The criticism of “democratic deficit” is increasingly used when one does not gets one’s own way. It does tend to assume that in the face of an insufficient level of democracy in political institutions (e.g. Wiltshire Council) and procedures (e.g. planning rules) that there is some theoretical ideal. Yet there is not. Democracy, as one often hears, is not perfect whilst noting that it might be the best worst option.
Yet time and again, simple basic science and common sense seem to gain no traction whatsoever when our local government is intent on deciding matters for the sake of expediency.
Take for instance the recent application to retain the existing composting facility (increasing the throughput) and associated access (making a temporary bridge over the railway line into a permanent fixture) at Mopes Lane. What is really wrong with that? Composting is a Good Thing. As always the devil is in the detail. It was clear that last week those who make decisions on our behalf were not open to looking at the detail and trying to understand it.
Firstly, the original application for green composting explicitly stated that the bridge would be temporary. Had a permission been sought for a permanent bridge, at that time, it would have come under certain EU and UK laws and attracted a formal Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). That it did not, was because of its temporary nature. In the permission, the bridge was stated to be only until August 2024. A well-known loophole was used to minimise the perceived impact by use of the word “temporary”. Article 2 of the EU Environmental Impact Assessment Directive directly and explicitly refers to projects that are brought forward piecemeal. There is extensive case law on this which, though cited at the planning meeting last week, was simply ignored.
Secondly, with the recent passing of the motion by Wiltshire Council concerning the climate emergency, permitting this application without a more rigorous analysis would be in contravention of that Decision by Wiltshire Council to seek to make the County of Wiltshire carbon neutral by 2030. Trucking green waste from Compton Bassett and from elsewhere runs counter to that quest for carbon neutrality. I say “elsewhere” because we already know that hazardous waste from Devon has been sent to the hazardous cell at Purton and we know that “ordinary” landfill material comes from outside the county from all contiguous counties. It is simply about short term profits rather than longer term benefits. The approval of this application was a fatal flaw in Wiltshire Council’s Decision on Carbon Neutrality. This was simply ignored.
Finally, strategic land-use decisions should not be taken by a simple committee. Making a bridge permanent will undoubtedly trigger further piecemeal land-use applications, to the south of the railway line towards Lower Pavenhill. Strategic use of land should only be considered and decided through the equivalent of an integrated strategy (such as a Wiltshire Core Strategy, the current one is under review). which takes a more integrated approach to land use. Strategic land changes should not be driven by piecemeal applications. That is simply not sustainable because the best use of land is not being tested. This was simply ignored.
It is done now. the application was poorly considered and approved ~ enabled by a democratic deficit ~ the inability, or lack of courage, or both to challenge the status quo for the sake of expediency.
One could challenge through the high court, the EU Court of Human Rights (since it broke EU law) but decision makers know that, by and large, they will not be challenged due to cost and time.
This is how poor decisions are made that all come to regret in the future.