A test of local democracy

Stalinist Russia may have been a place where some Moscow apparatchik could declare a distant city the home of the latest tractor factory then head off home for his borscht oblivious to any local heartache his decision may have caused. Most of us thought things were done differently in 21st century Britain.

Can any of the proponents of the Wye Concordat scheme be under a single illusion about the depth of opposition they now face? Do they honestly believe that the way this project was slipped onto the public agenda, with a bout of ham-fisted PR in the run-up to Christmas, has done their chances any good at all?

Of course not. They know it. We know it. And all the signs are that a lengthy and protracted battle is about to commence. The interesting and important question, though, is this: between whom? Like it or not, the way this matter came into the public domain has forced upon all parties concerned fixed, drawn battle lines already. Few local residents will listen to the opinions of Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council without misgivings. They seem to have given their stamp of approval to Imperial’s plans in advance, without breathing a word of it to anyone.

Are there no reservations among the elected politicians who are there to represent the people of the Wye area? If so, could we please hear them now? We have set up an area on our new forum for public representatives to make their views known, whatever they are.

Wye Parish Council has voiced its concerns. But the parish council, through no fault of its own, suffers several important disadvantages. It is small, has a broad range of responsibilities, and, crucially, is primarily focused on Wye. The ramifications of this project go far beyond the parish boundaries. The project threatens to affect people and the countryside for miles around. The issue will also be of concern to some people who simply love the Wye area, perhaps because they lived here long ago. We need some kind of organisation that can act as a broad umbrella for those with concerns about the future, and with a single, focused remit: to challenge every assumption the Concordat group make and force the facts out of the authorities to allow the rest of us to make an informed decision.

The Wye Future Group, the provisional body now coming together to try to fill this role, is surely a welcome step forward. But let’s not fool ourselves any of this will be easy. It will require those of different opinions to swallow their pride and work together for a broader cause. People who oppose all development absolutely will have to learn to campaign alongside others who may feel some change is inevitable, and want to see it fully controlled.

What is clear already is that not a soul in this neck of the woods believes that the triumvirate of Imperial, ABC and KCC should simply be allowed to get on with their furtive and ill-explained pipedream without further ado. No-one can expect any campaign to speak with a single voice. Given the appalling paucity of hard facts produced by the plan’s proponents, how could it possibly be otherwise? But if the fears and rumours of the present result in the varied opposition to this project fragmenting into cliques and political groupings there will be much rubbing of gleeful hands in the corridors of power.

The area needs to pool the considerable resources at its disposal: its richness of talent, academic, professional, and scientific, and the sheer enthusiasm and fondness most local residents feel for their local community and environment. If we are too busy arguing among ourselves to take on the real opposition, the bulldozers will surely not be far away.

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About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome. Most recent book the novel of the Danish TV series, The Killing.
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