Friday, April 27, 2012

Democracy or ochlocracy?

1 comment:
Those who want a town green in Ashton Vale and not a new Bristol City football stadium have again been called NIMBYs (see comments here). Using the term implies that those accused hold narrow, selfish, short-sighted views in opposing change. I've found that people labelled in this way, including those in Ashton Vale, usually don’t hold such views and often have a well developed case with a range of reasons.

For example: if the stadium is built green belt land, which is finite in supply, will be lost; carbon emissions will rise; natural flood drainage space will go; land with food production potential will go; wildlife habitats will be smaller in area; green space important to human health and wellbeing will be cut. Our current system has warm green words but little or no green action - which is why planning permission for the Bristol City stadium was given.

A key feature of the UK democracy is the rule of law. The UK is not a straightforward ochlocracy, where there is dictatorship of the majority or rule of the mob. Protection of the law for individuals, minorities and society as a whole has some value here. The law around town greens is one small part of this.  

On another note: it was always a big mistake to assuming that building this stadium will have a net positive effect on jobs and investment. To my knowledge no-one has done the research sums to see if total benefits exceed total costs, taking into account all factors, including those I've mentioned above. Mostly what we’ve heard about the proposed stadium is simplistic benefits - my point is ok but what about the complexities and the costs?? This means trying to account for the impacts both on current generations and the generations of people to come - once green land is built over its nigh on impossible to get it back again.

The planning process very often has no objective evidence whatsoever that total benefits outweigh total costs - and a decision taken on the basis of little or no evidence is irrational. Could it not be argued that the stadium proposal is an inappropriate development based on outmoded, old-fashioned, discredited economic thinking and that therefore pursuing it would be unwise? Bristol is supposed to have 'green capital' ambitions after all. Wouldn't giving the land town green status mean that it would be maintain our ability to: fight climate change; increase wildlife; manage flooding; keep people healthy...If you built a stadium the opposite might happen and therefore shouldn't someone estimate the costs/benefits of all this in order for a rational decision to be made?

The law should help prevent locals from being bullied into a situation they don’t want. The law on town greens does empower people to apply for green spaces to be protected. A real and proper democracy rightly has legal processes to protect a community and its space and the process is being gone through.

Sustainable Societies

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Here's an interesting story about a Royal Society report which states that tackling over-consumption in rich countries and high population growth in the poorest are key to building sustainable societies. I'm very glad to hear this from an authoritative organisation but it is something I have been advocating for 30 years! Many others have been doing the same. Examples of my blog posts on this here.

I note that this Royal Society report says we need to go 'beyond GDP' as a measure of progress. This is also something I, along with others, have been advocating for 30 years (and in fact was the subject the dissertation I researched and wrote for my MSc in 1998/99). See examples here