‘There’s a problem with democracy’

THIRTEEN February’s ago notice was given to Banbridge District Council that the Department of the Environment intended to prepare a new Development Plan to cover the Banbridge District Council area and the Newry and Mourne District Council area for the period up to 2015.

That notice should have been given more than 15 February’s ago as the last Development Plan for Banbridge district had expired in 1998.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that after a couple more February’s any proposed plan for the period up to 2015 will expire. It would be useful to find a genius all the same because someone should try to work out why a 15 year plan begun 13 years ago has still not been finished.

A draft plan was published in 2006 but it has never been finalised. Chances are it never will be and that in Banbridge we will have been without a formal Development Plan for 17 years.

Little excites people’s senses less than a local Area Development Plan. The fact is, however, that such a plan is needed to provide a legal framework for housing development, commercial development, health provision, education provision and transport provision.

Without a Development Plan developers can have no confidence about investing in an area. Guess work really isn’t enough for any credible developer to go on.

Whether Banbridge would have been better off had a fully fledged development plan been finalised will never be known but what can be known is that the Department of the Environment had neither the will nor the capability to deliver the very plan which that Department itself requires.

What else has not been finished over the last 15 years? Let me think. Oh yes, local government reform and the review of public administration. Also any replacement for the abolished 11 plus tests or any new education structure which would reconcile political ideology with the genuine concerns of parents and pupils.

There are other examples of failed projects as diverse as a properly operational Charity Commission for Northern Ireland or the maintenance of a Parades Commission which actually knows what a parade is. On the plus side of course local Councils now have the power to step in and solve neighbour disputes involving high hedges.

In the context of all this who in any dark night of the soul could think that now is the time to hold a Border Poll. Let’s imagine that a majority north and south voted for a united Ireland. How long would it take to implement that?

It took millions of years for geology to create this island. I reckon geology would look positively rapid if it was set up in a drag race against administrative change. By the time someone was asked officially to open the new Ireland most of the people who voted for it would most likely have died after long lives.

Forget about the history or the ideology for the time being and look at the reality. If we can’t do the simple things how could we expect to unify so many different financial and administrative systems. Ironically cultural areas would probably be the most straightforward.

Politics wouldn’t change much either. Law, the legal process, health, education, welfare and finance might be a bit trickier. Our democrats in Stormont think it might be worth calling a bluff or two. They think it might be good to encourage a poll to settle the question democratically.

There’s a problem with democracy. It’s like water. Essential for life but if you’re not careful you’ll drown in it.