It’s time we all got off our backsides and showed a little support for the Neighbourhood Plan. They must be fed up of having to bang the drum and getting little or no response.
The first time I’d even heard of a Neighbourhood Plan was when Jeffrey Phillips stood up in front of the crowd at the housing meeting in July 2012. He issued the first public rallying cry. After the meeting Councillors picked up the suggestion and attended a training session to understand more about it. They recognised quickly that there was a lot of work involved but also an opportunity. They launched the idea in a meeting in November 2012. The ridiculously negative response at that meeting prompted me to write a blog entitled “A public apology to Councillor Lucy Green“.
At our worst Ashbourne can be utterly apathetic and downright lazy – happy to criticise those who do get off their backside regardless of their cause – and unwilling to contribute to anything that isn’t an immediate threat to their property or livelihood. We will wait until the last minute and then blame everyone but ourselves for letting it happen. It saddens me that this is the case. Cast your minds back to that meeting in July 2012. The efforts of Peter Fox raised the interest in the Housing Consultation so that a public meeting was arranged by our Town Council. A standing-room-only crowd filled the Town Hall in outrage that 400 homes were going to be built and the NIMBY instinct mobilised the group. Once the town council picked up the baton with the District Council the passion was somewhat dimmed. The strength of feeling demonstrated by the turnout gave real momentum and a mandate in those discussions. After collecting all the contact details at that first meeting attendees were contacted about creating the Neighbourhood Team to deal with the issue on an ongoing basis. Only 30 turned up and many of those were annoyed that they couldn’t just repeat their anger about the housing situation and travellers. They were unhappy at being asked to raise their sights above the immediate threat. Since then, as soon as there is work to be done, the meetings dwindled from around a dozen stalwarts to just a handful of people.
The ridiculous thing is that the Neighbourhood Team, despite our apathy, have already achieved great things. They have got the District Council to accept their legal existence and have been instrumental in enforcing the priorities established through the democratic Housing Consultation despite repeated threats from developers. This has led to the District Council submit an Ashbourne-friendly, developer-controlling Local Plan with approval scheduled for November. We are really fortunate with the skills and knowledge of the core team but they have shouldered the burden themselves.
There is a real danger in the approach so far. Firstly, the Neighbourhood Plan require consultation. It has to be ratified by the Ashbourne community. If the democratic process doesn’t engage all parts of the community there is a window of opportunity for vested interests or extreme views to carry an unfair weight with far-reaching consequences. The second, and far more important, point is that that the Plan could be so much better with our involvement. I know that we are full of opinion and ideas. The meeting attended by so many people back in July 2012 was full of passion and suggestions. The Neighbourhood Plan team must be fed up with having to drag us to the conversation table by the nose but also terrified that as a result they aren’t getting the best for the town. At the moment they are having to spoon-feed us topics in a painstaking fashion because of our lethargy. Right now they want our views on traffic. The two main topics are reducing heavy goods vehicles travelling through the town and congestion. The new developments are going to put an even bigger strain on the town and the problem is exacerbated by having to rely on Derbyshire County Council for most solutions.
We don’t have millions of choices. The congestion issue comes down to:
1. Physical limitation – bollards, weight restriction, bridges
2. Economic limitation
3. Bypass, flyover or tunnel
4. One way system
I’ll even get off my own ample backside and share my more radical ideas on the topic. According to research a heavy goods vehicle passes through Ashbourne every 70 seconds compared to 7 seconds for a car. My first flippant thought is that they all need to slow down! I’m a fan of the Freakonomics approach of applying big economic theory to small everyday problems. It strikes me that the heavy goods vehicles are only coming through Ashbourne because a. they have no alternative (i.e. they are collecting or delivering locally) or b. that they are coming through because we are the lowest cost alternative. They also add nothing to the Town because they don’t stop off and spend any money – other than the few who park up overnight. We need to consider the local haulage firms who will start and end journeys in the town and who should be encouraged or exempt from penalties. We need a scheme that discourages the lorries who choose Ashbourne purely from a cost perspective and receive “compensation” from the ones who have no alternative. My solution is to have a transit charge for vehicles passing through the town and an exemption for local hauliers. This would discourage the economic argument but could also offer a competitive advantage for local hauliers. I quite like the idea too of reviving the modern equivalent of the toll house. This is precisely the system which has worked so effectively with the M6 toll road and the London Congestion Charge. There would of course be a setup charge for any system but this would be offset by revenues. The alternative would be to have random manual checks which would compare registration plates against a database to check whether they have prepaid and fine anyone found not to comply.
The congestion answer is addressed by a combination of effective new parking space and a one way system. I really think a bypass is a bad solution for the town. I want people to stop, spend and enjoy rather than just pass through. The land along behind Waterside Park and St Oswald’s (written with admittedly no knowledge of who owns the land or consideration of the view from the houses backing on to the space) is the answer, with a landscaped walkthrough to the town centre. This could properly link together the two main retail areas in the town. It would also be large enough to potentially host event in its own right. With it’s tendency to flood it isn’t really practical for anything else. Combined with the reduction on heavy goods vehicles I then think a one way system will work. We could enhance things even further by pedestrianising Dig Street and parts of Church Street or St John’s Street.
Of course I could be wrong but I can rest safe in the knowledge that no-one can be bothered to argue, let alone lift pen or keyboard to tell Jeffrey.