“The bigger the question, the less we are asked”

Owl says: he is behind the times – just about everything that we pay for is now decided “behind closed doors”. Examples: Local Enterprise Partnership, Greater Exeter Planning Strategy, local Clinical Commissioning Group. All our money and all decided in secret.

“… A striking example is the government’s plan for an Oxford-to-Cambridge expressway. A decision to which we have not been party, which will irrevocably change the region it affects, is imminent. The new road, says the plan, will support the construction of a million homes.

To give you some sense of the scale of this scheme, consider that Oxfordshire will have to provide 300,000 of them. It currently contains 280,000 homes. In 30 years, if this scheme goes ahead, the county must build as many new houses, and the infrastructure, public services and businesses required to support them, as have been built in the past 1,000. A million new homes amounts, in effect, to an Oxford-Cambridge conurbation.

But none of this is up for debate. By the time we are asked for our opinion, there will be little left to discuss but the colour of the road signs. The questions that count, such as whether the new infrastructure should be built, or even where it should be built, will have been made without us.

The justification for this scheme is not transport or housing as an end in itself. Its objective, according to the National Infrastructure Commission, is to enable the region “to maximise its economic potential”. Without this scheme, the commission insists, Oxford and Cambridge and the region between them “will be left behind, damaging the UK’s global competitiveness”.

This reasoning, you might hope, would prompt some major questions. Is continued growth, in one of the wealthiest regions of the world, desirable? If it is desirable, does it outweigh the acceleration of climate breakdown the scheme will cause? When air pollution already exceeds legal limits, are new roads and their associated infrastructure either appropriate or safe? And are we really engaged in a race with other nations, in which being “left behind” is something to be feared?

But these questions are not just closed to debate. They are not even recognised as questions. The megalomaniacs with their pencils, the rulers with their rulers, assume that their unexamined premises are shared by everyone. …

By imposing this decision, the government ignores its legal obligations. It has failed to conduct a strategic environmental assessment before the corridor decision is made, as the law insists. Under the Aarhus convention, public participation must begin while “all options are open”. But neither people nor law can be allowed to disrupt a grand design.

This is not democracy. This is not even a semblance of democracy. Yet the consequences of such decisions will be greater than almost any others that are made, because they are irreversible. The bigger the question, the less we are asked.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/22/project-britain-debate-oxford-cambridge-expressway

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