Sensible Economics

Glastonbury Oracle, August 2018

I am going to begin this article by blowing my own trumpet. I am a director of the Old Clinic Ltd. Our building used to be the town’s clinic, during the war and up until the 1970s. Now it provides offices and workshop spaces at reasonable prices for small, community-scale businesses.

It is financed through the Triodos ethical bank. We have solar panels on the roof and the rest of our energy needs are supplied by Ecotricity. We use organic paint for decorating and non-toxic cleaning products. And we make a profit, worthwhile though not excessive.

This is all very nice, but what has it got to do with campaigning against a bypass? Well, our MP’s real reason for promoting a new road is as a way of servicing the ‘Mendip Secondary Growth Zone’. This district has been identified (he hasn’t mentioned who by) as being ‘ripe for development’; but, compared to our real aspirations, such development is just not appropriate. Nor is the road.

A few years back a senior Somerset County Council economist said (off the record) that Glastonbury is the most economically promising town in Somerset. This is because ‘alternative’ businesses had first of all rescued the High Street from shuttered-up emptiness back in the 1980s, and then built on that by establishing events like the Goddess Conference, the Glastonbury Symposium, Megalithomania and (until recently) the Glastonbury Children’s Festival. These have drawn a lot of people into the town.

All that has been done with virtually no help from public money or public bodies, and it strikes me that all we really need is to be left alone to get on with it – then we can produce our own version of ‘economic development’. The success of the Red Brick Building and progress made both economically and environmentally by Avalon Community Energy are examples from recent years.

The idea of a ‘Secondary Growth Zone’, which is predicated on the building of Hinkley Point and sounds like a tumour, comes from the Devon & Somerset Local Enterprise Partnership’s growth plan. LEPs are partnerships between business leaders and local authorities – with business being the senior partner. They were set up by the Conservative government in 2010 as part of ‘a five year plan to rebuild the economy’. This approach continues, as a handy way of maximising corporate profitability.

As a result of two linked government policies – the ‘secondary growth zone’ and the ‘major road network’, Glastonbury is under threat. What is really important about our town and its landscape is of no value to regional economic planners. To local home-grown business, however, Glastonbury Tor and its setting is of immense economic value – just as it is also of historic, environmental, emotional and spiritual value to our community generally.

So opposition to a bypass is also opposition to the whole way of life that values ‘economic growth’ above conservation and a human-scale existence. Glastonbury may be different in its attitude to this than other towns in the district, but that does not make us unimportant. Ours is the voice of the future, and we are very good at finding creative solutions to seemingly impossible problems. Let’s be proud of what we have achieved here over the years, and start to blow our collective trumpet more loudly.