Nimbyism masquerading as justice: ‘Say No to Mereham’, letters and article in a debate about a local housing development, published in the Ely Standard, October-November 2007.
Baby Boomers’ Comfort Under Threat (11th and 25th October, 2007)
Chronic malnutrition; 150 000 deaths a year due to global warming; sex trafficking, slavery, enforced migrations. The suffering of people in the world beyond our doorstep thankfully causes many modern westerners to tackle social injustices.
But at every rally I have attended, there is a noticeable absence: People in their 50s and early 60s, the 'Baby Boomers'. Very few of them care enough about these global issues to take any action. So where are they? And what are they getting passionate about?
They are busy getting passionate about places like Mereham! Hardly surprising, since the Baby Boomer generation is the wealthiest and most selfish the planet has ever seen. As a whole, they have enjoyed early retirement, great pensions, and the last of our oil supply.
But a proposed development like Mereham threatens the value of their homes and the luxury of their semi-retirement. So they make no end of half-baked claims designed to convince us that Mereham is the great social injustice!
Of course, there are many of their generation who rebel against the Baby Boomer spirit, and many from other generations who celebrate it. Nor can we blame individuals - they are simply behaving according to their cultural programming.
Ultimately, the wisdom or otherwise of Mereham's development will be determined by world events such as the diminishing availability of oil and the increasingly unstable global economy.
But the Baby Boomers need not worry about these greater issues that affect the whole human race. By the time we face these major problems, the Baby Boomers will be resting in peace, regardless of the existence of Mereham. Their epitaph will be those limpid white boards with their pitiful inscription: 'Say No to Mereham'. These signposts indicate little more than the blissfully unwitting self-centred triviality of Middle Aged, Middle Class, Middle England.
(Rev Dr Simon Perry, Haddenham)
Reverend’s View was Ignorant (25th October, 2007)
HOW very un-Christian of the Rev Perry to spew his vitriol and self righteousness all over so called 'baby boomers'. Whatever his denomination he would do well to recall the words of Jesus Christ, when he spoke of not judging 'lest ye be judged also'. Here comes my judgment of such a shameful attitude towards this particular group of people. Presumably you are an educated man, so how can you make such bigoted and ignorant generalisations? How do you know what such people do and have done in their lives? How do you know what pensions they receive? For example, I worked an average of 80 hours per week for 25 years, for 40 hours pay. This left me burned out. Five of those years were spent working with heroin addicts in the black ghettos of Washington, DC. For 18 months of that time I worked every night and weekends gratis while holding down a full-time job. Believe me, slavery to heroin, by kids as young as eight all the way up to people in their seventies, was rampant and very real. The poverty was unbelievable in the most powerful nation in the world. No full state pension because of those 10 years working in the US, and the pension to which I contributed here has paid me a quarter of what it was supposed to be. £4,000 per annum, hardly makes me 'wealthy' does it? Selfish? Perhaps, but I do my bit in my own way. I am passionate about all manner of things, including what's happening to my country; a country for which all the men in my family fought. I am concerned about the environment and the erosion of our countryside. Thanks to this Government there is building everywhere because of an alleged local demand. If this is true, how come all the key worker housing in Soham stands empty? How come local first-time buyers still can't get on the property ladder? I tell you why reverend, most of the lower priced homes are being purchased by greedy investors who buy en-masse; many of whom live overseas. Many of the higher-priced homes are bought by incomers; hardly serving local need is it? Multiplex is an Australian company; Australia has three million square miles, the UK has 93,000. So why doesn't it develop over there? I tell you why, this country is a soft touch. England is around 50,000 square miles and about the third most populated country in the world with just under 1,000 people per square mile. Scotland, for example, has around 126 per square mile. We have serious environmental problems and cramming more and more people into our small island is sheer lunacy. We have neither the infrastructure or resources to cope. Why not remonstrate with Multiplex about abusing our agricultural land for the sake of greed? Your anger might be better spent demanding that under populated countries, such as Australia, do their bit. Many older people are unable to attend rallies for health reasons, but if you genuinely wanted us to do so, you have gone the wrong way about encouraging our attendance In fact it is mainly the young who insist on the foreign holidays and fuel guzzling Chelsea tractors, so I suggest you direct your ire at them instead. Little wonder there is so little respect for the elderly in the UK when even a so called man of God berates us in such a generalised fashion. If you are C of E you probably live in a nice detached home, have a guaranteed job and good pension at the end of it. People in glass houses...
