Is this the much feared rise of populism – a protest against the control of power in a few hands? Or would it be better described as loss of legitimacy of central government mouthpieces in their ‘management’ of real issues that affect real people? What happens now that R4U has a local resident representative councillor in 26 of the 39 seats at UDC?  While the sponsored media has been busy whipping up divisions between all kinds of factions of society, isolating whistleblowers and dividing people on all manner of issues, torching the flame of unrest, it seems that it didn’t reckon with Uttlesford who has been busy coming together to reclaim the power that has always belonged to the people.

Like so many others in Uttlesford my spirits lifted to hear that our own residents group, Residents 4 Uttlesford, had practically cleared up the local vote for the area with a massive swing in their favour. The people have decided to take things into their own hands and govern themselves, as ever it should be, which represents both a threat to centralised power and a re-prioritisation of what is right for our district. I myself, am an unashamed rebel, always looking for genuine people who work from their sense of authenticity and integrity instead of parroting someone else’s ideas. R4U fit that description in my opinion so they won my vote hands down.

However, in the sweet taste of victory, I am imagining there is also that anxious sensation of, ‘let’s hope we can deliver’ because, in the scheme of things, there are many hurdles that R4U still need to clear. It is not plain sailing just because we have elected them in. Those that are used to complaining about the local services, will no doubt continue to do so – and not because of lack of effort on the side of the new district councillors. There will be people to convince, a working consensus to achieve, the local people to get active and engaged, strong pressure from central government to comply with an agenda that the local people do not want, hidden money to recover**, and an ever shrinking pot of money to achieve all of the things on our local government shopping list.

I did a little bit of research before putting fingers to keyboard on Uttlesford and its area and constituent parts because even though I’m local, I’ve never been involved in local politics or known much about how it works. So finding stuff out for the first time, puts me in an ideal position to explain it to you too. Here’s what I found about the map of our district and what it looks like after the elections on 2nd May.

PartyCouncillorsChange% Seats at UDC% of Total Vote
Residents for Uttlesford26+1567%41.1%
Liberal Democrat7+318%21.5%
Conservative4-2010%26.9%
Independent2+25%4.2%
Labour003.2%
Green002.8%
UKIP000.4%

R4U didn’t stand in all wards. All but 2 of R4U’s district candidates were elected. In the wards where it did stand candidates R4U captured 56% of the vote against the Conservatives 25% and Liberal 13%. (https://www.residents4u.org/vote-residents/uttlesford-district-local-election-results-may-2019/)

Clearly, the loss of 20 conservative seats in our district sends a clear message home to central government.  Interestingly though, I had a quick scan of past election results for the district and noticed that many more turned out to vote – in their thousands – in the past compared to this time. To me that says that most people are absolutely fed up with voting and for the status quo to remain the same, leaving the way open for those who really want change, to vote in favour of the Residents who may, perhaps this time, be able to help us repair some of the damage and neglect by the conservatives over the last decades.

The Burning issue of Housing

In 1981 the population of Uttlesford was 62,000 and nearly 40 years later it’s now 88,000 – an increase of 41% over 38 years. So in nearly 40 years we have organically grown by 26,000 residents. The housing provision order from central government which was due to be built, if planning went ahead, in the next 18 years would have allowed for 3 new settlements of 5,000 near Great Chesterford, 10,000 near Great Dunmow, and 10,000 on the outskirts of Braintree. My latest information is that the Braintree proposal has collapsed….at the moment. However, since central government conservatively suggests that each dwelling has notionally 2.4 residents that could have meant an extra 60,000 inhabitants which represents an increase of 68% in 18 years. Is that really organic growth? When there are only approximately 1000 on the housing list waiting for social housing, what is the agenda behind this massive expansion of housing in our district? And this especially without the necessary infrastructure and services that should accompany this kind of monumental and rapid expansion, herding people into large conurbations – one of which straddles the space between our historic town, Dunmow and Stansted airport. This delightful new conurbation of 10,000 houses (compare that to the approximate current 3,500 houses in Dunmow)  is called, benignly, Easton Park Garden Village – which is anything but a village. The situation is more complex than I’m describing here but broadly, there is a lack of regard for the local people and how these houses fit in with the neighbourhood plan.

