The Minister for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, has given the go-ahead for 250,000 tonnes of nuclear waste to be dumped in the UK. Specifically, the old landfill site is in Northants, where a local referendum returned a 96% vote against being the result.
This situation is splitting opinion, in particular regarding two different elements of it.
To start with, It should come as no surprise at all that 96% of local residents voted against such a plan. If you were to ask most people if they would like to have a nuclear dump close to their homes – and I have spoken to some of the people who live near the proposed site – they would probably say no, regardless of the actual details of the plans in question. When presented with a simple yes or no, with an emotive issue and which most people don’t take the time to fully understand this is as surprising as the shock that FIFA is (allegedly) corrupt.
However, many of those same people often accept the overarching need for such a facility in general. They would acknowledge that such waste needs to be disposed of safely somewhere, just not near them. It is simple nimbyism – for those not familiar with the term, ‘Not In My Back Yard’.
This highlights an issue facing local government in this modern age of localism. Such regional facilities will be required in the future – it is not practical that every town and village is entirely self sufficient in terms of energy creation, waste disposal and other public amenities. It simply cannot be the case that each village, town or local authority can act in isolation, looking only within its artificially created boundaries and protecting the interests of its own.
We have seen local government working hard to bring shared services into the common vernacular, where simple services are shared across these boundaries because there are economies of scale to consider. Rather than providing two smaller services doing the same thing, one larger one is shared which does just as good a job but costs each authority less (or so the theory goes).
In just the same way, certain services or facilities are needed on a regional rather than local level. Someone, somewhere, will not be happy about it, but for the greater good, sometimes the few need to have their noses put a little out of joint. This needs to be sensitively handled, with negative impact minimised and appropriate compensation offered (not just financial compensation either, by the way). However, the tough decision is sometimes the right decision.
This brings us onto the second issue thrown up, that of the huge challenges facing true localism, and the willingness of the government to allow it to happen. If Mr. Pickles was truly committed to localism and all it entailed then he would respect these referendum results and allow each area to run itself based on the views and wishes of those who live there.
In the long term this simply will not work. As much as the mouths are saying “are you local”, the minds need to be thinking of the bigger picture. Where possible local views should certainly be given significant weight, but occasionally this will not be possible and the bigger decisions will need to be made. With the removal of much of the regional thinking and the focus on the micro we are in danger of losing the macro.
As much as I hate to say it, local government sometimes needs to not be local.