That’s the message that members of SCATE took to Eastbourne Town Hall yesterday on a wet and windy morning. They were protesting at being excluded from a meeting organised by the Department of Transport (DfT) to talk about the A27 and growth. In attendance were local MPs, councillors and businesses.
The reason given for excluding community and environmental organisations was that this was a meeting with representatives of various levels of government rather than with wider sectorial interests. Yet the DfT invited the Local Enterprise Partnerships (unaccountable quangos not subject directly to the Freedom of Information Act) and local businesses.
But maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. Government seems to be handing over the running of the country to big business, removing or watering down legislation (e.g. planning) at its request, while stifling democratic debate via the Gagging Act, preventing charities from challenging (or welcoming) political statements by parties. At the same time when Cuadrilla writes to George Osborne to ask for action to make fracking easier, you’ve never seen the Government move so fast.
Back in East Sussex, we’ve seen sprawling car based development and more road building. At the same time that more money has to be found to keep the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road going, there are swingeing cuts and prices rises to local bus services despite huge protests. Meanwhile there is very little investment in walking and cycling or the south coast rail line which runs parallel to the A27 and could offer more of an alternative to driving if properly invested in.
By our exclusion, the DfT is likely to back more expensive and inefficient growth, fuelling congestion and pollution across East Sussex. Sprawling development will waste land, swallowing up more of our precious countryside and because of its low density any bus services serving these developments are likely to require subsidy.
It is clear from the evidence to date, that our elected officials are not able to plan in the true sense of the word. Some of that is not their fault with the weakening of the planning system by central Government. Nevertheless, they are failing to plan for the long term and to prioritise people’s well-being over short-term gain.
We have an opportunity now to get it right. To design our communities in a healthier and more robust way which improves people’s quality of life while reducing our impact on our environment. We should not accept the premise that to improve our economy we have to destroy what we hold most dear. There is another way.