Reaction by some is disappointing

Dear Editor

Many thanks to your reporter, Catriona, for reaching out to me recently to discuss my views on the issues in Afghanistan. What we are witnessing is a defining moment in our current history, one that will shape our foreign policy for years to come. 

Over recent days the debate on the situation has, quite rightly, remained high on the agenda. Our priority, of course, should be how we can secure the safe return of British citizens as well as those Afghans whose lives are now in danger in the hands of a Taliban that will want revenge and we must also understand what we can do to support those displaced from their homes. 

I am a little disappointed to have seen negativity from some of the residents of Basingstoke over this situation. I personally don’t agree with them. 

Afghanistan is now in the grips of a humanitarian crisis that this country has a moral duty to help resolve. The “we should help our own” brigade seems only to forget that opportunities to “help our own” have happened and caused many complaints at the time. 

I would also stress that we can, and must, do both and I applaud the many MPs, local councils, and councillors across the country have had the moral courage to stand up and be counted in this debate. 

I am pleased to see that the Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has been one of many to reach out to offer assistance to the many Afghans, who have risked their lives alongside NATO Forces and would like to thank Cllr Tristan Robinson for reaching out to me privately to let me know prior to the announcement in the Gazette what support we will be offering. 

I look forward to being able to see the detail of what that looks like in real terms as and when we are called upon as we have a moral obligation to help. Whilst it is pleasing to see our council step up to the plate, I have to express some dismay from the lack of input from our Armed Forces Champion at the council, which to be honest, has been lacklustre for many years. 

Many residents of the borough will have seen action in Afghanistan during our 20-year deployment to the region and it would be good to have seen some direction on where to find help and support in this difficult time. Many of us, quite rightly, have not known where to turn for support and have relied on each other to direct where the help is needed. 

With our borough so close to an RAF base that will be operating as part of the current support task what support or signposting is the council able to offer? 

Equally displeasing is how our MP, Maria Miller, has preferred to toe the party line in support of a foreign secretary who has been incapable of doing his job. And where have the other local MPs been in this debate? 

Whilst I will agree that a phone call from the foreign secretary at the time would not have prevented this from happening it could have ensured the safety and lives of many hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are now at risk and would have no doubt provided a bit of morale to those involved with a very difficult and distressing task that was approaching at the time. 

The endless list of excuses suggesting he was prioritising other things is laughable and it seems that, despite sitting in the House of Commons all day during the debate on the situation, Maria hasn’t learned a thing.

Some Conservative MPs agree Dominic Raab needs to go. What does she expect to gain out of this? Others in similar positions have fallen a little more graciously on their swords, such as Conservative Peer, Lord Carrington, who resigned after not foreseeing the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands, it’s time some Conservatives took lead from their predecessors.

Without a doubt, this issue has been extremely distressing for many people. We should never be put in a similar situation again. 

Once the immediate issues are resolved there are important questions to be asked of how the government allowed it to happen and more importantly what we need to do to prevent it from happening again. 

Over 150 thousand troops and many more contractors, aid workers, and diplomats all deserve answers and that is why I believe there should be a public inquiry into the fall of Afghanistan.

Alex Lee, Basingstoke

Council shirking its responsibility

Dear Editor,

There cannot be one person who hasn’t been touched by the global pandemic, businesses large and small, employees and charities to name – but a few have all had to deal with the adversity that continues to challenge the status quo.

There is no doubt in my mind that BDBC are also having to twist, turn and react as the government guidelines changed, and suffered as all businesses with staff availability, sickness, quarantine and at it’s very worst hospitalisation.

As residents, we all tolerated the ever-changing landscape of available services, including fortnightly waste collection and the aromas that went hand-in-hand with a glorious summer and turned a blind eye to our towns green spaces and roadside verges enjoying not being seasonally managed.

As a keen gardener, I appreciate the flora and fauna in my garden which invites bees and butterflies in abundance.

Planting wildflower seeds has been a stunning revelation, but my garden is managed – I choose to garden this way, mixing wild with the organised.

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council seems to have halted all green space management with a policy message that is blurred and inconsistent. We used to celebrate Blooming Basingstoke. Now it is unkempt, scruffy, and unloved. 

We have green and open spaces a stone’s throw from us in Beggarwood – wild and unmanaged, yet glorious, completely incomparable to what is happening in and around our homes and estates. Green spaces which used to be areas to allow children to play on grass, walking our dogs, sit and enjoy the space are now home to knee-length weeds, thistles, and dandelions. If they were poppies, bellflower, or cornflowers it would be a different discussion.

Hedges are imposing onto our paths and walkways, while trees and shrubs block out street-lights, causing poor visibility. People with children, buggies, wheelchairs and dogs cannot navigate, while those requiring a walking stick or impaired vision or mobility are particularly inconvenienced.

