Home Page It's time to blow apart the water company's little scheme 05/11/10

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Hart of the Matter

The rapid growth of Halloween has tended to eclipse the importance of this particular date in the calendar.

Not many moments in English history are specifically recalled on the date they happened. We donít celebrate Trafalgar Day any more. October 14, the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, passes by without a word of comment. VE Day and VJ Day are marked on big occasions, such as the 50th or 60th.

Even anniversaries of recent events, such as the death of Princess Diana, no longer have a major place in our lives. We remember the Armistice on November 11, as a continuing act of respect for all who die in wars.

But Remember Remember the Fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot. After 405 years perhaps we are beginning to let this occasion die out. Many of us, after the Expenses Scandal, may feel Guy Fawkes had a point.

The reason this date Ė on which little actually happened that anyone was immediately aware of - has outlasted other important anniversaries, such as famous British victories, is twofold. It was a miraculous escape, and the target was a symbol of democracy.

Secret services who foil Al Qaeda plots to blow up important buildings are rarely as open about it nowadays. But it was the same process. Undercover agents fired by religious zeal getting ready to engineer lethal explosions, caught in the nick of time, usually by someone passing on secret information.

The target Ė the King in Parliament crammed with members of both Houses for the state opening Ė was about as big as you could get. If ever anything represented the democratic establishment, it was that.

Although that Parliament was almost certainly far more corrupt than our modern ones, or our modern councils, we celebrate its deliverance and are quick to denigrate its modern equivalents.

Of course, they donít help themselves. Governments are rarely popular for long because they are often faced with tough decisions. Indeed, taking the tough decisions is often hailed as a sign of good government Ė until they take them, and then everyone squeals.

With councils it is a little different. As the councillors live among us, we expect them to make decisions that will benefit us, and when they donít we assume they must be working for their own ends, which is, in general, unfair.

There are a few people in Haverhill at present, to judge from what I hear and read, who would like to blow up St Edmundsbury Borough Councilís planning committee.

The members of that august body have not exactly covered themselves in glory in the past few weeks. First they turned down a plan for new shops on the former Project factory site which had a lot of popular support, and now they have refused some much-needed new housing which would have been created by a redevelopment of the snooker and bowling club in Chalkstone Way.

Bowlers and snooker players may be happy, but it was not their interests the planners were considering. There has been one common factor in these two decisions and it is nothing to do with any elected body at all.

Until about four weeks ago I had never heard of a cordon sanitaire. It means, literally, a hygienic boundary, and is an imaginary line drawn on a map last year around every sewage treatment works which Anglian Water operates, 400m from the facility in all directions.

Within that boundary, say the water company, they will oppose any form of development which might result in anyone complaining about smells from their operations.

Itís a stunning piece of sheer brass face. They have worked out the distance away at which it is going to become too expensive for them to control their odours, and arbitrarily blanked out all neighbouring land which is not already built on.

Water companies are statutory bodies, and they are required by law to control their odours. But they are also businesses, and this law is a nuisance because it can cost them money. And this is their radical solution.

Whatís more, it doesnít work the other way around. If you have a home or business already established within the cordon sanitaire you canít claim off them or get them to build you one somewhere else.

As long as council planners all meekly go along with this, itís a win-win situation for Anglian Water. I bet the owners of fast food restaurants, or offal-processing, fat-rendering or leather-working plants wish they could do the same. What about British Sugar, which makes me almost heave every time I pass it? Or IFF?

No, only Anglian Water can get away with this one, apparently. Their objection was the only reason the snooker club plan was refused. Planners feared a costly appeal which the company threatened.

This is an unelected, profit-making company, to which we have to pay the equivalent of rates. Following Guy Fawkesí footsteps to their HQ in Huntingdon is attractive, but probably inadvisable.

The best idea would be for every planning authority to agree to call their bluff and see if all those expensive legal appeals cost them more than decent odour control.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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