richard pierce

richard pierce

29 June 2015

Grove Farm Affordable Housing? It's just an illusion.

Judging by a letter from John Pateman-Gee, Mid-Suffolk's Senior Planning Officer, published today on both Stradbroke's web sites, it appears that the Grove Farm Development proposal is being scaled down to 44 houses from 54 houses, with all the ten houses removed from the proposal being affordable housing.

This raises several points.

The first question I have is why the letter was apparently addressed to a single parish councillor, yet starts with "Dear Everyone." A supplementary question would be, that if I have the wrong end of the stick and the letter was addressed to the Parish Council, why it was not immediately shared with the entire Parish Council by email, and indeed why Mr Pateman-Gee did not email it to all councillors in the first place.

The second point I'd like to make is that the revised proposal actually merely revises the development back to the size of the original proposal, which in itself is too large a development, bearing in mind that there are at least another 12 houses already with planning permission in the village. Someone far more cynical than I might suggest that this has been the developer's strategy from the very beginning - to increase the proposed development to a size which would be certain to bring protests from a majority of villagers, and then to reduce it to the size which was intended all along to make it appear that the developer had actually listened to local protests. This is not an improvement on the 54-house proposal. It is still far larger than the 24-house development all those who oppose the current development plans say they could support.

The third point is this - when the 54-house proposal went to Parish Council, two of our youngest parish councillors very eloquently and movingly argued for the development on the grounds of the 50% affordable housing it promised to bring to the village. I wonder if those two councillors feel at all betrayed now. Even though affordable housing would still account for 38.6% of the development (17 houses), this move most certainly confirms the suspicions I and others voiced at the time of the parish council meeting which narrowly voted for the development, which were that the developer would gradually decrease the number of affordable houses in the development. Furthermore, it raises the question as to whether or not the developer actually plans to build any affordable housing at all as part of the development. It certainly does not inspire trust.

Add to this the fact that the current government's policy is to cut its funding for housing associations, forcing them to borrow funds for new housing against their current stock of housing (see my blog post of 14th April 2015), there's an even bigger possibility that the Grove Farm development will see no affordable housing built at all.

The revision to the proposal means that Stradbroke Parish Council will have to vote on this proposal once more, and that it will, once more, have to be listed on the Mid-Suffolk Planning Department's web site. We need to make sure that the voices of the villagers are again heard through the objection process, tiresome as this might be.

So, in summary, developer makes first over-sized proposal, withdraws it, makes even more over-sized proposal to ensure even greater protests, amends very over-sized proposal to make it appear as if it's listening, cuts affordable housing percentage, casts significant doubt on any affordable housing being built. It's all smoke and mirrors. Just an illusion.

9 June 2015

Due Process

You may (or you may not) have wondered why I haven't blogged since the General Election on 7th May. There are many reasons for this. Not only was I disappointed with the result of the election (which I believe was prejudiced by the media in general, and by the right-wing media in particular), I was also very disappointed by the result of the Parish Council elections in Stradbroke, which I believe were unduly influenced by candidates not observing the Representation of the People's Act. But I suppose that's water under the bridge, and an unimportant person like me should leave it be at that.

However ...

I have spent most of my adult life as a process manager, as a manager of arguable processes. That means I have had to look at how decisions are arrived at, at production processes (mainly for services rather than products), have had to ensure that decisions made have been backed up by a verifiable and acceptable means of making those decisions. That's why, at the last two Stradbroke Parish Council meetings, I have made points of order, halted the meetings because they have not observed Standing Orders (basically instructions on how meetings should proceed). In the first meeting I took part in (in May), a councillor suggested the council suspend Standing Orders when I made a point of order. Today, the Chairman of the council shouted at me for making a point of order, and suggested, in a particularly aggressive manner, that I was quoting from Standing Orders that were not issued by Stradbroke Parish Council. Thankfully, the Parish Clerk corrected him on that matter. If we were allowed to suspend Standing Orders, we might as well suspend the Code of Conduct.

I'm afraid there is an issue with local government which is not confined merely to Stradbroke Parish Council. Many councils appear to labour under the illusion that they are the final arbiters of what is right or wrong for the village they claim to represent. The fact of the matter is that actually parish councils have very limited executive powers, if any. Many councillors in parish councils across the country (and I am still including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - and Yorkshire - in my definition of this country) believe that sitting on the parish council gives them the right to lord it over those who live in their parishes. They are wrong. The populace hold the balance of power. The problem is that the populace (except for the minute fraction who have time to attend parish council meetings) can't see how much information their councils withhold from them. They believe the process to be transparent when it is not. They believe those who tell them that everything's fine, that their interests are being represented, that due process is being observed.

At this evening's meeting, it was claimed by the Chairman that Stradbroke Parish Council had managed itself very well by not observing procedures for the last two decades. Has it really? Is not the result of the non-observance of due process that we live in an increasingly fragmented and tribally motivated village? I despair of politicians who distort public opinion to fit in with their own aims. Furthermore, that comment suggests that any motions passed by the council over the last two decades has actually been passed illegally and would not stand up in a court of law.

One last comment - the public were this evening treated with disdain by the Chairman of Stradbroke Parish Council, which I believe to be a breach of the Seven Principles of Public Life. I find that appalling, sad, and reprehensible. It's one thing to claim to be representing the people of Stradbroke; it's another actually doing so.