Yes, allow wildflowers to grow, plant the seeds and let them flourish, but manage this and plant in appropriate areas. Allowing weeds to run riot, trees and shrubs to become hazards is not management. It is shirking of your responsibility.

Any gardener will testify that without management it is an uphill battle that takes seasons to recover from. Our council tax has not changed, I assume BDBC still retain the equipment machinery and staff who used to operate, keeping our borough green and beautiful, and if so, why are they not being utilised.

Daren Bavister, Beggarwood

Please leave the streetlights on

Dear Editor,

I am somewhat mystified.

During spring and summer this year, I noticed that the streetlights in Kempshott stayed on all night and yet now, as we head in to autumn/winter they have reverted to being switched off between the hours of 1am and 4am.

I would have thought it would be far more important to have the street lights on now as the daylight shortens and nights get longer or have I missing something?

Nigel Johnson, Kempshott

Councillors need to ask the council

Dear Editor,

Councillor Godesen in last week’s Gazette, asks the question why the Manydown site is still not developed (‘Cllr wants explanation over Manydown delay’, page 2, August 19). 

Can I suggest he and all of our other councillors who have the same concerns that they direct their enquiries to our council officers? Before they do that, can I also point out that although I have observed people saying the council has bought the land, they did not. What they bought was a lease on the land. There is a world of difference as any conveyancing solicitor will tell them, and thereby may lay the problem. The land is still owned (the freehold) by a Manydown Trust that holds it for the Trust beneficiaries. 

I think if our councillors ask the right people, what the terms of the lease are, they may come close to the reason why the land has not been developed until now. Is it the case that the terms are so onerous that no builder will buy it, and so risk his shareholders money on building homes that no one will buy? 

My guess is that builders are all too aware that their prospective customers are fighting shy of buying a home which sits on land that they will in effect be renting from the freeholder, and that unless they can buy the freehold (should it ever be available to purchase) at an affordable price, they will never actually own the land.  

The lease terms are obviously crucial when the decision to buy it, or not, are made. I find it difficult to believe that our council (as they did) has spent our money defending a petition by the Trust in the High Court, to force them to bring the land into an early programme for development. 

As we all know they lost this petition, and are legally obliged to give planning permission and offer the lease for sale. Or alternatively develop it themselves.

Of course I could be barking up the wrong tree. 

I admit I am just a know-nothing. However, I challenge our councillors to dig a little deeper. As far as I’m concerned the information should be in the public domain anyway, as it was the publics’ money that paid for the lease. Then perhaps, if they find the true reason for the delay, they will pass the information on to we, the people they represent. 

I wait in anticipation.

J G Blunden

Judicial review on Manydown

Dear Editor,

Reading the letters concerning Manydown last week (‘Manydown scanda’l, page 16, August 19)I recalled that in April 2012, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council suffered what might best be described as an ignominious loss of a Judicial Review concerning their failure to develop the land at Manydown; land that had been sold to the Hampshire and Basingstoke Councils specifically for the purpose of housing development. 

It was a loss that anybody with a modicum of legal knowledge could have predicted but this possibility appeared to have eluded the councillors involved in this foot dragging exercise and their legal advisers. What was even more shameful about this was that there was not a single resignation from those who had displayed such incompetence, if not deceit, and so far, as I am aware not a single head rolled.

Put simply the Judge found the actions of the council to be unlawful and I would have thought that was a pretty serious charge which would have made councillors sit up and take notice. There are two relevant sections of the judgement:

(1) Given the statutory power under which the site was acquired and continues to be held, the notion that the site is not available for development lacked any evidential or logical basis: para 135; and

(2) There was a patent inconsistency between the Council’s ownership of the land for the purpose of promoting the development and its persistence in seeking to prevent the site’s allocation in the Core Strategy: para 137.

Bearing in mind that nine years on, it is my understanding that not a single house has been built at Manydown. The council appears to be persisting “in seeking to prevent the site’s allocation in the core strategy”. As the council’s actions were judged to be unlawful in 2012 there is no reason to believe they would be any less unlawful in 2021 with the added possibility that the Council could be found in contempt of court for failing to abide by the Judge’s ruling.

It seems to be the council is laying itself open for a further judicial review or, more seriously, potential contempt of court proceedings and I would be happy to contribute to any crowd funding necessary to support legal action if the Council does not come to its senses and get on and do what it should have done in the first place. 

I would also suggest that if such legal action is necessary the councillors who are determined to persist in delaying the development of Manydown are required to meet all legal costs out of their own pockets rather than landing taxpayers with the bill for their intransigence. At the end of the judgement the judge does give the council what might be seen as a let out clause. But you then have to ask, using the words of the judgement, is it reasonable to buy land for development and then seek to avoid using it for that purpose?

Mike Sant, Old Basing