Ryeview – March 2007

The problem starts when ‘sustainability’ meets ‘the market’

John Clark writes…

First published: March 2007 – Gazette & Herald

Being in a minority is one thing. Being in a minority of one and not being sure is another. Last week I was the only one opposing the ‘Sustainable Communities Bill’ on Ryedale District Council. How could I possible be against something being sustainable? How could I possibly be against something supporting communities?

The Sustainable Communities Bill claims to:

  • Save our shops
  • Save our Post Offices
  • Save our pubs
  • Save our communities
  • Save our planet

All of which the vast majority of us would support. The question I asked RDC was ‘How’? The response was an Action Plan is to be decided by a ‘double devolution’ process. Local councils have to involve their local communities. The communities influence the council’s response which in turn drives the governments’ action plan.

It all seems better than motherhood and apple pie. Why did I vote against it? Where is the answer to ‘How’? Councils will have the right to allocate money spent by central government and national agencies on local measures in their areas.

I doubt for example that RDC will be allowed to spend the Fylingdales budget on Post Offices and local buses.

The rules of the Action Plan include the following:

  • Are reasonably practicable to implement. This implies that all the solutions are ‘easy’. They are not.
  • Would not be incompatible with any other measure. This is where I believe the problems would be serious. This is where ‘sustainability’ meets the ‘market’. If Ryedale is to have a shop in every village this would not be compatible with our existing supermarkets.

The government not only allows but encourages the low fruit to be picked by the market off the Royal Mail tree. It is not possible to have the choice of white vans and a universal network of Post Offices. Equally, telephone boxes are removed because the government closes its eyes to the ‘social need’. If the government runs away in front of BT, what hope has a council? If the government encourages cheap food imports, how does a local council ensure viable small farms? The apple pie is starting to crumble.

The ‘economic’ sustainability is not compatible with the ‘social’ sustainability let alone the ‘environmental’ sustainability. Unless central government stands up to the ‘market’ there is nothing local councils can do. Between 1991 and 1997, four thousand local rural food shops closed. This was the ‘market’. Tesco’s and the other supermarkets are too powerful with or without a sustainable communities bill.

The final condition for inclusion in the Action Plan was:

  • Are cost effective
  • Supermarkets, white vans, imported foods are all cost effective. Unlike the things we want and are promised in the Bill, all of which are not ‘cost effective’.

Maybe I was right to oppose the Sustainable Communities Bill. It will not deliver Sustainable Communities until the government abandons the philosophy of choice for the well off and removes the dominance of the market. In fact if these happen we may not need a Sustainable Communities Bill.

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