DM DONALD Soham By email
WHO is the Rev Dr Simon Perry? (Letters October 11). He is entitled to have an opinion on anything he chooses, as indeed are the rest of the population but to express it with such venom is unbecoming of a man who preaches 'love thy neighbour'! I do not know which denomination he represents, but sincerely hope it is not The Anglican Church, with its massive property portfolio. One has to also consider whether he is living in provided accommodation but owning another property elsewhere, or simply in a nice house in a lovely village. I wonder, does he have to travel on the already congested roads in the morning, or just stroll to his place of work? The people who live in Haddenham, Wilburton and Stretham have either grown up in the area or chosen to live in a village, not a town. I am perfectly sure that the population of the three villages concerned is made up of all age groups and not just the 'baby boomers', he is keen to put down. I wonder how many of his 'flock' are in the accused age range, indeed, how many of his fellow clergy? Reverend Perry will doubtless be a part of upcoming Remembrance Sunday services where many would-be 'baby boomers' will be remembered for giving their lives. Maybe, just maybe, he might reflect on his 50-60 year old parishioners who have suffered through their lives and are only now finding peace and happiness through living in a lovely part of Gods' world. Incidentally, I don't live in any of the villages but can see the stupidity of building 1,000's of houses when the infrastructure is struggling to cope now. Just who is Rev Perry representing, his church, his parishioners or Multiplex, the developers? Whoever it is, he should learn some humility.
ALAN WARNER Fairfield Sutton
WHILST not being a member of that group myself, I feel I must defend the Baby Boomers (Letters, October 11) and their right to 'comfort'. In his letter, Dr Simon Perry makes a simplistic and flawed assumption, specifically that people only care about one thing at a time. That somehow, because people are opposed to the development at Mereham, they are not able to care about other issues on both the local, national and world levels. Stereotyping a group of individuals simply because they were born in the 20-year period immediately after the war falls into the trap of all stereotypes: that whilst the label is convenient for soap-box politics it does a great disservice to the individuals in that group. If Dr Perry took the trouble to get to know the protestors he would find that many of them are concerned about the wider issues our world faces and are trying to do something about it. If he further feels the need to question the beliefs of a group which represents, as he puts it, the 'unwitting self-centred triviality of middle aged, middle class, middle England' then perhaps he should ask what leadership the Church was giving to these people in their formative years? Just what was it doing to provide them with a balanced 'cultural programming'?
BRIAN FAIRCHILD Station Road Haddenham
Accusers Guilty of Being Prejudiced (1st November, 2007)
In light of last week's heartfelt responses to my letter about Mereham, what can I do but apologise for my comments?
I'll tell you what I can do:
Firstly, I can note that the authors of these letters displayed the very prejudice they attribute to me: Accusations that I am stereo-typing, making assumptions and displaying ignorance, were made, whilst simultaneously stereotyping my profession, making wild assumptions about my lifestyle, and blatantly ignoring the substance of my letter!
If you want me to "learn humility", then you must demonstrate not only that you are furious, but that I am wrong.
Secondly, I can – as requested - confess my denomination! I am a Baptist, for whom believers' baptism is an act of radical political subversion that entails a disavowal of the baby-boomer spirit. Hence, at the Christian Aid march for climate justice in London last month, there were many more baby boomers than at the climate camp in Heathrow a month earlier. More locally, at the sex-trafficking march just recently, organised by Churches together in Ely, there were more baby boomers than are usually present at secular campaigns.
For such people, 'loving thy neighbour' goes far beyond a thinly veiled tribal selfism, that fears offending my closest neighbours, whilst doing nothing about those in distant lands who suffer because of systems that benefit my immediate neighbours. Real love (not only "cares" about, but) speaks out on behalf of those in our world who suffer and die, horrendously and unheard, on the far side of our television screens, beyond the reach of news headlines.
If I represent anyone, I hope it is them. There is an urgent need for political action on their behalf today. And where are the most powerful generation at this crucial junction of human history? At a time when this generation could literally rise up and save the world, they are busy building fences around their own little comfortable world.
Thirdly, I can respect all those writing letters about Mereham, who are also writing to our MP to demand trade justice. I can admire everyone who attended the public inquiry into Mereham who also campaigned in Ely against Sex-trafficking. I can salute everyone who has displayed an anti-Mereham poster alongside a 'Cut the Carbon' poster.
But how many of you are there, honestly? Enough to refute my claims?
Prove me wrong or face reality.
