A subscriber of many years to this newsletter responded recently to complain about its relentless negativity (particularly this section) and my constant whinging about all that communities have to put up with. To be honest, I’ve had worse (one even threatened legal action) but for some reason this one gave me cause to reflect. While there’s no shortage of heartwarming tales of community derring do that I could report, the advantage of being someone whose default is typically to see a glass as being half empty is to appreciate that many of these successes are achieved despite the system rather than because of it. The frustration comes from knowing that it would take only the slightest nudge on the tiller of public policy to produce genuinely transformative change. And recently there have been moments when I thought that nudge might be coming. In the aftermath of Covid, Ministers promised that there would be no return to ‘business as usual’, and commissioned a Social Renewal Advisory Board to mark out that new landscape. Unfortunately, but all too predictably, their highly promising report If Not Now, When? is already gathering dust. Which is why I’ll just settle for the occasional grumpy unsubscriber.
In the most recent briefing…
A relative newcomer to the small band of NGOs in Scotland that campaign on environmental issues is the Environment Rights Centre for Scotland. Working with fellow travellers, Planning Democracy, Friends of the Earth Scotland and RSPB, ERCS believe that both the UK and Scottish Governments are in contravention of human rights legislation because of their refusal to allow communities a right to challenge planning decisions. The case is now being investigated by the United Nations body tasked with upholding environmental law. Given the development industry’s longstanding and fierce opposition to Equal Rights of Appeal, this is the stuff of David and Goliath
Any straw poll of policy makers on the big issues facing island communities would likely place depopulation near the top. But as with any analysis of population trends, it can often fail to capture the full story. Local community development agency – CoDeL – in part set up to seek out those micro trends that the bigger sweeps of data tend to miss – have concluded that the doom-mongers are ignoring what’s been happening with a younger segment of the population – at least on Uist. This recent blog explains why and flags up the launch of a related new web-based initiative.
A recent planning concept that seems to have caught the attention of planners and communities alike is the 20 minute neighbourhood or variations on that theme – 15 minute cities etc. Although somewhat problematic when trying to tie down the practicalities of what a 20 minute neighbourhood should look like, the principle of being able to walk or cycle rather than drive seemed broadly attractive. That is until a more sinister interpretation of the idea began to surface. Was this just a Stalinist plot to control the movements of local residents? A 2000 strong demonstration in Oxford clearly thought so.
Just because so few people understand both how the financial markets work and the complexities of climate science, it shouldn’t stop anyone from feeling alarmed when something just looks awry. News that yet another private finance initiative is being lined up – this time to restore native woodland – should in itself, (given our painful history with PFIs) justify a serious bout of the jitters. That this promises to deliver ‘high integrity carbon investment’ for the emerging ‘carbon markets’ as a market-led response to the climate emergency could justifiably convert those jitters into full blown panic. Andy Wightman sheds some light.
With the impending changes at the top of the Scottish Government everyone is indulging in a bit of speculation as to what shape a new cabinet will take and in what direction it might travel. Comments on the hoof and half answers at hustings are always prey to being misinterpreted as full blown policy ideas but when two of the three contenders speak to the same issue, it’s worth taking note. Kate Forbes and Ash Regan have both said that the area served by Highland Council is too large. Although neither mentioned local government reorganisation, it makes you wonder.
The Council Tax celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, brought in to replace the infamous Community Charge or Poll Tax. The Poll Tax became so politically toxic that it may explain why a replacement for the current system of local taxation hasn’t materialised – despite the fact that it is widely considered to be long past its sell-by date. Based on property valuations that are now hopelessly out of date, the case for reform becomes stronger with each year that passes. But what to replace it with? No easy answers but there appear to be three broad options.
The Glenkens Community & Arts Trust (GCAT) was formed in 2001 as a direct result of the foot and mouth outbreak which severely knocked the area. The main aim of the trust has been to transform the derelict Victorian Kells Primary School into a centre for community, cultural and business activities. Within three months the local community had contributed enough funds to purchase the building and The CatStrand was on its way. Six years, and a £1 million fundraising campaign later, the building opened in September 2007. Named The CatStrand after the small stream which used to run underneath the…Find out more