Find out what our readers think of the stories making the Gazette headlines.
RULE CALLED INTO QUESTION
Dear Ed, — Cllr Stewart's explanation for not attending the CRAG meeting left me pondering the question that, if a committee member cannot attend these meetings, how do they gauge the opinion of the community?
This is probably the biggest planning application to affect our area in a lifetime yet a senior councillor and colleagues hide behind rules and regulations.
Surely, this development is more important than a monthly community council meeting — there will always be another next month.
However, Cllr Stewart could and should have attended and would not have been in breach of any rules if he had declared his position and stated that he was observing only.
By attending and observing this would have been seen as an important part of the member's role as it would be one way of finding out what people think. If he does not attend how can he know people's opinions?
Also councillors can attend a public meeting and give advice as to the policy and procedures without compromising their position.
Alternately he could have stated his opinion. That would mean he declared an interest and would not take part in the decision when it goes before committee.
There is a precedent in this when Carluke councillors campaigned against the Tesco supermarket at Loch Park and worked with campaigners against the development. Presumably his position is more important than our countryside!
The way the Chair of Planning has approached this matter leaves me with the gut feeling that, once again, money will prevail over common sense.
Remember all the open cast developments in and around Douglas? Everyone had strong local objections; every single one was approved by Council.
I would urge the CRAG committee to start thinking about the next phase to ensure reinstatement is carried out to the letter and once again SLC does not let the developers get away with the cheap option. To date their record is pathetic. — Yours etc.,
Dear Ed, — I was interested in Hamish Stewart's reasoning on why he cannot listen to his community on an important planning issue.
Hamish Stewart used the Code of Conduct document for Councillors to explain why he had not attended a public meeting organised by CRAG to discuss a proposed quarry at Overburns.
There is nothing in this document that stops him attending such meetings. He would be unwise to comment at the meeting, and would not be able to give the impression he was other than neutral.
He could, however, turn up and observe and that would at least give the impression he was bold enough to consider some of his constituents' opinions.
When a councillor feels he cannot observe something of great importance happening in his ward, then they should consider just what they are there to do.
Councillors have a duty to find things out so that at their planning meeting they can address their duties with knowledge and skill. Why hide behind documents? Is that the easier way out?
Hamish and other councillors seem happy to keep away from such public discussions.
In Lanark we had the situation where our two local councillors were both on the Planning Committee. They invoked the same arguments as Hamish and public concerns were never given the courtesy of a hearing at public meetings.
Why are they afraid to attend? Councillors are there to represent our interests. They must be seen to be listening to us. —Yours etc.,
St Patrick's Road,
IT'S A FARCE
Dear Ed, — I have no reason to dispute the accuracy of the information given by Councillor Stewart, in his lengthy explanation printed recently, for not attending the CRAG meeting.
Permit me to summarise his remarks: Councillors are required to abide by a Code of Conduct. Consequently, councillors, who are members of a Planning Committee, cannot listen to the planning concerns of their constituents, in case they are influenced.
Councillors, who are not members of a planning committee, can listen to such concerns but are not permitted to communicate them to their committee colleagues.
Hence, a person concerned about a planning issue can no longer inform or influence, even indirectly, the view of a planning committee councillor; in spite of them being elected to serve constituent's interests.
If this is the case, and Councillor Stewart confirms it is, then in a single generation our elected representatives have taken the serious business of representative democracy in the UK to the level of farce.
Politics has now become almost irrevocably discredited and only the politicians have themselves to blame; it was after all our MSPs who put the Councillors Code of Conduct into law. — Yours etc.,
DARE TO DREAM
Dear Ed, — What a surprise and delight it was to read in your columns the arguments about Robert Owen.
Vitriolic comments from Janice H Murison Jess are a reminder of how revolutionary and contentious Owen's views were. For some people, this controversy has carried forward into the 21st Century.
Owen's workers at New Lanark did not have to live in the village and buy from the shop. If they did they had famously better conditions than other industrial workers of 200 years ago.
There was a stream of applicants to work in his mills, more than he could accommodate.
Profits from the Village Shop were turned back into the community and used to fund educational provision for children from the age at which they began to walk.
Robert Owen's actions at New Lanark and elsewhere, and his writings, have provided inspiration for the millions of people who want to achieve more freedom and happiness, better health, better education, better living conditions, and a better society. Proposals for Owenstown follow in that inspirational tradition.
While it is a wonderfully amusing thought that I would become "an eco-friendly dictator", the facts are that every adult member of Owenstown will have a shareholding vote and the Chairman's term of office is limited.
Effectively this creates a new, elected, body to run the new Owenstown. This is contrary to any dictatorial direction.
It seeks to return to the individual an opportunity for positive participation in their community and direct control of the levers of change in our society.
These radical concepts are an ambitious aspiration to apply Robert Owen's original communitarian ideas to living in Scotland in the 21st century.
It is up to individuals as to whether they choose to take part in Owenstown. All we can ask is they "dare to dream".
Remember the words of Robert Owen as he spoke to New Lanark villagers on New Year's day 1816, "I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold: and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal". — Yours etc.,
DR JE ARNOLD,
Chairman Designate of Owenstown.
DEVIL IN DETAIL
Dear Ed, — As the Scottish Labour and Co-operative Westminster Candidate for Dumfriesshire Tweeddale and Clydesdale and a long term environmentalist, I find the announcement of a consultation for Owenstown in Douglas Valley exciting.
However, we need to set it in context as one of a number of approaches to sustainable living.
The UK Government has already embarked on a national scheme to build Ecotowns across Britain.
It has also made a commitment to provide half a million pounds each to 15 areas across the country for people to come together to trial the newest technologies.
Towns across Britain, for example Biggar, are becoming "Transition Towns" themselves and many households are moving towards eco-living.
The Co-operative movement has developed principles of ethical enterprise over generations in Scotland and globally, in part inspired by Robert Owen himself.
People power has initiated thriving projects for marginalised as well as mainstream communities — from credit unions to women's co-ops and much more.
Co-op values and principles are on the co-op website at www.ica.coop.com
We need to be sure that the structures for this new proposal are set up with the support and experience of the wider co-operative movement in Scotland.
As someone who lived near Rigside for a number of years, was a community councillor and founding convenor of Loudon Pond Community Nature Reserve, I am keenly aware of the challenges faced by ex mining communities.
We need to be sure that people in the Douglas Valley and beyond are meaningfully connected to the new town proposal in practical ways such as benefitting from renewable energy schemes and insulation opportunities for homes.
Training and job opportunities for local people will also have to be negotiated.
The way forward is, in my view, for communities which already exist not to be left behind by a thrilling ideal model.
The devil will be in the detail and only time will tell. I certainly wish Owenstown well. — Yours etc.,
HOMAGE TO HOME
Dear Ed, — May I, through your column, pay homage to the staff and friends of Monteith House Care Home.
In my nine months as Matron, I have been given the utmost support and friendliness from the staff.
Their workforce ethic has been tremendous — all above the call of duty —they worked as a team.
They showed extreme commitment and dedication to the residents and indeed it was one big happy family!
The closure was a sudden shock to all as we thought the home had a future but alas it was not to be.
In conclusion from the bottom of my heart I wish all residents, staff and friends every success for the future.
We all know the problem at Monteith House was not of our doing. God Bless. — Yours etc.,