bad bank" would allow the deficit to be contained safely, detoxifying the "good economy" and preventing the glimmers of recovery turning into a double-dip slump.
Economics, like medicine, is a balancing act between art and hard facts where perception and psychology play a central role in creating a sense of well-being. Placing toxic national debt into the safe harbour of a "bad bank" would allow the healthy portions of the economy to grow and prevent western economies being wrecked on the rocks of hysteria.
On the matter of the pandemonium in world markets I don't see any other way to understand the whole matter but that we are locked in a state of global warfare with the weapons of mass destruction being debt, sovereign bonds and compound interest.
I think it would be for the greater good of the world now if the whole rotten system imploded down to ground zero. The 1940s generation survived on war rations – now it's our turn. But the enemy this time is not Panzer tanks, but vast arsenals of toxic, out-of-control global debt.
Long before the collapse of Northern Rock ordinary people with common sense could see that banks could not continue to lend money to borrowers who had little hope of repaying it. But they were pooh-pooh-ed by "experts" who were blinded by faith in the system.
Now that the mighty US economy has lost its triple-A credit rating, ordinary people can easily see that unrestrained capitalism does not work. What is necessary is that nearly all of us in the developed world should have fewer goods, and that those we have should be made from sustainable or recycled raw materials, and acquired fairly, without detriment to poorer people or to the environment. Continued economic growth is not possible.
How long will it take the "experts" to catch up?
Margaret Thatcher sold the family silver to fund a reduction in personal income tax. David Cameron is raiding the nation's piggy banks in the form of council assets to avoid raising personal income tax.
Can we not have a government which increases basic-rate income tax to bring in extra revenue and justifies it, as they do all our economic woe and indebtedness, by simply saying "That's just the way it is"? It would be a refreshing change to have some direct government action rather than muddled, half-baked policies which appear to be designed to avoid upsetting voters in the hope it will lead to their re-election.
All hail the cycle helmet
After the mocking of John Hade's "plank of wood" argument, I'd like to offer my support. It's a fine argument and, although I've never been struck by a plank of wood, I did have a full can of drink thrown at me last week which hit me on the head. My helmet certainly protected me then!
Also, this idea that helmets put people off riding seems odd. They're not heavy, uncomfortable or embarrassing to wear, or no more so than lycra shorts. And the pros wear them. What's the worry?
Whatever people say, it is unlikely ever to be made law in Britain to wear a cycling helmet. Every country that has done so has resulted in an immediate increase in the incidence of cyclist deaths and serious injury, the theory behind this being that a helmet is perceived, by both cyclists and motorists, to be the ultimate protection and so less care is taken by both sections.
Many may wear cycling helmets as a safety precaution (and of course are entitled to) but the reality is that such headgear offers very little in the way of protection if they are struck by a motor vehicle.
The main cause of death among cyclists remains, as it has always been, multiple body injuries and these in fact involve few head injuries serious enough to kill or incapacitate themselves – helmet or no helmet.
Sentiment means more than words
What an opinionated man Martin Wilkinson sounds (letters, 4 August). My mother died on Monday aged 100 years and I tell people in just those words. Many respond by expressing sympathy using the expression "passed on". This does not worry me one little bit, as I know they are trying to soften the blow. It is the intention that matters, not the language used. I am really glad I did not have to tell your correspondent my sad news, as like most people I would not appreciate a lesson in what he thinks is right.
Chandlers Ford, Hampshire
Lack of loos in London
On arrival at Kings Cross station this week I needed to answer the call of nature. The barrier to the ladies toilet was painfully closed to many frustrated passengers, as 30p was required for entrance and the change machine was not giving any. I enquired at the central information desk as to where I could get change. I couldn't. I further enquired as to where a traveller could possibly relieve herself and was told to go to McDonalds over the road.
On behalf of the thousands of overseas visitors arriving in the capital next year I ask – can McDonalds cope with this? If not, I suggest the nearest toilet be signposted immediately on entrance to the Olympic Park and, if payment is needed, that it be equipped to cope with any denomination and currency.
Sex strike hurts women too
Nigel Scott misunderstands Aristophanes' Lysistrata (Letters, 5 August) when he argues that, in the play, "sex is of overriding importance to men and of little or no interest to women". Much of the comedy in the play comes from watching the women struggle with their sexual frustration, which, Aristophanes makes clear, is just as intense as the men's.
Aubrey Beardsley had a much clearer understanding of what's happening in Lysistrata, as his wonderful illustration "Two Athenian Women in Distress" makes clear.
Of pedants and potato pickers
As one pedant to another, I would like to assure Guy Keleny (Errors and Omissions, 6 August) that potatoes certainly are picked. When I was a girl in 1940s Cheshire, potatoes were harvested by being uprooted by a lifter towed behind a tractor then picked by tater pickers following behind. Sadly this was during term-time, spoiling one's chances of earning extra pocket money, but I believe that this is the reason for Scottish summer holidays being earlier than in the rest of the UK. I am told they call it "tattie howking".
Unfortunately, when I was in the Ile de Noirmoutier in May it was too early for the La Bonnotte potatoes and I missed the opportunity to ask someone what verb they used when harvesting them.
Why do humans think they have a right to trespass so close to wild animals (report, 6 August)? Please leave polar bears (whose numbers are dwindling) in peace in their environment. A promising young life has been ended and a polar bear killed; expeditions should rethink their agendas.
I am not surprised that more shoppers are taking plastic carrier bags (29 July). We need them to use as bin bags, freezer bags etc which we cannot now afford to buy.
A long sentence
You report that polygamist Warren Jeffs "now faces up to 119 years in prison" (6 August). That may well be his sentence, but seeing as he's already 55 years old, he's not going to live until he's 174, is he?
Perspectives on the Tottenham riots
Blame social deprivation and lack of moral compass
The riots and looting at Tottenham are not the consequence of a single act of the police but a toxic combination of social deprivation and a lack of moral compass where the only code is that of the street gangs. In our cities, we are neglecting the young and the old alike, but at least the Government can take comfort from the fact that the thousands of elderly people imprisoned in undignified squalor are unlikely to take to the streets.
Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire
Who are these 'community representatives'?
I understand that there have been some disturbances in Tottenham after an armed man who shot at police was killed in return. This does not seem unreasonable to me, but apparently the criminal element in Tottenham disagrees. It seems that the police are currently talking to "community representatives".
Who elects these people? Do they speak for the entire community, or just the subset that matches their skin colour and/or religion to the exclusion of all others? And why do they always seem to do such a poor job?
Or are they merely self-important, unelected, motor-gobs who contribute nothing to situations that are totally outside their control?
A headache for the Olympics committee
The riots in Tottenham will worry the Olympic Committee, bearing in mind that Stratford is only few miles away. The question arises of whether these riots could spread to other areas of London when the Olympic venues are so close-by. Police and security services have enough to do, with the Olympics being considered a high-value target by terrorists, so can the police cope with riots as well?
Where are our leaders when the nation needs them?
London may be burning as we see riots and looting in the streets of London, but good old Mayor Boris Johnson has the right idea in jetting off to Greece to get away from it all rather than face those tedious cameras and mindless interviews regarding what he's going to do about it.
He perhaps got the idea from David Cameron, our Prime Minister, who together with his senior team jetted away on holiday leaving the UK derelict of leadership while facing the tiny problems of the euro in meltdown and the crash of world stock-markets.
I wonder what Sir Winston Churchill would have said about such behaviour?
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