Now if this weren’t challenge enough for our new councillors, local government has ever been under the threat of having local power completely usurped by central government dictats, whereby if they cannot agree to these settlements being built, Whitehall itself will simply put a pin in the map and choose their own location in our neighbourhood. That’s the threat at least. So much for democracy. But what irks me most is where are all these new inhabitants coming from? What is central government planning for in moving populations around the country? Is it merely for profit? Influence? Is this social engineering about destroying communities, both incoming and host communities, in pursuit of more power and wealth for politicians, landowners and developers? These are questions that we tend not to ask at the local level. However, maybe it is only at the local level that we can push back on some of these seemingly arbitrary central government decisions.

So I come back now to the point of this article. We have voted in our new R4U counsellors. We are looking to them for leadership. However, I’m wondering just how much we need to support what our local councillors are doing for us all. We have been given an opportunity to shape our environment as WE want it. The more people that sing from the same hymn sheet and support our councillors, albeit they are not being compromised by central and regional government, the more we can make our local environment a thriving place of wellbeing with a strong local economy, services that work, and people who have, at last, wrestled their own agency from the corridors of power in London.

I caught a glimpse of John Lodge R4U councillor for Saffron Walden, being interviewed on BBC Sunday Politics East and was inspired to hear that this vote wasn’t all about Brexit. At last the local people have come together on an issue that really matters to us directly: and that is, how we take control of our own borough and make it serve us instead of us serve someone else’s political or financial agendas. And if we are going to be subject to propaganda about food and medicine shortages, well, why don’t we get behind local food growing projects like ours at Get Diggin’ It? You knew it would come to this on the Get Diggin’ It website, didn’t you?

 

How Get Diggin’ It can help with the local food supply

However, I’m deadly serious about taking control of our own food supply and medicine. It is because of our trust in the Just In Time food system, which now criss-crosses the globe, that we have come to be able to be threatened with food shortages by the vote for Brexit. It is because of our hectic lifestyles where growing, cooking and preparing food has been relegated as secondary and not important in the scheme of things, that we have such things as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, PCOS, heart disease AND mental and emotional health issues which all relate to poor diet and poor lifestyle. Becoming more mindful of what we consume on a daily basis is an imperative that many people are beginning to wake up to. Fast foods and freezer prepared meals have made us lazy with one of the most important and irreplaceable gifts we have been given: our health. And of course, we have been spoilt so that we no longer know what is and isn’t in season, importing all kinds of exotic fruits and veggies from the southern countries and bringing them back to the UK completely out of season. From a biodynamic point of view, this is the wrong food to be eating, for our immunity and wellbeing, when there is snow on the ground.

I am learning, the more I grow our own food, just how abundant nature is. There is no excuse for food shortages whatsoever. Just a few tiny seeds can provide enough food for endless meals AND without pesticides and herbicides. And whatsmore, growing food, necessarily creates a sharing and caring economy. We reach out more to our neighbours with our home grown surpluses – because I assure you, there will be many – and we create conversations around our food. And if you haven’t yet tasted a home grown tomato, you are missing a treat!

So while I’m talking about growing our own food, of course, I live under no illusion that every family in Uttlesford will have the time or inclination to get out in the garden or allotments and start growing food! That’s where our local initiative is in service to you. You can put an hour or two into our project any time – no ongoing commitment necessary – and you will always go home with food to share. Our surplus we will sell to those who care about where their food comes from and the environmental issues that surrounds food miles and the pollution of our air and environment as a result and that is despite the hectic lives of many who are time poor.

However, if that’s not your thing right now, perhaps your strengths and interests are different depending on the stage of life you are in at the moment. And that brings me back to how we support our newly elected councillors.

All of us has something to bring to the table from the wealth of experience we have had through our lives and, so that our councillors are truly representing our interests, all of us need to be contributing whichever way we can, to the environment that we want to see around us – from developing a no-littering culture, to developing local classes for local people (no exams and certifications from any ‘official’ body – just like it used to be) to providing places for our teenagers to hang out safely together with mentors and seniors who they look up to – to name just a couple of ideas. You will have many dozens of others that we can all collectively get alongside. Feel free to mention them in the comments section below.

Winning the elections for R4U isn’t the end. We cannot relax now and just wait for them to deliver. We need to engage the neighbourhood to support them and work through the challenges that they will be facing. What would you like to do to contribute to our own self governance?

*https://www.residents4u.org/2017/06/23/stop-press-is-your-uttlesford-community-getting-more-homes-udc-publish-draft-local-plan-housing-numbers/

**https://www.residents4u.org/2019/02/04/analysis-shows-udc-failed-to-collect-more-than-3m-in-community-infrastructure-funding-from-developers-in-saffron-walden/