We can't even build a phone mast now
On how we need to stop anything being built absolutely anywhere at all
Lots of new subscribers to the newsletter this week - thanks for being here! I promise it isn’t always as downbeat as it seems to be this week!
Won’t somebody please think of the irradiated children?
Local residents objecting to planning applications are nothing new. Residents, believing they live in some form of perfect utopia, will usually object to almost anything within a mile of where they live. New houses? Nope. A new pub? No way. Even parks aren’t immune from the scourge of local residents protecting “their” local area.
Recent favourites for objections are pretty standard bits of infrastructure. Traffic calming is a big no-no. Daring to change parking spaces is grossly controversial. And then there’s the phone mast.
No one seemed to give much thought to phone masts until recently. They are all around us, and no one seemed to care much. You’d imagine this is because we all use the technology and so have a vested interest in it being there.
That doesn’t stop people these days though, as a group of local residents around Barnsole Road in Gillingham have demonstrated their mass objection to a new 5G phone mast on a patch of grass in the area.
Such is the power of their campaign that they have a giant banner strewn across the vital site that they need to protect, and got the Messenger down to hear about their campaign.
Massive bonus points there for two of the protestors being pictured using their actual phones.
The problem is that these people are almost uniformly cranks. Most of their objections are based around (at best) unscientific nonsense or (at worst) dangerous conspiracy theories.
Still, nice of the Messenger to unquestioningly give them a platform.
So why do these residents oppose this bit of communications infrastructure?
I’ve been wading through their objection submissions to find out. And because for some reason you signed up for this thing, you’re going to find out too.
Sarah is concerned that the mast will irradiate children:
Keith reckons it’ll give people cancer:
Simon is just very angry:
I’m particularly fascinated by what is so sensitive in Simon’s objection that Medway Council had to redact it, but that’s for another day.
Mike believes the mast plan is a deliberate move by Medway Council to harm as many people as possible, thinks a 5G mast is similar to inhaling asbestos, so proposes putting it in Gillingham Park instead, which would apparently be fine? Alternatively, he’s up for putting it in the cemetery 'where the population are already deceased'. Which is a fair point, to be fair.
It goes on and on like this. There are currently 66 comments on the proposal, and 65 of them are objections. Obviously, there is no evidence behind any of the outlandish claims about 5G impacting health. Other residents believe the mast will kill wildlife, stop plants growing, and that children will be devastated if this vital public park is lost.
That vital public park in full:
The application is set to be decided next month, in what will surely be a happy Christmas for the residents around Barnsole Road.
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Medway MPs don’t want people to have places to live
Sorry for going on about planning again, but this week all three of our MPs supported a parliamentary amendment that explicitly set out to wreck the national planning system and leave people without places to live.
Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti, Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch, and Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst all signed an amendment to the Levelling Up bill this week to block local authorities from having to provide a sufficient level of housing.
Currently, the planning system can be messy, but it does require local councils to deliver a required amount of housing in their area or face penalties if they don’t.
Fun fact: Medway has never managed to actually deliver the number of homes required.
It’s difficult enough even with a national planning framework to get things built. Residents are inherently opposed to any new development near them. MPs see it in their interests to support this kind of NIMBYism as people protesting new homes tend to shout the loudest. Presumably, because they already own homes so can be pretty chilled about stopping other people from doing so.
Anyway, this amendment to the Levelling Up bill isn’t even subtle in its intent. It wants to rip up any national planning requirements and explicitly sets out to not impose any “obligation on local authorities to ensure sufficient housing development sites”.
For those of us trapped in a private rented sector of ever-spiralling rents as homes become scarcer and scarcer as the population grows, this is cool. Very cool.
Covid in numbers
Cases: There are still no specific data, but 1.5% of the population in the south east are estimated to test positive for coronavirus this week, down from 1.6% last week.
Hospitalisations: There are currently 10 patients being treated for covid in Medway Hospital, with 1 of them on a ventilator. This is down 38% on last week.
Deaths: 3 new deaths were recorded this week, taking Medway to 994 covid deaths in total.
Vaccinations: 81% of the 12+ population in Medway have now had at least one vaccine dose, 77% have had two doses, and 60% have received a booster dose.
78% of those eligible for a spring booster received one.
10% of those under 12 have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
60% of those aged 50+ have so far had their autumn booster.
More money trouble for Medway Council
I wrote last week about just how close Medway Council is to bankruptcy, and how the coming financial year is set to drive them closer to the edge. They are set to use up an extra £19m of the £26m to balance the budget next year, leaving a mere £7m to protect against unforeseen costs during the next or future years.
The balancing of the budget hasn’t been made any easier this week with news that discussions are at an impasse with Medway Council staff on their annual pay agreement.
Traditionally, Medway Council generously gifts their staff a 1% raise each year, occasionally bumping this up to 2%. Those kinds of figures aren’t going to cut it with the rising cost of living this year though.
To some credit, Medway Council seems to accept that, at least to a certain degree and has budgeted a 5% uplift for staff this year.
Each year, the union representing the employees put forward their own pay claim, and this year they would like rather more. But how much more?
The first two points are the important ones here. They have requested a £2,000 increase for all employees, or an uplift matching the Retail Price Index (RPI), whichever is higher. Unfortunately for Medway Council, RPI is currently running at 14.2%. They are also seeking to ensure that all staff are paid £10.90, a real minimum living wage. Which feels understandable under the circumstances.
So, can Medway Council even entertain this sort of increase?
It will be a challenge.
Remember above, where the council is set to be down to it’s last £7m of reserves next year? Well, the increase in the salary bill would cost nearly an extra £9m, a figure that would could theoretically push Medway Council into the red even earlier than is currently expected.
Still, Medway Council has a plan in place, in the event that they can’t afford to pay staff what they need. They intend to consider “other methods of reward to demonstrate how staff are valued”.
That will definitely help their staff eat and afford to heat their homes.
Merry Christmas from Medway!
Festive scenes from Chatham this week, where within a week of the grand Christmas lights switch on, workers from Medway Council were seen in the high street taking a chainsaw to the tree. Merry Christmas!
Apparently, the tree wasn’t up to standard, and rather than deal with that before everything was put in place, they went ahead with the switch-on, only to rip it all down a week later, only to replace it with a brand new tree. One that is presumably up to the rigorously high Christmas tree standards that Medway expects.
This week, extra editions of Local Authority looked at the looming loss of the Royal Function Rooms in Rochester and what it means for our local culture. On the other hand, Steven Keevil put together a deranged thought experiment wondering exactly what years of chaos under a Medway Labour regime led by Vince Maple would have looked like. Two very different reads there!
It’s also the last few days of November panic buying season, where new paid supporters can get a full year of subscription for as little as £2.81 per month with the code HOORAYCAPITALISM. Thank you so much to those of you that have become paid supporters this week. Your generous support of this thing ensures we can keep this newsletter running and sustainable for the long term.
Work on the new Splashes complex is set to begin in April. (Construction Enquirer)
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Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Dead Crow Blues by Superman Revenge Squad, Outside It’s Cold Just Like the Inside of Your Body And by Ace Bushy Striptease, The Fidelity Wars by Hefner, and Johnny Foreigner vs Everything by Johnny Foreigner.