Friday, 13 May 2011

'As Swaffham Prior goes, so goes the nation,' I said

Some people laugh at Parish Councils. I don't. I have always believed that such really local authorities are the best and the most effective and efficient of all, and I write from less pleasing experience of both the District Council and the County Council.

I have been trying to get a good picture of Swaffham Prior Parish Council (of which I am a member) for some time, for my own records and for my blog and in order to submit it for publication to the Swaffham Crier, our village magazine, and, last evening, at the May monthly meeting and with the help of one of the Swaffham Crier reporters, Mr Mark Lewinski, we had success.

The picture above shows the full membership and the clerk and, from left to right, there are Mr Steve Kent-Phillips, Mrs Sandra Gynn, Mr Eric Day, myself, Mr John Covill (chairman), Mrs Karen King (clerk), Mr Andrew Camps, Mr Paul Latchford, Mr Peter Hart (vice-chairman), and Mr David Almond.

The meeting was one of the best ever and it was made all the more lively and interesting because we were discussing what we thought were to be the consequences of the Localism Bill, currently making its way through Parliament. As we had seen it, the Bill was intended to bring into being a new approach to planning - 'bottom up' as opposed to 'top down' - and the abolition of government-imposed targets for house-building and such as gypsy sites. We had successfully seen off a threat of one of the latter with the help of our District Councillor, Mr Allen Alderson, and we have been and are in a mood to be constructive with regard to the former. Indeed, we had received a submission from three prominent and helpful local people who wished to provide up to eight affordable homes, probably for rent, and up to sixteen 'market value' houses, all on the site that we, as a Council, had previously put at the top of our preferred list for possible development. There is no doubting the need for affordable housing in Swaffham Prior and the quid pro quo of 'market value' houses is generally accepted. We have the preferred site, we have the facilities (a good school, etc.), we have the opportunity and we have the key people 'on-side.' (Sadly, we no longer have a post office and shop and that lack was mentioned: maybe some more housing might merit the reinstatement of a post office and shop).

A lady planning officer, Abigail Taylor, from East Cambridgeshire District Council, was present in order to help us and to guide us forward. We all wished to go forward but, regrettably, there appear to be many more processes for our proposals to go through and, helpful though Ms. Taylor was, several of us saw fear that we were, again, to be bogged down in bureaucracy and tied up with red tape.

I thought - and said - that 'the forces of negativism' could represent an impediment to progress. I also said - and nobody disagreed - that the whole concept of 'localism' was at stake, that the 'bottom up' approach to planning was being tested and that Swaffham Prior, one of the first villages to take part in the process, would be seen as a test case for the success or otherwise of the Localism Bill. In short, the excellent intentions of the Bill seem now to be at risk. It might be an exaggeration to say that the Bill's success or otherwise depends on what happens in our village, but I want to witness locally some success for the Bill's national approach.

'As Swaffham Prior goes, so goes the nation,' I said. We shall see.

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