Ref needed for leaders’ tree tryst


IF YOU go down to the woods today, you’d better go with a Lib Dem.
This week’s meeting of the full Plymouth City Council raised the unlikely spectre of council leader Vivien Pengelly and opposition leader Tudor Evans strolling hand in hand among the bluebells, and they surely need a chaperone. Or a ref.
The Government is proposing to sell off Forestry Commission land. Some may go to commercial operators, but local communities and charities will get first refusal.
I’m not sure what to think about the idea, which is raising hackles, especially among the walking class. Tudor Evans knows what to think: he’s backing a petition to keep Cann Woods in Forestry Commission hands. Cann Woods is east of Plymbridge Woods, north of the staunchly Conservative Plympton – and outside Plymouth’s boundary.
Mrs Pengelly politely declined to sign the petition, but invited Mr Evans to go for a walk in the woods. Thanks to a mishearing, she invited him for a walk in Ham Woods, in his own ward, which may give both of them a welcome get-out clause.
I do wonder whether that naughty Mr Cann (whoever he was) has got everyone confused. You see, there’s another Cann Woods, and that’s the much smaller council-run one jammed between Whitleigh and Southway, close to Ham.
Selling off our woodlands sounds like A Bad Thing – and it very well may be. But at present the Forestry Commission owns only 17 per cent of the country’s forests.
I suppose that if there were some watertight protective clauses allowing the same unfettered access we already enjoy then there shouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, not every landowner respects established rights of way, and there have been a few prominent cases where local communities have had to fight for years to get footpaths reinstated.
The Government is pinning its hopes on “communities” buying forests. In practice that must mean councils – and we all know how much money they have to spare.
MOST meetings of the full council include one or two “motions on notice” by the opposition. This week Labour’s proposals sprang up like trees in a forest. Motions on notice are almost always used as a political stick to beat the ruling group – and they’re almost always doomed to fail. But there are times when they’re necessary.
Cllr Nicky Wildy (Lab, Devonport) spoke eloquently and at some length against the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which encourages young people over 16 to stay in school or college.
She urged the council to step into the breach left by the Government and give cash to around 3,000 Plymouth teenagers whose EMA – ranging from £10 to £30 a week – is being withdrawn. She also wants the Tory-led council to make representations to the Government.
If you were in opposition it would be an obvious target, so the coalition was foolish not to plug holes in the argument before scrapping the cash.
According to surveys, around 90 per cent of young people who get EMA say that losing it would make them think again about staying on in education. They would say that, wouldn’t they?
The main case for EMA is that it allows young people to pay for the transport they need to get to school or college. But what about those who live next door to the school? How much cider does £30 a week buy? An allowance that is better targeted would make much more sense.
For the record: the council voted against Ms Wildy’s motion.
A PAYMENT I am happy to see the back of is the Child Trust Fund. If your child was born after September 1, 2002, they have been entitled to £500 regardless of need.
If you are on £15,000 a year and your kiddie was born on August 31, 2002, some of your taxes go into the trust fund of the Little Herbert owned by a family on £50,000 a year and born a day later.
COUNCIL meetings always begin with prayers by the Lord Mayor’s chaplain, who this year is the jolly Vicar of St Jude’s Church, in Beaumont Road. The chaplain usually prays for this or that good cause; for the soul of some departed big-wig; or the relief from someone’s suffering.
This week I was startled to hear the Rev Tim Smith pray for a new connection to London (in the wake of Air Southwest scrapping its Gatwick service).
We needed a miracle, and perhaps this is it. There is a precedent for divine intervention in transport: it was always said of Indian Railways that it must have been made by God, who created “every thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:25).
Jumbo jets that can land and take off in under 3,800 feet would be especially welcome.
A version of this column was published in The Herald in February 2011

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