Participation is better than Consultation

Havant Borough Council has recently concluded a six-week public consultation on its draft local plan. All local planning authorities must have a long term plan for their areas prepared in accordance with national policies. The government’s message is that if councils don’t have a plan then Whitehall will step in and write one for them.

The process is well defined and consists of several steps starting with gathering evidence through to consultations on the draft plan, an independent test for soundness, a public inquiry and finally adoption by councillors.

In 2011, in a bid to make planning more resident friendly, the government launched localism to encourage the active participation of local people in developing Neighbourhood Plans. The government say that so far over 200 communities have voted in favour of their Neighbourhood Plans and 1600 more are work in progress, but mostly in southern rural areas. Writing a Neighbourhood Plan to withstand legal and other challenges is extremely labour intensive and often involves mostly retired people with a grasp of planners jargon.

As for the plan itself it might start out with high hopes, but before long it encounters the District Council’s own plan which takes precedence especially when it comes to where to build new homes and how many. Neighbourhood Plans are probably here to stay and be improved not least through encouraging their use in urban areas through the formation of local forums.

Only Emsworth is among Havant’s 14 wards which has a Neighbourhood Plan. Planning should be a compromise between technocrats, politicians and the voters. It so often becomes a struggle between planning officials and residents while local politicians lie low, blame the government or each other. This can be minimised through a clear vision at all levels, an offer of real options and a better understanding of the needs of people and a developers’ payback for nature.

Recycling is more important than ever

The most recent figures from the government show that, after a period of flatlining, average recycling rates have started to go down from almost 45% in 2014 to 43.9% in 2015. Hampshire authorities continue to struggle to meet even the national average with the best of them, Eastleigh, achieving almost 41%.

At other end of the scale is Portsmouth which manages a paltry 22.7% which is slightly below Gosport’s 23.5%. But some authorities like South Oxfordshire and Surry Heath are up in the mid sixties so it can be done. The EU had set a target for the UK at 50% by 2020 but that was before brexit so the outlook is now less clear.

Contributing factors for the decline include lower commodity prices for plastics, steel and pulp plus deep cuts to local authority funding affecting staff whose role was to promote the benefits of recycling to local residents. Hampshire County Council claims it sends less household waste to landfill than most other authorities, but omits to mention how much of the waste stream is diverted into the county’s hungry incinerators, including spoiled batches of green material that could otherwise have been recycled. Incineration is now described in more user-friendly language as energy from waste but reduce, reuse and recycle is better.

The case for recycling remains stronger than ever as it helps to conserve the world’s dwindling stocks of raw materials, saves energy, reduces emissions and creates new jobs. It’s also a process everybody can contribute to and thus play an active part in protecting the planet for future generations. Hopefully, the government elected on 8th June 2018 will take recycling more seriously than the current government it replaces.

Love your local trees

A recent UN report calculates that since 1990 forests equal to the size of South Africa have disappeared. Climate change, ranching, disease and logging, which are often illegal are all partly to blame while vast new plantations for palm oil and soya have also taken their toll.

Five years ago the Forestry Commission and Defra launched the Big Tree Plant project which is aimed at increasing the number of trees planted up to a million in UK’s towns and cities. In February 2017 the millionth tree was planted in Bristol.

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Making room for nature

An estimated 97% of England’s meadows as big as one and half times the size of Wales have been lost since the Second World War. Reports that one of Havant’s last remaining meadows in Langstone could be allocated to meeting the council’s housing targets adds weight to local as well as national concern.

Despite the word ‘meadow’ appearing throughout English literature and being featured in thousands of road names most of us would be hard put to find one even with the aid of a Global Positioning System (GPS). A meadow in high summer is full of wild flowers such as harebell, scabious and oxeye daisies, not to mention wild grasses, is one of the delights of nature.

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