Simon Perry, Haddenham
ANY lingering unpleasantness of the letter from the Rev Perry has been obliterated by the astonishing events of last week at the Mereham Inquiry. I wish your readers could have been there. From Milton and Cottenham in the south to Little Downham in the north; from Earith to Soham; up and down and across The Isle, and from the Fens, the parish councillors came. It took all day on Tuesday for them to speak. And speak they did: each voicing the view of their parish, their particular concerns whether they were about flooding, traffic, health and education, safety, farming, or the high-handed plans to change their streets and their landscape. On Wednesday and Thursday the voices continued, perhaps more than have ever spoken at an inquiry of this sort. Ordinary people had made extraordinary efforts to study the thousands of pages of documentation; people had spent hours researching from a desk or hours on their feet counting cars and checking times. There were those with specialist expertise and those with years of local knowledge. There were speakers who made us laugh - at Multiplex - and those who could have made you cry; there were people comfortable with public speaking and those who were clearly terrified. And what did we discover? Apart from the wealth of generosity, ability and dedication of local people, we discovered that Multiplex Stannifer cannot get basic measurements right, that their figures are inaccurate, that their road traffic studies bear no relation to reality, that their local geography was clearly researched in Australia, that their understanding of our drains and dykes and drainage is flawed. We learnt that they have consulted no one about changing the face of existing communities and know nothing of their history. We learnt how little they have bothered with any of it. Why? Is it possible that they assume central government will be so eager to knock a few thousand houses of their national target that they will right rough-shod over regional needs? Are they relying on one MP, Hazel Blears, neither knowing nor caring about this particular region; its infrastructure, geography, history and people? 'Yes, I think they are'. Our democracy has said 'no' time and again, don't let central government think they can say 'yes' - regardless. Sign the petitions, write letters - make some noise.
MK ROWBERRY Haddenham
THE Rev Dr Simon Perry berates we Baby Boomers in his letter and to a large extent I agree with his views. We are indeed a privileged generation enjoying most of the wealth in this country, largely due to striking it lucky on the housing market. And, being the generation that actually bothers to vote at election time, we seem to be quite good at keeping Government policy stacked in our favour, whoever is in power. But, Rev Perry's support of the proposed Mereham Development puzzles me. A more blatant example of the unacceptable face of capitalism would be hard to find. Multiplex makes its billions not from building homes, an incidental expense to them, but by using its vast wealth to gamble with land values. We need more houses and East Cambs is building more and more. It is well on track to meet Government targets. More are required throughout Cambridgeshire and a new town with local employment opportunities may well be a solution. However, where it is sited surely deserves at least a bit of thought and is not something to be left to marauding land speculators.
JACKIE PETTS District councillor (Ely East Ward) Prickwillow
(8th November, 2007)
I HAVE read the recent articles from the Rev Perry and find his venomous, vindictive attack on persons who ask for no privileges or quarter is astonishing. How can you respect such a person who twists the arguments made against him as the failings of those who are weaker or inferior than him. Firstly, your initial comment that middle class, middle aged, middle England has enjoyed all the oil and economic prosperity is wrong. The world produces more oil than ever, has more reserves than ever, however demand from the developing nations is rising rapidly and is far greater than any middle England consumption past or present. Secondly, those who protest at Mereham are not just the group you attack. They are the young and old, the fortunate and the less fortunate all joined by the sham of the Mereham proposal. It is not singularly the indulgence by baby boomers. Thirdly, just because you choose to make your protestations through public appearances, gatherings and other forums, does not give you the moral high ground or exclusivity you appear to self indulge in, or the right to demand the same of others. Fourthly, and most importantly, there are many of us in this community who give time, finance and resources to many good causes. From local conservation, to welfare and care of those in need, to education of deprived children around the world who will become guardians of their own environments. To others, who devote time and effort in devising and shaping corporate and political behaviour that will materially alter the way in which the wider population will address our planet, to those who practice sensible domestic good governance of resources as well as many other important ways. The difference being that we decide to contribute our efforts through channels that do not elevate us to any special status. Where publicity and attention is not courted for gain. Where self-indulgence is not tolerated. Please Rev Perry, gives us some peace, no more of your self opinionating, oppressive attacks on those who exercise their natural born right to be different, yet may well be contributing more to the causes you plead for, than you can see or possibly understand!
