Mark this year well. AD 2012 will go down as the year when we, the ordinary citizens of this England, were supposed to come into our own. They call it localism. From now on our views are supposed to matter beyond elections.
I would like to think they will. But one thing is already clear: unless we keep a very close eye on Calderdale Council we shall only have ourselves to blame if Upper Calder Valley’s environment is wrecked.
All this stems from the recent publication of national planning guidelines. This event was welcomed by the Daily Telegraph as “a good day for anyone who cares about the countryside”. We shall see.
You will recall that last year the Coalition, with its customary cackhandedness, had the country up in arms with the first draft of these national guidelines. We were told that developers, who had helped to write them, would shortly be concreting over the green belt.
I must say I have my reservations about all the fuss from supposed defenders of the countryside and environment from the CPRE to Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. They have not done much, if anything, to prevent our hills and moors from being industrialised with wind farms.
Anyone who claims that Long Causeway on the moorland route to Burnley and Ovenden Moor above Halifax are enhanced by their copses of wind turbines is aesthetically dead from the neck upwards.
But that is by the way. Back to Calderdale Council.
Over the next 12 months, like every other planning authority, it has the responsibility of preparing a local plan in line with the national guidelines. These local plans will carry increasing weight and so will neighbourhood plans, which the Government wants to see developed within the overall framework.
I assume this means Hebden Royd, Heptonstall, Blackshawhead, Erringden, Wadsworth and Todmorden parish councils face a busy year sorting out their ideas as to how they want to control development within their baileywicks. You could argue that this lends powerful support for Mytholmroyd and the Luddenden Valley to have their own parish councils.
After all, the guidelines contain a presumption in favour of “sustainable” development and a locality with no plan of its own seems likely to be less well protected than one that has taken the trouble to commit its vision for its district to paper.
What, to bring it close to home, does Hebden Bridge want for the old Brown’s Mill site at Mytholm? More especially, how does it view the idea of a small supermarket there when the national guidelines put the emphasis on concentrating supermarkets in town centres?
And what does the entire Upper Calder Valley feel about wind farms? Is it as mad keen on them as its strong so-called environmentalism suggests? I doubt it, though who knows when ordinary citizens, as distinct from activists, tend to keep their views to themselves.
Don’t run away with the idea that these widely welcomed new national guidelines are going to stop the wholesale industrialisation of Pennine moorland outside national parks – as is Upper Calder Valley.
“Sustainable”, according to the Planning Minister, Greg Clark, “means ensuring that better lives for ourselves don’t mean worse lives for future generations”. Fine.
But then elsewhere the guidelines reckon that sustainable development should “support the transition to a low carbon future in a changing climate, encouraging the use of renewable resources” by, for example, the development of renewable energy.
And they also say that planning policies and decisions must reflect and, where appropriate, promote relevant EU obligations and statutory requirements. Well, Tony Blair signed us up to a Brussels’ policy that requires the UK to get 15 per cent of its energy (and not just electricity) from renewables by 2020.
That may be impossible to achieve but its impossibility will not stop fanatics from sacrificing the countryside on the altar of the environment. I have no doubt that, like most pieces of legislation, the new guidelines will have to be tested in court and will, as usual, swell the coffers of the legal profession.
But if the people of Upper Calder Valley don’t consciously try to protect their magnificent countryside nobody else will. Their job is to take the Minister at his word and make clear how they are determined not to make “worse lives for future generations”. They call it protecting our heritage.
To show they mean to do their duty I would like to see Calderdale and all the parish councils issuing quarterly reports to this and other local newspapers on what they are doing about it.
That’ll be the day.