The decision for Shropshire to become a unitary council from May 2009 is still resented here in south west Shropshire. Under Shropshire Council’s first leader, it led to a huge centralisation of control in Shropshire and the sucking of rural resources into Shrewsbury and Oswestry. It was not going unitary that was the problem. It was the transfer of power from rural Shropshire to Shrewsbury. That was never a requirement of going unitary. We can’t go back the local governance arrangements we had before 2009. But we can strengthen local democracy across the county by setting up powerful area committees with powers over local decisions, local funding and the right to scrutinise and challenge Shirehall. The committees will help level up funding between urban and rural Shropshire. It is time for the rural voice to be as loud as the urban voice. Across the nation and here in Shropshire.

Escape to the country programmes and articles by urban journalists don’t give a real view of rural life

Am I the only one who find programmes like Escape to the Country unsettling? The clue is in the word “escape”. That idea of rural life being idyllic compared to the nightmare of living in cities. Before anyone gets worked up, I don’t think cities are a nightmare. A buzz of life 24 hours seven days a week. Almost everything available whenever you need it. Walkable neighbourhoods. But cities and large towns are too busy for me. All those people you don’t know rushing past not saying hello. I don’t think rural areas are a nightmare. Far from it. But people seem who escape to the country sometimes have unrealistic expectations of rural life.

Local councils have been meeting online during the pandemic. After a few teething problems, the practice of meeting online has worked well. But yesterday the government declared councils must meet in public after 7 May. Many councillors think this is too early. A good many councils, including Ludlow Town Council and Shropshire Council, do not have suitable buildings to accommodate all their councillors, let alone members of the public, while social distancing remains in place. Will any councillors or members of the public want to attend the cramped Ludlow Town Council meeting in the Guildhall on 24 May? Or the Shropshire Council meeting four days earlier, with its 74 councillors and at least 25 officers and public attending in a chamber set out like a university lecture hall? This is retrograde move that will reduce the effectiveness of local democracy. Not for once, ministers are out of touch with reality. The compulsory return to face to face for councils is only happening because local government has long been an afterthought in the government’s deliberations (and, for that matter, allocation of funding). Parliament has run out of time to debate the required legislation that would extend powers for online meetings. Faced…

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We are losing trees and biodiversity in and around Ludlow (2) – Fishmore Quarry

In my previous article, I railed against the planning system which serves us badly when it comes to protecting and enhancing biodiversity. In this article, I look in more detail at the Fishmore Quarry housing development where the one of Ludlow’s richest areas of biodiversity has been bulldozed. It is far from clear whether the tree and shrub clearance is within current planning consents, though the developer insists it is. What is clear is that technical changes to this scheme have led to a significant loss of biodiversity. One of the biggest losses we have seen in Ludlow. We can’t keep allowing this. We should not have allowed it here. Biodiversity can’t be instantly replaced by scattering seeds or planting quicks and saplings. Biodiversity areas take decades to mature. We must change the way we assess planning applications to ensure this doesn’t keep happening.

We are losing trees and biodiversity in and around Ludlow (1) – it’s a failure of the planning system

Foldgate Lane. Rocks Green. Fishmore Quarry. Just three of the development sites where trees, hedges and scrubland have been the victims of recent work as development in Ludlow accelerates. There is a lot of anger around Ludlow and Ludford. Why are we losing so much biodiversity? Where have things gone wrong? The primary fault lies in the planning system. It assumes that the destruction caused by bulldozing and chain saws can be replaced by planting schemes. The system doesn’t understand that biodiversity takes decades to emerge. And that it happens randomly. Biodiversity is a real scruff and that is why biodiversity works. It is the bugs and beasties as well as the tatty shrubs, along with the good looking trees that keep our world healthy. Most biodiversity is not protected in our planning system and many planning decisions seem blind to the destruction being caused. We must give far more respect and importance to biodiversity when we decide planning applications.

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