A THREADGOLD Haddenham
WHILST I hesitate to add more words to those already contributed in the Mereham debate, it does seem necessary to add a different voice. The feeling within Haddenham and Wilburton, at least, is not as monochrome as many of the contributors to your newspaper suppose. Scratch the surface, and you will soon discover people who are unwilling to speak up in favour of the project, and yet want to offer it some degree of support. This may well be for fear of disturbing the balance of long-held friendships, or a sense of intimidation from the weight of the campaign against the development. Some of this support for Mereham, or a similar new town in the immediate area, comes out of a desire to see homes for children or grandchildren who want to stay in this area, but can't afford the prices of homes here. However, it's not all about 'looking after our own'. Affordable housing in this area is desperately needed for those in lower income professions, which often involve serving and caring for others. I want to be part of a society that encourages and rewards service and care. We may have hesitations about the developers, but we can use the system to ensure that they deliver what has been promised. No one can dispute that Mereham will change the nature of our villages. Our villages are already changing almost beyond recognition. New crops of houses spring up regularly, adding to the demands on the infrastructure, with no additional support given to the area. Might it not be possible that, with the development of the new town, the old villages will be able to slow down their own growth, if that is what is wanted? With imagination and determination, it might even be possible to solve the problem of the daily bottlenecks at Stretham roundabout and the Twentypence Road. Should the inquiry find in favour of Mereham, it is going to be imperative that we work together with the developers to build the best possible communities and infrastructure for the inhabitants of Mereham and at the same time the inhabitants of the surrounding villages. Finally may I plead for hospitality? Too often, people make assumptions about those who hold differing views on this issue. Too often, people make assumptions about those who might eventually live in Mereham. True hospitality is about welcoming the other, listening to them, without prejudging them, and receiving them, for in doing so we may entertain angels. We're certainly going to need some angels by the time this inquiry is over, whatever the outcome.
FIONA BRAMPTON (Rev) Vicar of Holy Trinity, Haddenham and St Peter's, Wilburton
My venomous, self-righteous and rather unsuccessful quest to gain local popularity by expressing disgust at this forest of 'Say No To Mereham' boards, seems to have evoked many letters far more colourful than my own. Whilst I am grateful that the recent letters column has helpfully confirmed my original claim, I regret that those who assume that I am pro-Multiplex had not read more carefully. In reality, it is rather the anti-Mereham campaign as a whole that is fundamentally pro-Multiplex:
At the first part of the inquiry, one of the resounding fears expressed was that local democracy might be overruled by high-handed decisions made by a distant central government. Told this way, the story is of a powerless local underdog, rising up to challenge the evil power of almighty Multiplex. Unfortunately,when set in context, the story looks rather different:
Multiplex's stated aim is the accumulation of profit for the only people it cares about, its own investors. No thought of the people whose lives are adversely affected by its actions. Sure, I believe that Multiplex is dark. But if we read Walt Kelly, listen to Scripture, or watch Spiderman 3 – darkness is not so easily externalised. 'We have met the enemy, and he is us'!
Is Multiplex simply the corporate manifestation of the very motives that drive the campaign against it? Many have appealed to democracy to protect 'our' idyllic environment for 'our' children, to maintain 'our' local beauty. But this is tribalism, not democracy: 'we' – the privileged – enjoy a lifestyle 'we' want to maintain for 'our' sake, with no thought of the people whose lives are adversely affected by our actions. For instance, the implicit demand that Mereham be built
elsewhere is a demand that the objections of other local 'democracies' be ignored. Every "Say No to Mereham" placard is a demand that central government override local 'democracies' like ours.
Globally we must take action not only to conserve 'our' environment, but 'the' environment. So don't complain about "12000 more cars" if you still want to drive yours. Globally, any true democrat will seek power for the powerless, and campaign to oppose the 'free trade' that dis-empowers millions worldwide. If we are unwilling, then let's not hope "common sense
will prevail over financial greed". Globally, if we had "spent hours researching from a desk" we would realise that there are far greater and more pressing dangers to "our village way of life" than Mereham. Our carbon fuelled lives are already causing disaster for hundreds of thousands, a disaster that will eventually engulf our idyllic villages – unless we exert genuine democratic power now.
Any locality that flexes the muscle of democratic concern only when its own beauty comes under immediate threat, is merely a local embodiment of the Multiplex character.
Of course, there may well be a few anti-Mereham folk who are genuinely committed to democratic justice, but if we are to oppose Multiplex honestly and effectively, then every campaigner must follow their lead. Otherwise you may as well take a black marker pen and add a letter 'w' to the 'No' on your placard.
