Howard Croft column: Latest example of council idiocy lands on my desk

Residents of Sudbury, Suffolk, have been asked to complete a survey regarding the moving of the bus station.
Residents of Sudbury, Suffolk, have been asked to complete a survey regarding the moving of the bus station.

When I retired and settled in North Yorkshire I imagined that I would be a frequent visitor to York, a city I got to know during my childhood and, later, when I lived there briefly. It has not turned out that way. I seldom go there – once or twice a year, perhaps – but a week ago I made an unscheduled trip there to buy a pair of gloves from the National Trust shop in Goodramgate.

The car park I usually make for is the one by Clifford’s Tower. It is expensive (£2.40 per hour), but Mrs Croft likes to park as near to the tills as possible and several interim trips back to the car are usually required to drop cargo. What I do object to is the fact that the aisles are too narrow and the bays too small for modern cars. The layout is ideal for my Morris Minor and was probably designed about the same time as my car – in the Sixties. Certainly, it is how I remember it from the early seventies when I lived in York.

I have no time for the so-called Park and Ride facilities and have never used one. This is in part because of the demands of loading next year’s charity shop donations, but mainly because I don’t like the name – much as I dislike “pick-n-mix”, “mix-and-match”, “wash-and-go” , slogans produced by the foolish teenagers employed in the advertising industry. I refuse to encourage them by using their products.

As you may have noticed, I am a stern critic of local government bodies and an enthusiastic collector of examples of their idiocy. The latest to land on my desk comes from Sudbury in Suffolk. They have it in mind to relocate the bus station, which is currently situated close to the railway station. They seem not to have wondered why bus stations, railway stations and taxi ranks are commonly clustered together, Malton being a good example.

Anyway, that is not how the officials in Sudbury want things to be arranged. Being deeply committed to democratic principles and keen on three-hundred and sixty degree consultations with their “stakeholders” they are sounding out residents by way of a survey. You would expect (and hope for) invitations to comment on provision of parking, traffic implications, ease of connectivity, consequences for the disabled and so on.

What the plain, simple folk of Sudbury are confronted with are questions about whether they have been “identified as transgender”, are in a same sex relationship, have been diagnosed as HIV positive. The survey document helpfully explains that transgender is an “individual who lives or wants to live full-time in the gender opposite to what they were assigned at birth”. Those fine people in Suffolk may well be mystified by the prurient interest their council is taking in these intimate details of their lives and totally at a loss as to what relevance they have to getting off a bus and onto a train.

And it doesn’t stop there. Religious affiliations are probed. Buddhist (incorrectly spelt), Baha’I and Jain are offered as alternatives. Now, for all I know, Buddhists may have to observe strict rules that go so far as to lay down how far you are permitted to walk between a bus and a train, but it seems unlikely. As you might expect, sexual preferences are asked for: options include gay man, gay woman, no sexuality and “other”. One wonders what the council officers who drew up this survey had in mind when they added “other” to their list. One irate but obviously sensible voter is quoted as saying, “I admit I am a miserable old git of mixed race, too old for any sexual preferences. All I want is a bus to travel on occasionally to have lunch with chums – but there was no box to tick for that”. Suffolk County Council insists that the responses to these personal questions will not influence the decision. So, why ask them? It’s a bit creepy in my opinion.

Transgender has recently become a hot topic among officials, cropping up in the unlikeliest places and in quite an alarming manner. Recent reports are of a bunch of social workers pressing the parents of a fourteen-year-old girl to submit her to gender-reassignment surgery against their wishes. Their refusal to comply, they say, amounts to child neglect, a position they will argue in front of a puzzled judge in the secretive Family Court. They will then seize the child, take her into care and probably ruin her life. This is all too reminiscent of the notorious “satanic abuse” craze that bewitched social services with horrible results during the 1990s.

I shall be wearing my little black dress to the Pride of Malton and Norton Awards ceremony on Saturday, but don’t tell anyone.