Development and climate emergency: the tale of Mr Fox, Badger and Peter Rabbit

An independent councillor reports on a meeting of Teignbridge Council discussing development in the age of climate emergency: hilarious, sad, worrying.

“Dealing with the Executive is a strange thing. If like me you have a young child and you’re forced to watch Peter Rabbit on CBeebies you’ll be familiar with the sort of relationship the Exec has with members from other parties.
Fox and Badger really want to eat Peter because he’s a.) a rabbit and b.) a twat but, for some intractable reason, they pass most days in cordial coexistence. Fox even helped Peter move a wheelbarrow full of acorns once. This working relationship, you would think, would make the idea of eventually killing, skinning, disembowling, roasting and eating Peter taboo to Fox and Badger but no – they’ll still have a go one day, right after saying ‘Good morning’ to him. I can’t work out if all the animals are congenitally insincere or just good at compartmentalising their impulses.

There’s a similar ominous détente going on around Mr McShear’s vegetable garden. Nobody’s helping us to carrots, but nobody has, as yet, stoved our heads in with a shovel, despite a clear conviction that we are both on the menu and twattish. Captain Hook, whose avuncular eagerness to have everyone on board is a thousand times better than the Count (I said COUNT) of Monte Christophers, helped me get a new ipad so my constituents can actually talk to me again (the IT people sent me a dozen helpful emails about fixing it to the ipad they were fixing??).

Now, you’ll remember, Newton Abbot has ‘won’ £150,000 to help it become a ‘Garden Town’, with up to £9 million more if it does exactly what its told. We at NSN think this is a con to suck TDC further into the houses-for-money bullshit that makes us all do what we’re told for handouts rather than being properly funded and able to self-determine our own projects, as the ’Localism’ Act once promised (well, promised a bit more of).

Councillor Daws made some excellent points about the Mission Creep that drags councils to do one thing after another – Incremental Development it seems to be called. I asked when the council was going to rename the Climate Emergency a Climate Inconvenience, since every other paragraph TDC produces mentions the Climate Change Emergency with all the heartfelt panic of a sloth on mogodone choosing a supermarket sandwich. These windows will mitigate the Climate Change Emergency …. these drainpipes are Climate-Change-Emergency-neutral … this massive new road is being approved because cars going faster will contribute less to the Climate Change Emergency… the phrase is no more than a verbal tic.

I mentioned the article on Bicester (see past posts) – the ’dog’s dinner’ garden town where, in the name of getting people to work where they live, houses abide in the shadow of warehouses. Gordon, who really does know his background material, said that was written in 2015 (he was right!) before Bicester got its ‘Garden Centre’, which had made everything all right now. I didn’t know what he meant by garden centre… has it got a Fermoys?? We are not allowed follow-up questions. But Bicester has been dog-breakfasted by hideous building. It hasn’t been unbreakfasted by building MORE buildings.

Gordon added that he was disappointed – or was it dismayed? One or the other – that I was calling such things as triple glazing mere ‘green cynicism’.
I think the problem is this: Gordon and co live in a world where the march toward the abyss is inescapable, so we might as well put on the nice new boots Westminster has given us and march slowly if we can. When I suggested that, if the Executive truly believed there to be an EMERGENCY (lets put it in capitals til that, too, just makes us shrug) then it should defy Westminster’s housing targets. An emergency doesn’t mean you carry on as normal. It doesn’t mean you stick slavishly to the script. The car is on fire. Shall we stop on the hard shoulder or shall we keep driving the fucking thing to Alton Towers?*

This made Deputy Alistair Dewhirst smirk contemptuously, which is his absolute number one favourite thing to do when talking to us (unless he’s online at midnight, in which case his favourite thing is to type things and then immediately delete them).

In keeping with his late-night ruminations Alistair said that Welwyn Garden City was the best example of a garden town, and that it is ‘the best, most pleasant place to live and work that it is possible to imagine’. Possibly Alistair visited a different Welwyn Garden City to me, or else he passed through on the Magic Bus in the Sixties. Because the Welwyn Garden City I have visited, several times, is an unmitigated shithole. The deputy’s assertion that ‘if Newton Abbot is to become like that, then we will be remembered’ should chill us all to the marrow but it is at least true. Oh, you will be remembered.

Councillor Jackie Hook, holder of the (Compostable) Portfolio For Climate Change, then announced that she had joined Extinction Rebellion and they ALL agreed that it was National Government that had to change its thinking, not local councils. She added that if anyone wanted to lie down in the path of a digger they were free to do so. In precis, all the change has to come from the Big Noise or the Little People. The muscled appendage of TDC, which might actually have some power in its elbow, is not going to flex, now or ever.

We do, at least, get treated gently by the Lib Dems; I suppose because we’re idealists like they used to be, possibly… once – before they got neutrally reprogrammed by procedure. Not so the Tories, who had just been very cheeky. Mr Hook produced an unsolicited letter from some local cohort of business worthies who said they fully supported being bundled into a garden town. ‘Isn’t Jackie on their panel?’ they enquired.

The Tories then lambasted the Lib Dem Council Tax relief calculations saying that they would hurt the very poorest. All were reminded of their excellent track record of voting specifically to hurt the very poorest by Cllr Connet, who called their remonstrations ‘absolute tosh’.

It was all a lot of fun. But the existential problem we have as members of this council – and I don’t see a way around it – is that we are there with a moral argument, in a body that wants only to discuss procedure. So we find ourselves asked to contribute to working groups on the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (our contribution: it belongs in the bin) and to the Local Plan (it belongs in the black bin, as no part of it is recyclable), and are constantly told NO. WE ARE MARCHING TO THE CLIFF EDGE TO THE TUNE OF THE BRITISH GRENADIERS* SO PLEASE JOIN IN WITH THE SINGING.

So what can we do, until we can get more of us onto council? I suppose we’ll just keep waiting for death and stealing carrots.

*Obviously I didn’t say the F word in the council chamber, as I don’t want to be in the MDA EVERY week for swearing.

*This in keeping with the 30th anniversary of the Second World War, in which the Germans redesigned our towns to look more like Welwyn Garden City.”