Cronyism in the South West
The unsuitable and damaging development that is being pushed through across the South West, against all objections, is making me question the role of cronyism in the deals being made.
It starts at the very top of course, in government. It does appear however, to have sucked up many of our more august bodies; those that we regard as our defenders and protectors, into its net. The National Trust for example, now has a right wing business leader as its chair, a man nicknamed ‘The Prince of Darkness’ for his skill at asset stripping. I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that his appointment is as a result of any wrong doing, but I question why he is there, when he comes with little experience in conservation or the heritage sector. It is a coincidence of course that the National Trust appear to have recently engaged in the development business themselves, aiming to sell land given to them in trust in Bovey Tracey and Somerset, for housing. To say local people are shocked by this is a bit of an understatement.
Natural England is also now headed by a leading business man, an ex-developer actually, who has shown little to no interest up to now in the environment, or in preserving the countryside. He was too busy working to concrete it over as head of Linden Homes. George Monbiot writing about his appointment states, ‘The government wants a chairman who can flog nature and have chosen a Tory party donor with a background in investment banking and housing developments.’
So if the cronies at the heart of our conservation and heritage organisations are worrying, then the cronies that appear to run our secretive Local Enterprise Partnership are more so in my opinion. This is the self-appointed group tasked with pouring vast amounts of public money into encouraging enterprise and business down here and with running our devolution bid. The fact that the majority of those on the board come from the construction and housing sector and a few who are involved in weapons manufacturing, won’t come as a surprise when you see that our devolution bid, which they mostly engineered, is very heavy on giant construction projects, which the board’s companies appear to profit from and very weak on tourism, farming and sustainability. This bid is about growth. ‘I want to only build structures that you can see from space,’ the chair is quoted as saying. The fact that this undemocratically elected group hold their meetings in private, have no head office, very little accountability and have managed to keep the lid on their activities is worrying and I’d call, the ultimate in cronyism. This is not conservatism as I know it, it is the opposite of conservation.
This culture goes down the line; housing developments pushed through when they are so obviously damaging and ridiculous. In my home town of Totnes, Great Court Farm was sold to developers in very suspect circumstances in my opinion. It is the last dairy farm in Totnes, the home to a fourth generation of farmers, a totally unsuitable spot for yet more mass building in this beleaguered town. The access is terrible, the logistics ridiculous and yet it was pushed through by a combination of cronyism and mis-management. The people who suffer, are the people who always suffer when cronyism is allowed to flourish and that’s us – everyone else and in this instance the farmer and his family and the people of Totnes, who see their landscape the plaything of those in power.
Across the county, across the country in fact, the same story is played out endlessly. Local people left shocked and devastated as those in power, find the wherewithal to circumnavigate due process and make an absolute fortune flogging nature and our land to line their own pockets.