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Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Terrible reporting in the Gazette

If you were not at the public meeting of the Parish Council last week, you will have a completely false impression, thanks to the front page headline in the Mid Somerset Gazette: Police voice ghetto fear.

This is not just an example of a young reporter imagining that it will improve a local paper if one injects the cynicism of the nationals; it seriously undermines the chances of success of the Houndwood project, an example of sustained public consultation, careful planning and environmentally sensitive decisions that is seldom found anywhere.

People study the plans The layout, here being studied keenly by members of the public, has been designed to provide residents with streets where cars and vans cede the primacy to pedestrians, where the stream (at present banished underground) becomes a feature, where tree planting and public art make the place somewhere that Street people living outside the new development will want to come and stroll.

One or two members of the public at the meeting were worried because the provision for car parking was less than the four cars per household that they themselves had. Four cars per household? Is that to be encouraged as we try to stem global warming? Should we not rather be worried that this scheme will provide more than the 1.5 places per household recommended by the government?

Just to return to the shameful Gazette report for a moment: a careful reading of the whole text does reveal some of the positive statements: "This development is unique - a first not just for Street but for the whole of the country." "This is by far and away the best scheme that I have ever worked on." But other positives were undercut by methods revealed and satirised in Yes Minister, a little word added here, a final sentence expressing doubt. Examples: "At Tuesday's meeting there was also praise for the plans from councillors and some residents for their environmentally friendly design." Remove the words that I have italicised and read the sentence again. See what I mean? And the final sentence should have been: "The council voted unanimously to recommend the application for approval by Mendip." Our reporter chose instead to back-track to an earlier stage in the meeting and follow that endorsement with this: "However, other residents criticised the proposals for a lack of car parking spaces and the effects that the influx of new people might have on local amenities."

Leaving aside the fact that Street is, willy nilly, to have 1500 new homes in the next 20 years by government decree, and that therefore the population increase is not to be blamed on this development, there was no mention in the Gazette report of provision already planned in the schools for "the influx of new people".

A final thought: the headline uses the emotive word 'ghetto' with its suggestion of Jews herded into a confined space by the Nazis in Warsaw; the text of the report gives no indication that the policeman in question used the word or suggested the thought.

Come on, Gazette! Climb back from this low to your former high standard of reporting!

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