Readers’ letters - Feb 25

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Let’s keep our views rational

WHAT on earth is happening to our ability to discuss things rationally? It’s very healthy that people should have a reasoned debate about local and national issues, but the rush of letters you’ve printed over the past two weeks criticising Norman Baker’s comments about the coalition have bordered on the hysterical.

Norman was simply saying that he had had a lot of comments from people saying they approve of the coalition. That is his experience, so he’s entitled to say it. Personally I’m not surprised, as people’s trust in politics is pretty low, so the idea of cooperation at national government level seems to be going down well.

Remember a year ago when people were saying coalitions would be weak and vacillating? Well this coalition isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s largely because it has been very decisive, not indecisive. So inevitably some people won’t like it, but why lay into Norman for reporting what people are telling him?

Equally preposterous is the lament from Lewes’s leading Green Party candidate that Norman should give up being a government minister because we really rather liked him as a campaigning local MP. Who, pray, is supposed to take on the jobs of government ministers if not our elected MPs?

We had 13 years of Norman as a backbench opposition MP, and yes he was great. But now he’s a Minister of State, which is good in a different way. And it’s not as if he’s dropped all his local work – he’s as active as ever, as witness his fighting the cause of Newhaven residents over Veolia’s wish to deliver to the incinerator on public holidays.

Without knowing all your correspondents who have been knocking Norman, I suspect there is some political motivation afoot, what with district elections and a referendum on voting reform coming up in just over two months. But even this is terribly misguided. On May 5, we will vote on who will run our district council and what voting system we want at the next general election – it has nothing to do with Norman Baker or the coalition.

If we’re to get good governance, we need to be mature about our disagreements and understand the realities and constraints of government, both at national and council level.

On May 5, we will vote for who we want to run a local enterprise (called a district council) with a £50 million turnover in which we’re all stakeholders. I hope we can vote on an assessment of local competence, and not hysteria over what people have been telling our MP about the national government.

Chris Bowers,

District Councillor,

Ouse Valley

Why the abuse towards MP

Opening the letters page of the Sussex Express this week I thought I had bought the wrong paper and strayed into the ‘Socialist Worker’ – column after column of intemperate abuse of our MP Norman Baker from Lefties whose spend, spend, spend policies have bankrupted Britain.

First John Jacobs from Seaford accuses Norman of supporting ‘cuts’. Well Mr Jacobs: when you are bust, cutting is what you have to do. I hold no brief for the Coalition, but Norman and his colleagues are at least attempting to address the telephone number deficit bequeathed by the most disastrous Government in modern times – the Blair/Brown maladministration.

Then Green Cllr Susan Murray chimes in with her Robin Hood economics – the idea that the best way to get out of the debt hole is to dig even deeper – by taxing the companies that actually give people jobs and drive the economy out of existence, plunging us ever deeper into penury.

Finally, Geoff Fitch, writing from that hotbed of red revolution that is Ringmer, gets positively misty-eyed with nostalgia about his time helping that great democrat Arthur Scargill attempt to overthrow an elected Government by unballoted strike action. (Naturally, Scargill failed and destroyed the coal industry in the process).

Nigel Jones, Lewes

Money doesn’t grow on trees

Lewes is an island of privilege in a sea of plenty. Those who whinge about cuts don’t know what real poverty is like. If they got their way and introduced a society of ‘equality’ it would resemble North Korea or East Germany – a grey bleak world where human aspiration is repressed by the secret police.

What all these writers have in common is the childish belief that money grows on trees and that what we want we must have – now, and for free and for ever. The real world ain’t like that nursery dream. Socialism was a bad 19th century idea that failed in the 20th at the cost of millions of murdered lives. It has no place in the 21st. And as for ousting Norman Baker, let’s just take a reality check.

At the last General Election, standing for the Greens, Ms Murray got a derisory 729 votes compared to Norman’s 26,048. The Labour Party candidate got 2,508 votes. So who would be Lewes’s MP if Norman was not? Not a Socialist or a Green, obviously. The runner up to Norman with 18,401 votes was one of those evil nasty Tories. Be careful what you wish for Lewes Lefties! Hang on tight to Norman nurse – for without him you’ll get something worse.

Nigel Jones, Lewes

Lewes is the county capital

JOHN Carpenter (February 11) is quite correct in drawing attention to the disgraceful state of affairs concerning county boundaries.

When the re-organisation of the administrative areas of county councils was proposed in the early 70s, the Government made it clear that there was no intention of altering our historic county boundaries. However, the faceless bureaucrats ignored this and went ahead to produce the scenario we have today and the Government stood by and let them do it.

