Once upon a time there was an ancient tribe, who lived in the jungle far away, and practised mystical rites by the light of the full moon. They always sat around a bowl of milk for their rituals (no one really knew why; but milk was the stuff of life and all that). One day, their moonlit ceremony was disturbed by a wild cat, which crept out of the jungle and began to drink the milk. The elders were horrified, and immediately ordered the cat to be captured and tied to a stake some distance from the milk bowl.
Time passed. The cat was well looked after. Every month it was tied to the stake so that the moonlit ceremonial could get under way. But eventually, life being the transient thing that it is, the cat died.
The elders panicked a little. What should they do? How could they continue their rituals without a cat tied to the stake? Well, in the end they did the obvious – they arranged for the capture of a new cat, so that their tradition could be continued without disruption.
Now if the elders had been Liberal Democrats, they would have asked: “Why do we need a new cat? We only had the old one tied to a stake because it was a nuisance!” And then they might have considered why they needed a bowl of milk, and so on.
In Rayleigh, the one-way system is our equivalent of the new cat. And Rochford and Rayleigh Liberal Democrats are not afraid to ask: “Do we really need a one-way system? Would Rayleigh be better without it? Who benefits from it? Who would benefit if it was changed?” We have listened to local people, who have told us for years that traffic through Rayleigh is too heavy, too fast. We are trying an experiment. We have grasped the nettle, and we are checking to see if things can be made better.
After initial teething troubles, the new system has settled down, and seems to be working smoothly – most of the time. There are still occasional hiccups – but then there always were, weren’t there? We have moved pedestrian crossings – we’ve even turned a zebra into a pelican! We are taking a sensible, pragmatic approach, seeing what improves things and what doesn’t.
If it all works, Rayleigh will be better for pedestrians and better for motorists. If it doesn’t work, we’ll say so, and we’ll restore the one-way system in all its glory. But we will have tried – and we believe you can’t make progress if you aren’t prepared to change.
Another strand in Liberal Democrat thinking is that you’ll get further if you work with other people than if you work alone. So the Rayleigh Town Centre study is the result of a collaboration by Rochford District Council, Rayleigh Town Council and Essex County Council. Three groups, representing local people at different levels, working together for local communities.
The same thinking applies to the Mill Hall site, where we are looking at a range of new facilities for the community, partly funded by lottery money. People have wanted a swimming pool in Rayleigh for a long time, and we now have an opportunity to provide a pool and possibly other facilities as well – a café, a fitness suite, an aerobics/dance hall, a health suite and meeting rooms are top of local people’s lists. How do we know? Because we have given people the opportunity to have their say, via a questionnaire in our regular local FOCUS newsletter. (If you didn’t get one, you can still let your local Liberal Democrat Councillor know what you think, by phone or by letter.)
We always try to work together, we always look at all the options, and we always consult the local people. When we’ve done that, we try to get the best deal for the community.
Not surprisingly, there are people who say we should never have changed anything. In the old days, they’d have been the elders who panicked and said “We must get a new cat!” But Liberal Democrats don’t believe in sacred cats – and we don’t believe in sacred cows either!