The Village Pump Soapbox
Government of the people, by the people, for the people! Do we live in a democracy? Is any country a democracy? Of course we have elections for national and local government but do those we elect maintain the principle of democracy? Do they act in accord with the people's wishes or do they, once elected, act in accord with their own wishes?
Many readers will be aware of the fire that destroyed the ugly amusement/entertainments arcade at the bottom of The Green in Hunstanton on the site of the old pier head. Once the site was cleared we were treated to a glorious view across The Green and out to sea. Needless to say the proprietor of the amusement arcade was keen to have his business rebuilt but there were strong representations made for him to be given an alternative site in a less prominent position and efforts were made to influence the Council's planning procedure in this way. I cannot imagine that the majority of council tax payers would prefer to have an ugly arcade rebuilt rather than retaining the view, whilst having the arcade situated elsewhere. Nevertheless, despite very strong representations to the Council, including some very vociferous objections at public meetings, planning permission to rebuild the arcade was granted along with additional use of a further part of The Green. So much for democracy and one cannot help but wonder at the reasons behind the Council's decision. Sadly the Government has removed the opportunity to appeal that was once available in such cases.
Arguments by the Council that the town needed the amusement arcade as a tourist attraction were fatuous. I am sure that those visitors wanting to visit an amusement arcade would not mind much if it was not sited on The Green. The protesters investigated the background to the existence of the arcade and revealed other surprising and questionable decisions by former councils including, apparently, a rent for the site of £1/year which had remained at that rate up to the time of the fire. The Green was left to the town by Squire Henry Styleman LeStrange to be kept as a green in perpetuity. The pier was built in 1870 with permission given through an act of parliament. The act confirms permission as for a pier and associated buildings only, with a limit on the width of the buildings to 36ft. At the time of the fire the building had expanded to a width of 96ft. Furthermore, since the act gave permission for buildings associated with a pier, it is debatable whether permission should have been given for buildings when there was no longer a pier..
When the pier was destroyed by rough seas in 1978 I believe the pier head became derelict and the Hunstanton Pier Co. became effectively defunct. It would seem that at a later stage some operator managed to acquire the defunct company and used its existing planning agreement to obtain planning permission for the arcade in return for clearing the derelict remains. The council could have stopped it at that stage but they did not. The recent fire represented a heaven sent opportunity to correct past mistakes but we have been seriously let down by our elected representatives and we will, no doubt, have to wait for future generations before a further opportunity will arise to remove this eyesore.
And, on a totally different tack: At the time of writing it looks very much as though this country's armed forces will attack Iraq, if that is what George Bush decides, without the approval of the UN. Without commenting on the rights and wrongs of such a decision, it seems clear that it would not have the support of the majority of the electorate and one does wonder what right our elected leaders think they have to ignore the will of the people in a so-called democratic state.
Of course it is not always easy to establish the view of the majority on a given issue and we cannot expect to have referendums every other week With the developments in communications and the more widespread use of the internet it is possible to imagine some time in the future when it will be more practical to consult the electorate. In the meantime I think we have a right to expect those whom we elect to take more notice of the views of those who elect them.