It’s been a weird week. I was going to say it’s been a funny week, but apart from comments from some fanatic Trump supporters there’s not been much to laugh at. Our dog has become quite seriously ill, necessitating at one point an emergency appointment at a specialist vet neurology centre. I won’t go into details, but at the moment we still don’t know to what extent he will recover. But what has really struck me is the extent to which humans can become attached to dogs. He’s not my dog, he’s my partner’s, but I’ve grown really fond of him. And it’s heart breaking to see him ill – a shadow of his former playful self. I’m also fully aware that for some on the environmental wing of politics keeping dogs is not an approved practice. I understand all the arguments here, but…well, he’s a dog!
On the political field, preparing a response from the Green Group of councillors on Dorset Council to the Council’s Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy and Action Plan public consultation has been my dominant occupation. And being as honest as I can, I found this far from easy. As I’ve said before, I find a constant tension between being an activist and campaigner, pushing for the outcomes I think necessary and being as critical as I can of anything that falls short, and being a pragmatic politician who recognises that in order to get anything done compromises will need to be made. So after re-reading all the paperwork and discussing the issues at an online meeting we have decided to be broadly supportive of the strategy and action plan. And in all honesty, we are full of praise for the work council officers have done to produce them. But we also feel that there needs to be greater emphasis in a number of key areas.
One of these areas is the need to not only engage the community, but to actively promote their participation in the delivery of the action plan. And, perhaps of even greater importance, to explain the benefits of the strategy – how it will improve their lives, health and wellbeing. This will involve councillors engaging with the communities they represent, the communities in which they are known and have some influence. But here’s the rub. I’m not convinced that all the councillors in Dorset are onboard. I already knew that there are one or two out and out ‘climate change deniers’ within the Tory ranks, but my fear is that there are also a significant number who, whilst accepting that man-made climate change is an issue, also think it’s by no means the most important issue. This was really brought home to me on Thursday afternoon at a councillors’ webinar on the consultation. The number of councillors attending these (roughly) weekly events varies, and I understand that a number have work commitments, but the number at this event was noticeably lower than usual. If a significant number of councillors are not ‘on board’, how are we going to fully engage the community?
I don’t usually comment on casework, mostly out of respect for the resident who has brought an issue to my attention, but this week will be an exception. A sign has appeared on at least one footpath entering the West Cliff estate, West Bay informing walkers that it’s a private estate and only residents have access. This sign appear at the point a signed public right of way enters the estate. Not surprisingly, this has angered a number of local walkers who regularly use the path, some who have done so for 20 years. Checking on a Council ‘rights of way’ map, however, has not made the situation clear. Whilst a bridleway enters and leaves the estate there appears to be a gap between the two sections, and indeed the path is shown to end in a cul-de-sac, and not connect to the bridleway. Further enquiries suggest that this situation results from a situation that occurred when the estate was built but which has never been resolved. My point in saying all this is that even if the management committee of this private estate has some degree of justification for their actions, why? Why stop walkers who have used the path for years? Why stop people enjoying healthy outdoor exercise? What is so precious about this estate that only residents can enter? It’s bad enough that land is owned privately in the first place, and whilst I’m not advocating people walking through other people’s gardens, why do some people want to not only own the roads but prevent other people from walking on them?