Sunday, 6 September 2009

Direct Inaction

In the kitchen of my former workplace a few years back somebody had pinned up a sign which read;

"When all is said and done, more will be said than done..."

It was probably put up there by the same person who had the 'You don't have to be mad to work here...but it helps' mug, but the more I go through life the more I realise the wisdom behind that one line witticism.

It's a familiar scene played out across workplaces, neighbourhoods, charity and volunteer groups up and down the country - when it comes to having an opinion on what needs to be done, there's no shortage of people willing to say their piece. Yet those willing to expend a little effort turning thoughts in actions are usually very few and far between.

A few months ago I popped along to a meeting of the Worcester Park Residents Association. Amongst those who turned out there was no shortage of people willing to proffer their opinion on the issues of the day, yet when it came to finding volunteers for the Committee those gathered were suddenly too busy sitting on their hands to raise one in offer of support - and thus the same reliable dependable few shuffled positions on the Committee in order to keep the association going.

That is not, of course, a scene unique to Worcester Park. I am also aware that I too was sitting on my hands (if only metaphorically) during the meeting, consoling myself that by covering issues on the Blog I was making my little contribution to KT4.

Earlier this week I reported on the Worcester Park Station Volunteer group who turned out on a Bank Holiday weekend to clear up the mess around the station. The volunteers numbered just four.

When it comes to the decision to approve the expansion of The Hamptons development, there is great strength of local feeling, but sadly it is all too late.

As one anonymous commenter on the blog very eloquently writes:

"Whilst there will undoubtedly be many residents who will be scathing about this news, the question they actually need to consider is what THEY physically contributed to prevent this development, whilst they had the chance?

Generally, it seems most people expected somebody else to do something and now it's anybody else's fault. I believe there are something like 10,000 residents in Worcester Park, but my guess is that the number who can honestly claim to have actively tried to do something to prevent this Hamptons extension is probably more like 10! [Okay, maybe 20, but you get my drift].

It’s easy to blame Denham, but his decision is essentially based on weighing up the positives and negatives across the country, choosing the paths of least resistance. What will be the negative impact of this development?

“Well Secretary Of State, locals will naturally moan, there will be more anti-social behaviour from the additional social housing residents, the streets will be even more clogged than before. People will be going even further to find a GP, and the risk of flooding will undoubtedly increase. You might be accused of pursuing wealth at expense of residents’ health. But, crucially, when push actually comes to shove, nobody will actually do anything! In conclusion, approve it!” …

Let’s be realistic, if you had the job of having to approve new builds somewhere, you would approve the ones where there was the least controversy and the smallest amount of superficial, local resistance.

It would have been great if Denham had been advised “Secretary Of State, do you realise 10,000 people are up in arms over this Worcester Park development?

It’s across the local press, with people sending the local MP sack loads of angry mail every day. Locals are treating this development as though we’re threatening military occupation!

We’ve even had some blog fellow stand as a local by-election candidate on this sole issue – and he got more votes than Labour! Even National TV is taking an interest! For goodness sake, say NO!” … But this was never going to happen – I know from experience.

Some years ago, I got involved in the attempt to stop new, expensive houses being built on Nonsuch Park. Despite the numerous, vocal protests and the weight of feeling, only a small fraction of residents actively got involved. Whilst almost every resident was determinedly against, and some even wanted to lead the campaign against it (as long as they could lead from the rear, from their armchair), almost nobody did anything! This token resistance was blatantly obvious to the developers and local Councils alike, who were clearly testing the water - the lack of residents' interest told them what they wanted to know.

The approval was a foregone conclusion and the houses were subsequently built. I personally found this lack of active support more infuriating than watching the bulldozers and builders move in. This was particularly so, when I heard the voices of those who had done nothing, subsequently complaining that more could and should have been done to stop the development – naturally, not by themselves, but by their neighbours, councillors, local businesses - anyone and everyone else.

Our soon to be former fellow resident in the Hamptons has the practical answer – move away before the foregone conclusion becomes a reality and stop moaning that it’s somebody else’s fault that someone else should have done more when there was an opportunity."

6 COMMENTS (Add Yours Now!):

Anonymous said...

Hmm... don't we elect a local MP to represent such issues, so we aren't compelled to take direct action ourselves?

Theoretically, we shouldn't have to chain ourselves to trees and protest in order to achieve the right/popular decision when it comes to planning.

Volunteering to clean up the station area is fantastic, and I thank those involved. But I think it's harder for people to understand how to get involved with an issue such as planning beyond signing a petition or similar...

Downwind of the Cock said...

I can confirm that making noise works, less than a year after moving out to my country idyll a proposal was made (by the same authority who sold us our house) to cram a brand new one on to the tiny scrap of wasteland opposite my house and directly between two other houses. Our whole road has been united in opposition and has taken every opportunity to let everyone involved know what we think about it. Result was that after appealing to the Home Secretary we won last week although I am still waiting for the result of the freedom of information request I put in to find out exactly when this new house was planned, if it was mooted before we bought our house and the people selling us our house didn't reveal this then I suspect that we'd have had a rather decent bargaining chip....

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, unless our MP is telepathic, how is he going to know what action residents/voters want unless residents/voters tell them?

This planning saga has rumbled on for months, if not years. More than enough time for anyone to get to grips with the issue and find out how to get involved, if that was the genuine problem. But I suspect, as ever, it is more a case of the 'Do Nothing' option being easier.

Full marks and congratulations to 'Downwind of the Cock'. A good example of 'get up and go' paying off!

Anonymous said...

Anon 2: Our local MP was aware of the issues, as indicated in the article on this very site:

I didn't suggest in my posting that you shouldn't express your views on local issues to your MP. My point was that there's a difference between 'direct action' (e.g. chaining yourself to a tree) and 'indirect action' (writing to your MP).

I think the new dwellings will be good for local business. And I don't really mind about the Green Lane congestion, because I don't have to use it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1: I suspect most angry comments are from those that have never considered any action, either direct or indirect.

Any MP receives all kinds of communications from constituents, usually complaints, some being pranks or from cranks.

Was our MP bombarded with protests on this issue, from all these now concerned residents? I seriously doubt it. Whose fault would that be? His?

Rick said...

For those that are angry with the Hamptons extension, but felt unable to do anything until it was too late: Here’s an example of local resident pressure forcing the biggest retailer in the country to back down. It would seem it only took 4% of residents to achieve this, equating to around 400 in Worcester Park.

I noted one sentence in particular: “Campaigners acknowledged the need for some commercial rejuvenation of the historic town, which borders the Peak District National Park, but claimed a large Tesco would kill off its three bakers, butcher and greengrocer and fill its centre with charity shops.”

I've got absolutely nothing against charity shops and certainly welcome their presence, as opposed to empty units, but doesn't this sound spookily familiar?

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