I READ with interest the letter in last week's Standard from the Rev Fiona Brampton. I am very happy to add more words to the Mereham debate as I feel I have an absolute duty to do all I can to protect the people of the area who elected me to the county council. I am proud to represent Haddenham and to be fighting against the dreadful threat that is Mereham. It is very possible that Fiona knows more about the Mereham issue than I do, her church is, after all, next door to the Arkenstall Centre where the public inquiry has been taking place for the last four weeks. I have attended the inquiry for a lot of the time and I learn more of the proposed horrors every time I visit. I just have never seen Fiona in the public gallery at the inquiry or anywhere near the Arkenstall Centre but maybe our paths have just never crossed. If Fiona really believes that Multiplex will supply much needed low cost housing and well-paid jobs, I suggest she should have listened to the speakers at the inquiry. Fiona talks of a fear of disturbing friendships and a sense of intimidation in Haddenham. This threat has filled the villages with a real sense of community. I have made contact with many people of different ages, political opinions, and income groups and really appreciated a feeling of working together. I feel a genuine love for my fellow campaigners that will last for a very long time. Maybe at present there is more love and togetherness in the car park at the Arkenstall Centre at 9.30am every day than anywhere else in Haddenham. Join us Fiona, we would all appreciate your support as a leader of our community. We have the support of our doctors, we would love the support of our religious leaders also. We are all working together as a team, and I know I speak for the rest of the protesters in saying that you would be welcomed with open arms.
BILL HUNT County council member for Haddenham and division district council member for Stretham Ward.
IT is a pity that both local clergy who have commented in your pages miss the real point, and chide the objectors for failure to love their present or prospective neighbours. Even if nobody's village way of life was in jeopardy, this would be a daft place to put 5,000 houses. The Fenland air would be thick with flying pigs before the residents of Mereham all worked locally or used the planned bus services. No, if Mereham goes ahead it will simply stoke up the carbon-fuelled way of life which the Revd Dr Simon Perry deplores. That is why the Mereham site has been rejected by successive strategic planning studies, and it is why communities over such a wide surrounding area have lined up to add their objections at the inquiry. If major new housing is to reduce car use it must either be in real new towns big enough genuinely to provide a full diversity of jobs and services within their own boundaries, or be really close to somewhere like Cambridge where these exist or can be provided. If more people are housed in the middle of the countryside they, like those who already live there, will mostly have no option but to drive in order to meet the demanding schedules of modern life and fulfil their commitments to their employers and their families. It is unfortunate if these compelling arguments against the Mereham proposal are publicly undermined by questioning the motivation of those who are putting them forward. DAVID STAZICKER, Low Bank, Mepal
YET another reverend speaking up for Multiplex! (Rev Brampton's letter, November 8) But then, why should I be surprised? This multi national conglomerate and the Church share the same lust - the acquisition of land for profit. In fact, Multiplex must rate as abject amateurs compared with God's servants down the ages. If the Mereham development goes ahead, a handful of land owners will become megga rich while the rest of us foot the bill. Does that sound familiar Rev Brampton? Wanting a new town just to house your grandchildren is putting the cart before the horse. Employers and employment must come first and this is top of the agenda in East Cambridge shire. The present council could not possibly cope with the work that the building of a completely unanticipated new town would heap upon them. A whole team of planners to say the least will be needed for starters. Who is to pay for this I wonder along with the bus station outside the cathedral and other such exciting innovations? Cambridge needs workers and MoD land at Waterbeach is up for grabs. The village has a railway station and the guided bus could go there. What's wrong with this site? Multiplex won't make any money out of it - that's what. JACKIE PETTS, (District councillor Ely East)
IT is easy when expressing a viewpoint to make the mistake of assuming your reader understands your underlying thoughts. Dr Perry's assertion that a more careful reading of his original letter would reveal his understanding that Multiplex is "dark" and also his belief that "the anti-Mereham campaign as a whole is fundamentally pro-Multiplex" may be an expression of those thoughts which were not revealed in his words. Dr Perry had an opportunity to clarify his viewpoint. But he fails to distinguish properly between fact and opinion. The planning system is a dull but vital mechanism intended not just to protect beautiful countryside, but functional countryside. It is intended to balance such protection against growth and employment; against present and future social needs. To have any chance of doing this there has to be a plan: and there is. This plan is the result of lengthy consultation conducted at local, regional and even national level. Mereham is, quite simply put, not part of that plan. It will not be built "elsewhere". This is not an opinion, it is a fact and there is no implicit demand that any other local democracy should be penalised by the actions of this campaign. How Dr Perry, or anyone else, regards local democracy is a legitimate arena in which to express opinions: to agree or disagree. I do not see local democracy as tribal; I see it as part of a process. I do not believe that individuals who take an active part in this process do so to the exclusion of all other concerns: quite the reverse. M ROWBERRY, By email.