Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster
THE frustration and indeed anger contained in a letter to the Herald last week, relating to the Lake District National Park Authority and some of its recent planning decisions, is understandable when one knows the background.
Indeed I believe the authority’s development control committee has come to the wrong conclusion on the two specific applications which have caused much controversy in the Lake District, namely the refusal of the Honister zip wire and, more recently, the decision not to allow a cafe in Crosthwaite Road, Keswick — just one Usain Bolt stride away from the pub across the road — to open in the evenings.
However, to say that members of the NPA “don’t care” about the future of the Lake District is not true. The problem is not that the individual members don’t care, or don’t act honestly, but it’s with the way the authority is constituted.
You only have to talk to people like Bill Jefferson and John Hayton, authority members who are never afraid to speak out, to realise that the while the NPA may not get all its decisions right, it is not some tyrannical body working on a subversive agenda to turn the Lake District into a museum piece and destroy the lives of its local population.
I have been covering planning meetings and appeals for nearly half a century and I have witnessed massive changes in the outlook of the authority. It now has an approachable chief officer in Richard Leafe, who is willing to see all sides of an issue whereas, at one time, the senior officials seemed austere and removed from public scrutiny.
The problem with the NPA, as with most other councils, is that it meets during the daytime and members are expected to take their share of the load of sitting on committees. This effectively precludes any busy, younger working person from membership.
It’s always likely therefore that the balance of membership will be retired people, “professional” councillors and those who are appointed because they have a specific interest and the capacity to attend meetings and site visits.
It also seems odd to me that there is not a single representative from Keswick, which is after all one of the larger towns in the national park and one that, because of its mixture of local people and tourism, is always likely to throw up conflict and controversy.
For many locals the NPA is still known as “ t’planning board” because 99 per cent. of the time, when it comes into the public arena, it is down to a planning disagreement. There is a lot more to the authority than the planning committee, but it is planning that always seems to cause the greatest rows.
The decision to turn down the Keswick cafe’s bid to extend its opening hours seems to have even surprised the authority’s own planning officers. It’s all very well saying there must be a good chance of overturning the decision on appeal, but that means delay and cost for the owner.
I was in favour of the Honister zip wire on the basis that the Lake District is supposed to be the “Capital of Adventure” and the area needs to offer visitors more than fell walks and fish and chips.
We are suffering a youth brain drain, partly because of housing costs and partly because there’s not a wide range of jobs. The enterprise of local people also needs rewarding and, in that respect, nobody could match the entrepreneurial drive of the attraction’s late boss, Mark Weir.
I would like to see an authority more representative of the area. More young members. More people working in a range of jobs. A better balance of where they live. More local knowledge. Yes, I know council appointees have been elected, but it’s the same old, same old. Some new ideas and new blood would not come amiss.
However, at the same time and with many years’ experience of its ups and downs, its strong points and its failures, I can’t criticise the honesty of those who serve on it. The NPA of today is very different from the authority I used to report on as a youngster fresh into journalism. It’s changed for the better — but it still has got some away to go to make local people feel it is on their side.
When it is criticised then it should be for its lack of balance and occasionally judgement, not the integrity of its members. Wrong on some issues? Yes. Uncaring? No.
SCANDAL ON OUR DOORSTEP
A “ROTTEN culture” in the NHS. “Institutional secrecy put ahead of patient safety.” Comments made this week by Dr. Dan Poulter, a health minister, as the latest cover-up scandal lodged on Cumbria’s doorstep.
No longer can politicians boast that the NHS is our pride and joy. Labour told us it was the envy of the world. David Cameron, speaking at his first conference as leader of the Tory Party, summed it up in three letters — NHS. Why, it was even lauded at the Olympic Games opening ceremony as the best of British.
Now we begin to learn a sorry story of appalling, target-driven, box-ticking leadership where even the watchdog supposed to be looking after the public interest has been part of the cover-up of a tarnished reputation.
The scandals keep on coming. The latest the alleged cover-up of the death of babies at Furness Hospital in the south of the county where the true picture was exposed only due to the determination of relatives.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) seems to have been under pressure from senior health officials not to reveal another big hospital scandal. Just who did know about the alleged cover-up? For 24 hours names were kept from the public before the outcry finally led to the CQC backing down. So Mr. B and Mr. E turned out to be female — one the chairman and the other the chief executive.
It gets worse with each new revelation. Rotten management. Poor leadership. A system run from its centre, failing the medical needs of patients. Anyone brave enough to speak out immediately pilloried for their disloyalty.
And all the while the top dogs rose to greater power on the back of the system of targets, box-ticking and secrecy — and presumably jealous guarding of their pension pots. Not many doctors were to be found in leading positions in the NHS.
Institutional secrecy was placed ahead of facing up to the reality of poor patient care and, in the end, it even spread to the regulator which was supposed to be championing the vulnerable, elderly and sick.
There has been a betrayal of the people least able to fight for themselves. If this has finally been recognised then it is late in the day, and many patients and their families have had to suffer the consequences of a systemic failure of leadership. What was once our pride and joy has become a subject of shame.
How did these key bosses get their jobs and keep them? Not just that, some were promoted. “A cosy cadre at the highest level of the health service,” said one MP. How right he is. We, as taxpayers, will be justifiably angry if some of these well paid and disgraced bosses are allowed to keep their handsome pensions and not brought to account.
WATCH THOSE DICKY TICKERS
THOSE of advanced age, with tickers dickier than that of Monsieur Alphonse the undertaker in ‘Allo, ‘Allo, might soon need a doctor’s note before being allowed to go on a National Trust (NT) day out.
The trust, always a bastion of middle-class decency, seems to have cut itself loose judging by the picture I saw in the paper this week of a scantily-clad young woman, trailing a feather boa, while dancing through the grounds of an NT country house.
The burlesque show was part of the trust’s attempt to attract younger visitors. Coming from an organisation like the NT it all seems rather naff. There’s nothing so unbecoming as an organisation renowned for whispered conversations in stately homes suddenly trying to be young and sexy.
With this display of corsets and suspenders, methinks they try too hard. What next? In bed with the Wordsworths? Stick to the family portraits and historic furnishings chaps. It’s much safer and the risk of elderly members having a heart attack is considerably less.