Friday, 23 October 2009

Voice of the People

Earlier this year, the Original Freeholder (OF) asked me to sign a petition in favour of the redevelopment of the site next door, which had remained derelict for a number of years. The developers had faced an uphill battle getting planning permission from the local authority and felt if neighbours supported the scheme it might help tip the balance in their favour. They then decided that their cause would be helped even more if a neighbour spoke in support of their proposals at the planning committee itself. Consequently I found myself roped in to make a speech.

The OF and The Couple came along to the meeting to give me support. I made my way to the speakers’ seats, which were provided with microphones. My neighbours sat at the back. The first item on the agenda went on for over an hour and a half, at which point the OF persuaded the Couple to pop across the road to the pub until it was my turn to speak. Within minutes of their departure, the remaining agenda items were raced through and a member of the public was finally invited to speak out against the proposed redevelopment of the next door site. When her speech rambled on over the allotted five minutes, her microphone was summarily switched off by the clerk. She looked bewildered and tried to finish off what she was saying until her unamplified voice petered out in resignation.Then it was my turn.

There was no time to text my neighbours.In my much rehearsed speech, I explained how our lives had been blighted by the derelict site. It had attracted tramps and drug addicts, who were not adverse to ripping off the wooden panelling and starting up small fires in the house during the winter.I had been stung to the quick when the very same committee, in an earlier report, had described our detached house as making a negative contribution to the conservation area by virtue of the rendering on the external wall and the pvc windows.
“By comparison to the site next door”, I said indignantly,“Our house deserved World Heritage Site status!”
I closed my argument by pointing out that if they turned down the current planning application, the houses on the site were likely to be beyond saving and the integrity of the whole conservation area would be destroyed. After that the developer spoke for 10 minutes.The motion was then put to the vote and for the first time in years, passed unanimously.

Afterwards, the jubilant developers took me across to the pub to celebrate with my neighbours. I had two vodka and oranges. I later thought I should have demanded a penthouse suite for my services. I really am hopeless at kickbacks and corruption.