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A Magazine for Sheffield

Planning & Good Company


Once, on a Christmas day walk across an icy field, I came upon a poster pinned to a telegraph pole. It was the notice of a planning application for a controversial development on a green field site. The consultation period was timed to coincide with the bleak mid-winter, when people have more on their minds than scanning the horizon to defend their local environment and heritage. I wouldn't suggest that the good people of the city's planning control use such underhand tricks to evade the public gaze, but I'm certain that some Scrooge-like developers do. They know that people are instinctively suspicious of change, and that most of their work is motivated by profit rather than beautifying the landscape.

Planning processes feel like a slow grind of hype, false promises and overruled objections. While the Sheffield newspapers seem effusively keen to talk the city centre Sevenstone development into action, it was sad to note the recent forced sale of the Abbeydale Picture House into private ownership, unnamed at the time of writing.

As the winter of discontent creeps up on us, Veolia have applied for a 30% expansion of waste incineration at their Bernard Road plant, shipping rubbish in from as far away as Doncaster and the Derbyshire Dales. This one could kick up a stink. The whole project was bitterly opposed from the start by environmental groups. You may even recall Greenpeace protesters scaling the chimneys back in 2001, claiming that the plant's pollution record was the worst in Britain. Veolia's contract with the council lives on like the ghost of Christmas past, apparently doomed to annoy people for quite some time. The currently proposed expansion into viability by waste "importing" was always on the cards.

Like Sterecycle's waste treatment factory on nearby Sheffield Road, these are experimental processes. That particular one killed an employee in a boiler explosion. Then in 2012, the operation went bust, much to the relief of people who live and work between Tinsley and Magna, which has low air quality anyway. The testing ground for these experiments always seem to be the lungs of residents in environmentally degraded working class areas downwind of our famously green city. Meanwhile, some of the city's chattering classes are far more interested in about rescuing Sheffield airport. Wonder if they live under the flight path?

If you feel at all concerned about living in a city with areas of air pollution 50% above safe limits, check out the excellent, award-winning website of the East End Quality of Life Initiative. Co-ordinator Neil Parry's project campaigns for social, economic and environmental change right across Sheffield, and has influence nationally. They note that leafy Broomhill is the single worst hotspot for traffic fumes. Thank goodness no developers are planning new supermarkets round there. Oh, wait a minute...

It's not all bad news. Cycle Sheffield recently pointed out that Sheffield's road improvements being carried out under the Amey PFI scheme allow for minor changes to help pedestrians and cyclists. They offer information about how road and cycling problems should be reported, and urge people to put forward suggestions as the work proceeds. It's always interesting to scan the local press for news of your area, but fighting for the local environment can be an all-consuming commitment. The issues are complex, the hopes and fears are very real. Individually we feel like Tiny Tim against the developers' power, so it is best to join a group. Campaigners need to share the workload. They need the moral and emotional support of others. Let's face it, they must prepare to accept defeat without being mentally defeated. But at times they can also win. Don't despair. There are pressure groups on every issue, with reports, resources and facts to add support. Hard-pressed council planners and councillors cannot commit as much time to researching the facts as a motivated member of the public can. We live here, so we have a right to a say in decisions that affect us.

Good Company

People have always worked industriously together, but at some point the first company was formed. Before then, patriarchal societies were the general rule. Kings, chiefs, loads of peasants, that sort of thing. Guilds passed on their craftwork mysteries to apprentices, merchants grew rich, the banking industry arose, but right up until Shakespeare's time the legal concept of business associations defined as companies was not invented. After that, it was unstoppable. Casting off the old chains of family, feudalism and fate, any group of slightly wealthy people could form a company for mutual gain. For example, here in Sheffield, the Company of Cutlers boasts a 400-year heritage of membership by the well-connected good burghers of industry.

Shareholders grew rich on the profits of colonialisation and industry. Across Europe, shares were pooled for expeditions to seek treasure under the guise of trade. The pioneering Portuguese use the same word for 'explore' and 'exploit'.

One discreet charm of the new entrepreneurs was their ability to exploit legal loopholes, and company law still struggles to keep up with new rip-offs. In the shadows of the dark Satanic mills, it seemed that few companies were really honest and fair, so the principle of co-operation was born, with the aim of manufacturing and distributing products equitably. Bucking the trend of boom-and-bust, co-operatives grew to control a small but prospering share of the global economy.

But companies also have an evil twin in the form of pirates and criminal gangs. Without even pretence of a moral compass, robbers and scammers from the high seas to the internet use the form of a company to profit parasitically from others.

Sheffield's public sector was once a major employer, but now companies are touted as the most efficient form of organisation. Trusts or charities may fill the role, but often they cannot compete with the cruel cost-cutting that commercial competitors are prepared to use, and they may not realise the powerful forces lined up to pressure governments and shape legislation in such worldwide 'industries' as healthcare.

The tendency of companies to swallow others is equally alarming. Systems theorists have discovered that 1,318 companies own 80% of the world's operating revenue, with a "super-entity" of only 147 at the heart of this. Something to think about when you consider who you work for. Are you in good company?

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