Alternatives To Democratic Government

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There are many alternatives to democracy, but here's a simple one. All you have to do is say what a marvellous and worthwhile thing it is, and then simply ignore it. Whether you are an elected official or a non-elected public servant, your life then gets easier: you can simply carry on and do whatever it is that takes your fancy, and you don't have to account for your actions or report back to anybody. Life is simple, rewarding - and undemocratic.

A recent example comes from the ancient city of Salford, in the North West of England. Approximately three years ago, some citizens in the east of the city petitioned the local Council to have some land allocated to them for allotments, small parcels of ground which would allow them to plant their own fruit and vegetables, grow their own produce and improve their lives and levels of health. They thought the procedure would be straightforward: after all, the right to an allotment is guaranteed to individuals under the Allotments Act of 1908, which consolidated earlier legislation in 1876 and 1892. The laws have been modified by recent Local Government Acts, notably 1988 and 2006, but not significantly changed.

Importantly, there is no 'excuse' written into the Act: the Local Authority cannot say, 'We'd like to give you some land, but we can't find any place suitable', or, more likely, 'We'd like to help, but we can't afford it'. The 'can't afford it' excuse is not covered in the 1908 Act. There is simply no legal recourse to delay or obfuscation by the local Council: they have to proceed, if a minimum of 6 residents have signed a request for allotments to be set up locally. In the Salford case, there are 20 signatories. They have been waiting nearly 3 years.

Salford Council has come up with a long list of excuses for their lack of action. The first was that there 'was no vacant land' in the area. This would be surprising to a casual visitor. The fact is that rows and rows of terraced houses were demolished in in this area called Ordsall throughout the 1960s, and the Council houses which replaced them have been quietly repaired, replaced or abandoned ever since. There are now large areas of grass with no buildings on them. No empty space? There's acres of it! Ah, says the Council, but that's been allocated. In the last 10 years, Salford City Council has been making confidential deals with housebuilders and developers.

The favoured developer in Ordsall is called LPC. (It stands for 'Legendary Property Company'. A self-created boast.) They are the 'preferred developer', which means they get first bite of each bit of empty ground. If they want it, they can have it. So far, they've said they want just about all of it. So, the grasslands may have no posts driven into the ground with 'Property of LPC' painted on them, but the intention is clear: Salford City Council has no plans to fence off a piece of grass and call it allotments, just in case LPC comes along later with a scheme to build houses, shops, Health Centre, Community Building, or anything else the Authority is hoping the developers will give them.

Of course, that isn't about to happen anytime soon. The fact is that the bottom dropped out of the housing market in 2008, and LPC are only too aware of the fact that the banks still won't give mortgages to young couples who want to buy flats. LPC are not building apartments any more. They are building town houses, but are proceeding slowly, waiting for the market to pick up again. So, when the Council says, 'That land is earmarked for the developer', they mean they are hoping against hope that houses or something else will grow out of that ground, sooner or later. (Of course, later is more likely.)

Trying to appease the allotment seekers, the Council tried to offer them a piece of land that used to have a school on it. (The residents wanted a parcel of land near the new school, but that was refused: LPC have plans for it, albeit long term plans.) The good thing about the site of the old school, from the Council's point of view, was that they didn't own it, (so they couldn't promise it to anyone, anyway). The land belonged to the Church of England. The Church was willing to sell, but needed to clear the sale with the Charity Commissioners, who aren't good at speed. The process has taken years.

Surprisingly, the Council then produced a plan which would create allotments, not where the school playing fields were, (which is still grass), but where the school itself stood, (which is partly covered by solid concrete and partly strewn with rubble). The Council didn't explain how the foundations were ever going to be removed to make way for planting. Instead, they narrowed the offer down even more, and proposed letting only the corner of the site be turned into allotments. This is where the Caretaker's House was. Unfortunately, when they sent in a Surveyor, he declared that the soil was 'contaminated', and would have to be dug out completely and carried away. (Nobody can explain how the land was not contaminated enough years ago to actually threaten the school that was once standing on the site, where young children played, but is now so seriously poisonous that nothing can be allowed to grow there now.)

Another delay. Finally, the Lead Member for these matters, a Salford Councillor, has declared that the cost implications for removal of soil; installation of fences and running water; laying of paths; is now so great that a Business Plan and Feasibility Study must be prepared. He says it will cost 10,000 (a figure plucked from the sky) and the money must be found by the new allotment group. (It is probably illegal under the terms of the 1908 Act to try and charge new users for setting up allotments.) This is the final attempt at diversion and delay. It is not justice. It is justice delayed, which is as good as injustice, as somebody once said. It is democracy delayed, which is equally bad. Meanwhile, elected officials and unelected public servants cry crocodile tears and do everything possible - except solve the problem for the benefit of the citizens, as they are legally obligated to do.


Mike Scantlebury is an Internet Author, with books, songs, poems and stories to his name. He has created a variety of websites, mostly with his name in the title, but his books can be seen on Lulu and his videos on Youtube. He's also on Facebook and Twitter. They call him 'The Professor', because he seems to know a lot about a lot, and most of his books have A Theme. Find them here:

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