Dot to dot

Posted July 27, 2012

Dot to dot

I applaud the Government’s insistence that local people must have a voice in decisions that affect their community. Yay! *waves flag*. Honesty and openness are GOOD (and rare) things, especially when it comes to politics. 

That’s why I welcomed the opportunity to comment on my region’s new Local Plan for housing development. I dutifully made my way to the Community Information Centre in Thaxted at the end of January, along with other residents from the village. We were curious to discover what the process would entail and keen to have our say.

A map of Thaxted was pinned on a large board, with all the potential development sites clearly indicated. So far, so good: it was easy to see exactly what was up for discussion. The dot system was explained to us (place a red dot on a site that is unsuitable for development; place a green dot on a site that is suitable for development).

Armed with our red and green dots, we were then set loose on the board. There is always a fear that this sort of consultation process could become a Nimby exercise. But that wasn’t the case. Aside from having to restrain one overly zealous woman from scattering red dots on every available surface, including the tables and chairs (she clearly believed that developers should leave the village well alone!), everybody was very fair minded in their approach to the task.

There certainly wasn’t any “confusion” (the parish council’s verdict on the process, not mine) unless, of course, you were colour blind. I don’t believe any of us were. This might be hard for the parish councilto grasp but we managed to navigate our way around the map relatively unaided - the district council had kindly included details like road names to make it easier for us to orientate ourselves - so no “confusion” there either.
 
The parish council, however, obviously feared that we wouldn’t be able to rise to the occasion at all. It was dismissive of the whole exercise, saying that it didn’t “take a lot of stock of that form of survey”.  Even though “that form of survey” was presented to the public as a key part of the whole consultation process. We did take a lot of stock of it. It was reassuring to witness our feedback being collated in such a highly visual way.

So what's the problem? Well, I know I’m not an expert or anything but it seems to me, looking at the picture of the map, that there are very obvious clusters of green dots. Go on; stare hard and you’ll see exactly what I mean. These are the sites which local people identified as being most suitable for development.

Mysteriously though, they had all vanished by the second phase of the consultation in June. The only site remaining was the huge swathe of open green land shown in the top right hand corner of the map. The one with lots of red dots scattered across it. Hang on a minute, doesn’t that mean DON’T build on it? Now I genuinely am confused!

I’m angry too. Why bother to hold a ‘consultation’ if you intend to cast aside the views of the public?

It’s enough to make anyone see ... RED.

Image: Uttlesford District Council

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