Isle of Man Examiner letters, July 7, 2015

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Opposition to prom plan

By June 26, 215 people had registered comments in response to the Department of Infrastructure’s planning application for Douglas promenade. What appears to be an unprecedented response to a planning application saw 210 object to the plan to move the horse trams to the most important piece of open space in Douglas – the promenade walkway.

The objection letters raised a wide range of points which the independent planning inspector will need to take account of, including the Douglas Local Plan Order 1998 which stated: ‘The town of Douglas does suffer from a lack of accessible, usable, public, protected open space, primarily in the central area but also in relation to certain of its residential areas.’

The inspector will also consider the All Island Strategic Plan 2007 which states: ‘Open space forms part of our heritage as well as being an attractive and usable asset, and, in the wider context, provides visual and spiritual relief from the developed urban settlements on the island.’

The department downplayed the safety aspects of the scheme, comparing the transfer of the horse trams to our invaluable public space, in some parts only 3.5 metres wide, used by cyclists, dog walkers, skaters, children learning to ride bikes, runners, the infirm and parents pushing prams, with the modern trams operating on roads in city centres with high safety standards and far fewer user types.

The weight of evidence against increasing risk to promenaders and reducing the amenity value in this conservation area will be piled high in front of the independent planning inspector who may well elect to convene a public inquiry before recommending its rejection to the Council of Ministers,

The day before comments on the planning application closed, His Honour Deemster Corlett delivered his judgement in the case of Callow’s Yard v Department of Infrastructure. He quashed the acting Minister’s decision to reject an independent planning inspector’s recommendation.

In the event that the Council of Ministers does not accept an independent inspector’s recommendation to reject the planning application, no doubt the campaigners against the scheme will take account of Deemster Corlett’s words in the Callow’s Yard judgment: ‘The Court is entitled to intervene in circumstances where a decision maker has taken into account matters which it ought not to take into account or neglected to take into account matters which it ought to take into account.’

The department’s decision to ignore the results of public consultation in 2010 and 2012 and plan the movement of the horse trams to the walkway was the cause of a campaign to Keep Cars and Horse Trams off the Walkway – the Facebook page now has more than 2,500 likes. Many of the objectors, were however, from outside this group, ranging from Mec Vannin to business people and retired civil servants.

Your columnist Terry Cringle has the skill to make comment using fewer words than your letter writers, so I quote just two words of his commentary on the plan: folly and futility.

Such precision contrasts to the response to one objector who requested sight of the department’s risk assessment. The department replied: ‘The design risk assessments undertaken to date are a live document and may prove difficult to contextualise in isolation. As such, the department is not in a position to release these.’

The risks, policy contravention and detriment to the varied and increasing number of walkway users will surely cause the rejection of this planning application. If not, commonsense, the financial cost and the weight of public opinion must ensure Tynwald’s rejection.

Murray Lambden, Brunswick Road, Douglas

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Update laws on our data

Steve Burrows, in his letter ‘Definitely do not trust the govt’ (Examiner, June 23) hits the nail right on the head as to why we should all be very concerned about the Digital Strategy.

Mr Burrows clearly knows what government employees are like when he states: ‘it is the government employees who actively use our data who are most likely either to be careless with it or to deliberately circumvent data protection compliance controls in order to make their work easier.’

The Isle of Man is famous for it’s ‘skeet culture’ where ‘everybody knows everybody’. But the problem is that people who work for government are part of this culture, too. So when John Shimmin told Tynwald in June that ‘if we are to share information the public need to have the safety and the security that their data will be protected’, how can he possibly guarantee that? Also, how will people ever know that the friendly neighbour who works for a government department is not illicitly accessing their personal records for his or her own amusement? Or even just gossiping about our personal records across the desk at work?

We will never know what is happening to our personal data once government has taken it as part of their ‘Single Legal Entity’ strategy. The simple reality is that if our personal information is shared within government it will start to leak into the community.

Mrs Beecroft was spot on when she told the June Tynwald that ‘Whoever controls the IT system will have control of that information’. It is a simple reality that technicians looking after the information will know how to unlock the controls that we will be told are there to keep the information locked away from prying eyes.

It is very obvious that government is not taking the privacy of our information seriously (other than planning more apologies!) because they won’t discuss the two measures that might actually make our personal data more secure. The first of these would be to bring our Data Protection Act into line with the UK by giving the Data Protection Supervisor the power to audit government databases to ensure they are both secure and not misused. The second measure would be to make it a criminal offence to misuse personal data. The threat of a fine, or even a short custodial sentence, would give the public some confidence that if they are damaged by disclosures of personal data something is actually done about it.

Until government starts acting – as opposed to talking – tough on the security of our personal data we should never trust them with the Digital Strategy.

Alan Croll, Douglas

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Need to look after nature

In last week’s Green Column (Tuesday, June 30) Falk Horning discussed Professor Roberts ‘s thoughts that succeeding generations accept as ‘normal’ a level of abundance of marine life drastically reduced compared to that experienced by the preceding generation and illustrated the thesis with examples of fish stocks that have simply disappeared in recent times.

This phenomenon is not just seen in the marine ecosystems, though. It is sobering to realise that when I first came to the Isle of Man in 1987 one used to have to wash the car windscreen regularly in summer to clean off all the squashed bugs and insects, a novel experience for someone more used to driving in the West Midlands. I can’t remember the last time I had to do that, which is symptomatic of the overall decline in insect numbers. For example, the new State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2013 report shows clearly that moths are in decline. The total number of larger moths recorded in the national network of trap samples decreased by 28 per cent over the 40 years from 1968 to 2007. Two-thirds of British moths(227 species) show decreasing population trends over the 40 year study and over one-third (37 per cent) of the species decreased by more than 50 per cent. 

Moths, and other insects, comprise a substantial part of Britain’s biodiversity and play important roles in food chains and as pollinators. Their decline will have knock-on effects on the birds, bats and mammals, which depend on them for food, and shows widespread degradation of our environment caused by habitat loss (e.g. to intensive agriculture, changing woodland management and urbanisation).

Again, as bat recorder for the island, many older people I speak to say that years ago there were many more bats to be seen and there are records from the 1940s, for example, of colonies in the thousands, an inconceivable number nowadays. As a bird-watcher, I’ve also seen, for example, yellowhammers, reed buntings and lapwings, common birds of my childhood and which all used to nest close to my current home, disappear from my part of the island.

The Isle of Man government is, apparently, working on a Biodiversity Strategy for the island, in response to the recently signed Convention on Biological Diversity. But that convention was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, so we’re already some 20 years behind the leaders, ample time for a new generation to accept an impoverished fauna and flora as ‘normal’. The Isle of Man is still a wonderful place but it is not as wonderful as once it was and unless Government accepts that action (ie, expenditure) is needed, even in these straitened times, it will become less wonderful as time goes by. And maybe, even, less attractive to high net worth individuals.

Nick Pinder, Jurby East.

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