Strayside Sunday: Let’s ruffle a few feathers


Last updated Feb 13, 2021
Strayside Sunday

Strayside Sunday is our weekly political opinion column. It is written by Paul Baverstock, former Director of Communications for the Conservative Party. 

Not since the hay day of Dawn French’s The Vicar of Dibley have Parish Councils had so much exposure. In the aftermath of Jackie Weaver’s break-out Zoom performance at Handforth Parish Council, local Mayor Barry Burkhill now faces a vote of no confidence because, it is alleged, he did nothing to halt the bullying and laddish behaviour that was very much in evidence.

Here at home, Killinghall Parish Council is at odds with the people it represents.  It seems that a local gang of ruffians have been behaving badly; hanging around street corners, stealing food, squealing and squawking at night, leaving their mess in the streets, giving people the bird.  The Parish Council has labelled the gang “feral” and pleaded with local residents not to encourage them.

I’m all for law and order; tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime and all that; but I give my full-throated support to the vocal locals and take up their Facebook cry, “save the Killinghall 8.”  Yes, a loud, proud, feather-fanning peacock and his harem of peahens are strutting around the village as if they own the place.

Parish councillors have used their Facebook page to plead with local people to give the birds a wide berth and not encourage them by leaving food.  Killinghall residents have used their own Facebook page to hit back in support of what they call these “awesome birds” that are “part of our village identity.”  Local competition is at play here too; just down the road, Bilton’s famed Peter the Peacock has his own Facebook page and can boast over 500 followers.

It turns out, by the way, that peacocks are not indigenous.  It is thought the magnificent birds were brought here from India by the Romans.  What did they ever do for us?  Cement, roads, canals, viaducts, personal hygiene and peacocks; who knew?  According to the RSPB, peacocks and peahens in the wild (as opposed to in Killinghall or in Bilton) survive largely on a diet of grass.  They can live off the land, quite happily, without human intervention.  Perhaps therein lies the solution to this unseemly stand-off.  Killinghall Parish Council should resist its jobsworth impulses to be seen to be doing something important and local residents should be left free to appreciate these great birds; but not to treat them as domesticated pets.

My dodgy ticker means that I’m classed as clinically vulnerable and therefore advised to stay indoors and Covid-safe.  And, as lockdown drags on I look longingly through my sitting room window at my parked car on the street opposite.  I’m not a Clarkson supporting “petrol head” but I do like to drive my car.  It’s quick, handles like a dream and, given it is an electric hybrid, produces both limited emissions and is just enough of a virtue signal for me to get an environmentally friendly pass from my Generation Z daughters.

Regular readers of this column will know the loathing I feel for the use of hyperbolic language to inflame the often mundane but nonetheless important situation to the point where heat obscures light.  The “war on motorists” is one such turn of phrase.  Really?  Ok, cars are not as interesting to look at as they used to be.  They don’t growl and belch smoke as much as in the old days.  They use much less carbon fuel and produce far fewer emissions.  They are safer, both for their passengers and for the occasional pedestrian they collide with.  All this must be progress, I suppose.

However, passions flare when the interests of cyclists or the walker are introduced into the discussion.  Much kerfuffle has resulted this week from North Yorkshire County Council’s use of a LTN (Low Traffic Neighbourhood) experimental order for Harrogate’s Beech Grove and Lancaster Road.  The order bans non-residential traffic and allows for the installation of barriers such as bollards and planters.  This is part of the county council’s plan to help address climate change and increase active travel to get our increasingly obese and (consequently) chronically unwell population off their spreading behinds.  Rather than getting bogged down in protracted public consultation, NYCC has shown the courage of its convictions and, for once, acted in the unambiguous common good.

Through gritted teeth and in the interests of balance I find I have to endorse, for this one time only, the words of Harrogate Borough Council leader Richard Cooper, the fact of the matter is that we cannot pretend that traffic congestion, poor air quality, a diminishing environment and climate change can be solved without radical changes to our transport infrastructure and our personal travel habits.”  He is spot on.

I’ve used this column previously to agitate for a new and imaginative plan to reinvigorate what is now, in the age of Covid-19, a ghastly, ghostly Harrogate town centre.  When we emerge from lockdown (please let it be ‘when’) the county and borough councils need to act with the initiative shown by NYCC and its use of experimental orders.  We need to scrap moribund planning rules, encourage mixed use, bring in small and artisan business with grants and attractive rates, open enterprise zone workplaces for creative and technology business, create affordable residential space and yes, use imaginative shared-space traffic schemes that balance the access, safety and speed needs of car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians and that balance economic with environmental interests.  If we succeed we could be as proud as a Killinghall peacock.

That’s my Strayside Sunday.

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