Why Tourism?

Why Tourism?

Who says so? What are the consequences of pursuing such a policy?

Since this country became a predominately service based economy in the early 1980s it has been official Governmental policy, inter alia, to promote Tourism as an alternative basis upon which to build and support the national economy. [see e.g. Office of the Deputy Prime Minister [2005] Planning Policy Statement 1 & 2 et al] This is not the place to debate the political wisdom of such a policy although it would be negligent not to note that service industries do not create new money but merely re-circulate existing money. To that extent, pressing the case to promote tourism in the Churnet Valley, is merely to promote the interests of one part of the country and/or economy over those of other parts of it. At a time of world recession and collapsing consumer confidence to try and build a local economy based on such a policy is problematic, and it is submitted, likely to fail. The Employment Land Study [2006] and the Employment Land Study Review [2008] reveal some instructive data on the attempts to build or sustain the economy of the area on the back of a policy of tourism.

 The highest percentage of employment in the area is in administration, education, and health [24.7%].  Hotels, restaurants and distribution account for 22.8%. None of these sectors create wealth but merely recycle it.  The manufacturing sector accounts for 19.1% of the total employment in the area.

Put simply ‘new’ wealth in the area is generated by 19.1% of the employed whilst the others spend it. The current market indicators both nationally and locally predict a long and difficult climb out of recession or near recession stretching until at least into the next Parliament. Ordinary people are cutting back in their personal spending and unemployment is once again reaching near record levels. Against that background to attempt to rebuild a local economy based on tourism is inviting disaster, a waste of scarce and valuable public resources, and condemning residents to a long term reduction in the standard of living. On the other hand, as maps forming part of the Core Strategy and the Churnet Valley Masterplan demonstrate, there is an abundance of undeveloped brownfield sites in Leek, Cheadle and Biddulph which with the right incentives could be used to encourage manufacturing start-up business. SMDC could use its newly acquired powers to mitigate or remove the burden of business rates to act as an incentive to those wishing to create wealth and employment in the area. This approach would have the merit of fitting in with central government’s desire to make use of brownfield sites, whilst protecting Greenfield sites.

National Planning Guidance Planning Policy Statement No.1 advocates ‘protecting and enhancing the natural and historic environment, protecting the quality and character of the countryside and existing communities’. [Officer of the Deputy Prime Minister [2005] Policy Statement No.1 Delivering sustainable Development paragraph 5] Planning Policy Guidance No.2 states that ‘The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land PERMANENTLY open, the most important attribute of Green Belts is their openness’. There is a general presumption against inappropriate development in greenbelt. Development should not be approved except in VERY SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES. Inappropriate development is, by definition harmful to Green Belt. The circumstances when an applicant could show ‘very special circumstances’ are proscribed and generally ‘will not exist’ [see ibid green belts paragraph 3]. There is some evidence [anecdotal] that self-employment is increasing in the area which is another reason to encourage ‘sustainable manufacturing business start-ups’, [see Staffordshire Observatory 2011].

Nonetheless what has to be faced is that the SMDC is under central government pressure to promote tourism whatever the residents of the Churnet Valley may feel. It must not be overlooked that we live in a democracy and an essential part of the democratic process, to which the current Government has given impetus in the LOCALISM ACT, is the protection afforded by Local Councillors having the right to put the interests of their local electorate before the dictates of central government where the interests of the two arms of government diverge. N.B. Local Councillors should always keep to the forefront of their mind that any applicant aggrieved by a planning decision always has a right to appeal. The Public have no such right to appeal against a planning decision that they object to. That makes the need for full and meaningful consultation vitally important. It is perhaps for that reason the Localism Act seeks to give greater power to local people in matters of planning. If the Act removes the powers of non-elected officers to grant planning permission under delegated powers that would also bolster support for the publics’ voice to be truly heard. Neither should it be forgotten that the policy that is producing the Core Strategy Document and the Churnet Valley Master Plan is simply that, i.e. policy and not law. That being so the slavish following of it without full and properly conducted evidence based research renders it open to challenge in the courts. As always in such matters it is usually better to adhere to careful, accurate and thorough processes in the preparation of such documents as the Core Strategy Document and the Churnet Valley Master Plan rather than have the High Court overrule them later.

Helping to Protect the Churnet Valley