Read all about it

Posted July 31, 2012

Read all about it

I prefer to read a good book in my spare time, not trawl through Parish Council minutes.

However, I’ve reluctantly set aside the latest Hilary Mantel publication and immersed myself in an epic tale of a different kind. One in which the plot is only revealed through methodically perusing agenda points, appendices and council minutes.

Rumours surfaced just before Christmas last year about a plan to build houses on green land near my home. At first I dismissed the rumours. I couldn’t imagine the planning authorities suddenly allowing huge expanses of the countryside to be sold off for housing development. Not here in deep rural Essex where we have always guarded our fields like precious jewels.

In any case, we were about to roll into a huge, public consultation that would determine how many houses would be built in the region over the next 15 years and where they would be located.

And yet, throughout all the Christmas festivities, the rumours persisted. I began to feel uneasy. So I set myself a New Year’s resolution: to scan the parish council minutes and search for clues.

At first glance there didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. It was only when I reached the very last point in the January minutes that I discovered a reference to a meeting between the parish council and a property developer regarding a proposed development in Thaxted.

What meeting?  What development?

My twitching antennae went into overdrive when I learnt that the press and public had been excluded from the parish council meeting at the point that the proposed development was discussed. The explanation given in the minutes was that any “publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted”.

This was becoming more intriguing than a Ruth Rendell mystery! I had to delve further.

The rumours, as I eventually discovered, were correct. An 11 hectare field close to my home was, indeed, being considered for housing development.

And the meeting, reported in January’s minutes, wasn’t a one-off. Discussions between my parish council, the property developer and my district council have been taking place since last year and continue still.
I’m no longer hooked on the storyline though. What I thought might equal the ingenuity of Machiavelli’s The Prince or the tactical brilliance of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is shaping up to be more like Mr Bean’s Guide to Local Politics.

Image: only alice, flickr

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