Hence, eg, we have Bournemouth in Dorset (instead of Hampshire), Abingdon in Oxfordshire (Berkshire), and Peterborough in Cambridgeshire (Northamptonshire). There are countless examples all over the country of this bureaucratic vandalism.

Personally, I do not mind in the least to which council I pay my tax. If ESCC decided to merge with Kent CC, so be it, provided the historic boundary between the counties is preserved.

As far as Sussex is concerned, Lewes administers ESCC and Chichester WSCC, as has been the case since 1899. However, historically there is one county of Sussex and the county town (ie the capital) is Lewes.

When I was in business in Hove, our notepaper showed our address as Hove, Sussex, (not East Sussex). The same applies to my domestic notepaper, then and now. Fortunately, our excellent system of postal codes means we never have to show the wrong counties on our envelopes.

J W Addison, Lewes

Mystified by theatre review

I greatly enjoyed Seaford Little Theatre’s recent production of The Chalk Garden but I am mystified by the review published last week.

In her review your critic points out that of the ‘big three’ at the heart of the play, Stephanie King as the girl and Sue Shepherd as the companion, are both very good – which indeed they are – but why no mention whatsoever of Patricia Pape’s skilled performance as the grandmother, Mrs St Maugham? Here we have a generous and very professional performance by an actor who both maximised the opportunities her part offered and at the same time provided a uniting fabric against which each of the other actors was able to expand their role – a team player if ever I saw one. Her leading role can hardly have gone unnoticed by your critic so why no comment at all, good or bad, on a memorable performance?

Every other actor is mentioned – and praised – which makes this omission all the more difficult to make sense of. A very strange review.

Sally Stewart,

Southminster, Essex

Office move may save cash

Any approval of the freezing of the Council Tax by Lewes District council must be tempered by the realisation that it still leaves Lewes District Council as the most expensive in East Sussex.

It seems to me that if you are in that position, you should be concerned and want to do something about it. Perhaps there are dangers about thinking of possible solutions but I would prefer to be criticised for thinking than for not thinking at all.

It is in that context that one of the matters that could be considered as a long-term solution is the office accommodation. It is not as though the cost of offices is not a substantial part of the council’s budget.

I know the Lib Dems want to distort my words about the offices into an uncosted irresponsible commitment to unaffordable expense. It is of course nothing of the sort.

If the council tax paid in Lewes through the district and town precepts is up there with the most expensive in England, it behoves you to give proper consideration to what you do about it.

After all, if moving offices elsewhere saves money, might it not here? Obviously that would be long-term but are we not meant to consider that as much as the short-term?

Might not relocation to a single site be helpful for reasons other than just cost? Would it not lead to efficiency and be more user friendly? Do the coalition’s plans for localism have any bearing on the issue? Should we be spending over £850,000 per year just to run offices in different locations? Might not cheaper administration costs protect front line services?

Does not any council, including Lewes, need to look at its entire modus operandi? Wealden and Rother, both cheaper than Lewes, are looking to share services. No one asks Lewes because they expect the brush off. And so the gap in council tax may get wider.

These are the sorts of issue that deserve proper consideration, not firing from the hip. And proper consideration is what I am after.

Tony Nicholson

Leader, Lewes District Council Conservative Group

Reports are deeply flawed

Ringmer Councillor Peter Gardiner is lead member for planning (LMP) for Lewes District Council (LDC). He has recently defended, at great length, two crucial planning reports for which he has responsibility (letters, February 4 and 18). Deep within these two responses is a single, crucial, common feature – both reports were deeply flawed, yet were released by LDC.

Firstly the review of potential industrial sites, including Ringmer site P12, ignored the National Park boundary. This decision is the formal responsibility of LDC. This approach was surely not taken by the consultants without seeking advice from LDC?

It reflects no credit at all on LDC, or those individuals responsible, if it includes sites that are non-runners. It was the council’s decision to commission this work from consultants unfamiliar with the area, and the council’s responsibility to ensure that obvious errors were corrected prior to publication.

Cllr Gardiner may be confident that site P12 will not be included in the final plan, but people considering purchasing houses affected by this proposal will not be so sure when it appears during pre-purchase searches. Inclusion of this non-runner site could create planning blight for many Ringmer properties until it is removed.

Secondly, the renewable energy report ‘contains wind speed errors that the consultants are already correcting’. Again – it was LDC’s responsibility to ensure that obvious errors were corrected prior to publication.

There is the implication here of a systemic failure within the LDC planning system. What is the balance of responsibility between LDC’s LMP and the Director of Planning in inviting tenders, vetting applicants, providing briefing papers and reviewing draft reports?

In the two specific cases above, what were the processes, precisely when were the errors detected, by whom, what actions were taken, and on what dates relative to public release of the reports?

Dr Tony Parker,

Ringmer