If you are interested in the problems of small towns, nowadays you can look on the Internet, and find out how they deal with local issues in different parts of the world. For example, far away in frozen Alaska there’s a small town called Nome. I doubt if anybody in Rayleigh has ever been there, and you’d probably think that the problems of Alaska have nothing to do with the problems of Essex. Well, you’d be surprised. This is from a letter from the local newspaper there, the “Nome Nugget”:
“We need a safe place where kids can ride their skate boards and scooters and do their bicycle tricks. Now that summer is over we have plenty time to plan, organize and construct a “bike park”. It probably wouldn’t take much in the way of bucks and some of the teens who would use it could also help with the design and construction. It could be built near the Rec Center or some other suitable location. “If a bike park saves just one young life, it is worth it. If a bike park saves a youngster from permanent injury, it is worth it. If it spares just one driver from the trauma of maiming a child, it is worth it. Sure, there may be insurance liabilities and costs with a bike park, but our children’s lives are worth the expense.”
So, just like Rayleigh, Nome needs skateboard facilities for some of its young people. What’s more, I bet that Nome gets them before Rayleigh does – because I’ve noticed that in America different councils and districts tend to co-operate better than they do here.
For example, poor little Rayleigh Town Council has twice tried to get planning permission for a skateboarding area in King George’s Field – but the district has twice refused permission. I hear that the Town Council, rather than giving up, has kept talking to the District Council and hopefully they’ll sort out a compromise plan.
This year’s council tax increases are another example of conflict. If you have a band D property in Rayleigh, Essex County Council has increased your council tax by about £128, whilst Rayleigh Town Council has only increased it by about £2. But guess which increase the Conservatives are complaining about – it’s the little Town Council, because it’s controlled by the Liberal Democrats.
Incidentally, the Lib Dems on the Town Council would have preferred an even smaller increase this year, but they had a problem. They had to find new premises because their landlord wasn’t willing to continue offering them a long-term lease. Opening up these new premises accounts for more than half of the increase. Guess who their landlord was – the District Council!
Of course, by attacking smaller councils, the District diverts attention away from itself. For example, not many residents know that the Conservatives voted against allowing the public to speak at planning meetings. This compares unfavourably with one or two of the parish councils, who really encourage their residents to come to their meetings, and may even offer tea and coffee.
Then there’s the question of climate change, increased risks of flooding etc. The Lib Dems wanted to spend a little more money on sandbags and clearing blocked ditches. However the Conservative majority decided that their answer to climate change is to install air conditioning in the council chamber! This is an unnecessary extravagance this year, and by itself increases the council tax by half a percent. Is it a coincidence that the air conditioning is being installed as soon as the Town Council can no longer get the benefit of it?
There’s also the increasing car park charges, increasing sports pitch charges, the loss of playing fields in Rawreth Lane … the list goes on. Every council makes mistakes – even the Lib Dems made their share when we were in control. But it really is mean to try to cover up your own failings by diverting attention onto smaller councils.
Don’t you think it’s about time that the District Council stopped “picking on the little guy”?