Parish councils, planning and philosophy

The big news on Friday concerned Handforth Parish Council, which made the national news for all the wrong reasons. A recording of a Zoom meeting of their Planning and Environment Committee, showing some disgraceful behaviour by a number of councillors, went viral on social media. Whilst initially I found this all very amusing, I quickly became sad – partly because it devalued all the great work parish councillors are doing up and down the country, and partly because many of these councils already struggle to attract local residents to step forward to fill councillor vacancies. So, if you have been thinking of standing for your local town or parish council, but, on seeing this, have been put off, please think again. As a Dorset Councillor I attend the four parish councils that lie within my ward, and can guarantee that the Handforth example is a rarity. Parish councils can, and often do, make a real contribution to their local community. Please support them.

Parish and town councils are statutory consultees on all planning applications for their area. I have been sitting on both Dorset Council’s Western & Southern Area Planning Committee and Bridport Town Council’s Planning Committee since the last local elections. In that time I have become convinced that planning is probably the most important area of a council’s work with regards to the mitigation of climate change. But, as a councillor, I feel my hands are tied by out-of-date national guidelines and overly cautious planning officers who are nervous of legal challenges to their decisions. Very few planning decisions are clear cut. Most require the balancing of competing requirements. Perhaps more pressure from towns and parishes would tip this balance in favour of a future climate that continued to support human life. We need to insist that all new developments are built to the highest energy conservation standards as possible, and we need to resist all development on greenfield sites.

One of the most important documents in terms of planning decisions is the Local Plan. This sets out the main principles and policies for developments in a local authority area for the next 15 years of so. Once approved by a government inspector it becomes one of the main determinants in any decision. Dorset Council is in the process of producing its plan, and a draft version has just gone out for public consultation. Bridport Town Council has formed a working group to put together its response. I am part of this group, and so far we have had six two hour meetings – two in the last week. Yet despite all the work we have put in, we have not been able to go through every detail of the plan, there is simply too much of it. This, however, should not put residents off making their own response. It is important that as many people as possible take part in the consultation. Even if you just read the section that most interests you, please read and respond.

Philosophy has been one of my major interests since my teens. Had you asked me at the time I may not have cited philosophy, but the questions I was asking of life then were definitely philosophical. It was only later in life that I was able to study it formally. And one of my big frustrations at the moment is the lack of time I have to pursue or research ideas that come to me. I really need to do something about this. One of my current desires is to revisit Nietzsche. In part this is as a result of reading The Righteous Mind, and the discovery that one of central points of Jonathon Haidt’s book, that our values and judgements emerge from our intuitions and that we use our faculty of reason post hoc to justify them, was said by Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil 127 years previously.

Politically I often think of myself as both Red and Green. I have twice been a member of the Labour Party, but left out of frustration at their lack of a socialist agenda, and have philosophical issues with many in the Green Party, particularly with what I would (probably unfairly) term the tree hugging fringe. I am therefore looking forward to an online symposium being put on tomorrow by the national Philosophy in Pubs organisation. The theme of this symposium is the left wing Welsh cultural critic Raymond Williams, who wrote on a wide range of issues including education, politics, culture, the media, literature, ecology, communication and technology. I am particularly looking forward to the first session entitled Red and Green, Ecology & Politics. Hopefully I will have something positive to say about this next week.

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