Dear Reader: Housing and 'Nimbyism' + digital world's failings

Campaigners young and old from Hampsthwaite Action Group outside the offices of Harrogate Borough Council.
Campaigners young and old from Hampsthwaite Action Group outside the offices of Harrogate Borough Council.

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Spare a thought for our district’s council. Damned if they do, damned if they do, whatever tack they take over new housing in the latest version of the Local Plan unveiled to the public this week is bound to upset someone, somewhere.

Allowing a rash of new developments at, seemingly, every turn was central government idea, not Harrogate Borough Council’s.

Having seen two previous versions of the Local Plan thrown back in its face by the Government Inspector in recent years, they probably feel forced to get it right this time.

What ‘right’ means is the problem.

The council insists the total number of new housing it’s calculated is required in places like Hampsthwaite and Pannal and Killinghall and Ripon and Harrogate itself is not only accurate but necessary to create a future where more people can afford to buy their own home and the local economy is able to expand.

The groups which have grown up against this vision argue the majority of planned housing is far from affordable and the effect on the district’s quality of life and traffic situation entirely negative.

Whatever readers’ viewpoint on the situation, there seems a bigger question at stake in all this - that of the matter of local democracy.

For this particular conflict does not seem to be the result of a normal outbreak of Nimbyism or ‘rent-a-mob’.

As this newspaper discovered during the lengthy wrangle last year over legal protections for Harrogate’s precious parkland The Stray, when it comes to really big changes it’s sometime possible to judge the weight of an argument by who’s making it.

I have to admit that when a well-known local figure told me the other week I would have to wait until the following day for a quote I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the story had already been online for two days.

In my defence I can plead only one thing. The instant nature of communication in the age of the internet.

The fundamental difference between the newspaper you are holding in your hands and social media is time.

Trained journalists are taught to seek accuracy and balance which, by definition, involves finding out things and talking to other people.

The freeflowing world of blogs and Facebook pages and individual websites where recycled information is king is under no such obligation.

Local newspapers aren’t allowed to focus on one area of life or dwell on favourite hobby horses, well, not for long, at least.

It’s our job to attempt to be fair to all groups and try to represent everyone, an almost impossible goal we do our best to achieve.

As an idea, however, it’s one that’s difficult to reconcile with the needs of the digital age we all live in.

But it’s an idea that’s essential to embrace for it is not only the present but the future.