The Space Tax Continuum
Allow me to introduce two people crucial to the ongoing development of Rochdale Metropolitan Borough, with particular reference to the settlement of Littleborough, Ray Kittin and Phil 'the gap' Utterly.
Ray Kittin. Chief Treasurer, RMBC. (Rake it in...... see what he did there.....?)
Ray originated in Russia. Due to an unfortunate mix-up he left his motherland under a bit of a cloud (of plutonium) in 1986. Because his Russian name, Rayskovich Kitinovskaya, didn’t fit on his UK residency application, the box wasn't big enough, so he decided on a change. He had worked as a carpet fitter in Boris Yeltsin’s government but wanted to get into ‘the financial services sector’. He changed his name by greed poll to Ray Kittin.
Battling imperfect English, he applied for a job advertised by the Metropolitan Authority of Rochdale as Tax Collector. Only after he’d been in the role for 3 months did his underlings begin to realize that Ray was clueless. Tax had been confused with tacks, as in carpet, but by then he was ensconced in the job. Plus, there were no other applicants. Largely because any potential applicants with any sense realized that a healthy proportion of the local population claimed money rather than paying it in, so collecting tax would be a thankless task. However, from humble beginnings over thirty years ago, Ray had climbed the pole to Chief Treasurer and built a secure little nest for himself, made up largely of brown envelopes.
Phil ‘The Gap’ Utterly. Head of Planning.
Known as a ruthless in-filler of space and destroyer of anywhere vaguely pleasant. He works to a number of basic principles when dishing out building permits. As follows:
Here we join Ray and Phil on a 'local resident environment distruction sortie' in one of their less important townships, Littleborough.
They were strolling along New Road........
‘Look,’ said Ray. ‘Do you see that?’
Phil looked a little perplexed. He wasn’t on best form because Building Regs had knocked back his new helipad. He was furious that he’d have to hand out another hard-earned bung.
‘There man,’ continued Ray, pointing across New Road. ‘What do you see?’
‘Oh, yes. Right….’ Said Phil, shaking himself free of his fury. ‘Well, I’ll be. An open space. Why the hell haven’t I seen that before?’
‘Exactly. Room for a couple there I reckon,’ said Ray, rubbing his hands at the prospect of some council tax.
Phil quickly weighed up the site. ‘A pair of maisonettes at least. Needs to be something small though, more budget end. You won’t get anyone with any sense buying an expensive pad on this main road. Bloody lethal with all these fumes. A couple of back to back two-bedders, how does that sound? Access down a dingy ginnel for the back one, bugger-all parking, but that’s nothing new. No matter, there's plenty of room on the pavement.’ Phil was warming to his task. ‘I envisage two nasty-looking things, one step up the housing ladder from a knackered narrowboat. They would sit nicely in between that chippy and those cottages.’
‘Great stuff,’ said Ray, ‘I’ll get on to Bill Bodge, our friendly B.E. (brown envelope) developer. He'll see us right for a grand apiece I can make sure he gets first dibs. Just up his alley at this time of year, a couple of in-fillers.’
As they walked, Ray started a story about a childhood holiday in Kiev, but Phil was miles away. ‘Are you listening to me or am I wasting my breath?’
‘Sorry Ray, I’m back now, I was just thinking. I came across a perfect site at the weekend. Didn’t twig at the time because a load of codgers were playing bowls. But right there, two greens, two flat plots, fairly central, just begging to be developed. A dozen two bed apartments on each I reckon. Up market stuff, right next to a retirement home with a good reputation. What do you reckon? I can see them now, Park Side and Green Mount, highly desirable apartment blocks in the heart of a thriving community.’
‘Stuffed community you mean.’
‘Thriving is the word Ray. Thriving. You’ll be raking it in man. What’s not to like?’
‘There’ll be objections from the old ditherers.’
‘Yes, but that’s the beauty of these infill schemes, there are not enough people to object, not to make any difference anyway. There’ll be a few letters, a bit of moaning on the internet but we’ll spin it that twenty-four highly desirable residences will hail the future and be crafted for the benefit of the people of the borough. We’ll prevail, I have no doubt. Bollocks to the old gits.’
The pair of plotters chuckled.
They were on foot because there was simply no point bringing Ray’s Jag or Phil’s Merc - the roads were jammed solid. As it tends to do in Littleborough, it had started to drizzle so they were chatting under a plastic shelter at a bus stop. Had been for forty minutes. They were sharing the shelter with an old lady. Ray asked her when the next bus to Rochdale was due.
‘Next Tuesday love. I’ve only stopped for a piss, they’ve shut all the conveniences haven’t they? Makes life difficult if you have an.....er......irregularity,’ she looked around furtively and pointed, ‘down there.’
‘Oh dear, I can imagine,’ sympathised Ray. ‘Very unfortunate I’m sure. But you’re in luck.’ He smiled at the lady. ‘My colleague here is planning a series of public conveniences along this very highway for when people inevitably get caught short in traffic jams. The future’s bright.’
‘Urine luck?’ snarled the lady. ‘You taking the piss?’
‘Uh, no, sorry,’ said Ray, grimacing. He was suddenly desperate to get out of this poverty-wracked, over-stuffed township, back to the cosy concrete of his civic office. He turned to his colleague with a bitter-lemon expression, ‘I think we’ll walk Phil, come on. The exercise will do us good.’
As they strolled, Ray suddenly stopped dead. ‘Did you see that?’
‘That car, the red one. It just moved! I could swear it was opposite that butty shop a minute ago, now it’s here, outside the Post Office.’
‘You know, I think you’re right.’ He twigged. ‘I get your point. If the traffic is moving there’s room for more. Come on, let’s get back and see if we can find a way to really balls it up.’
They wandered on, happy with their own thoughts. It was impossible to tell where Littleborough ended and Rochdale began, it was all just one stringy eyesore. Ray turned to Phil and said, ‘Overall I think we’ve done a pretty comprehensive job of turning this place from a village into an overstuffed mess but there’s just one area that still looks far too inviting. Do you think you could turn your mind to buggering up Hollingworth Lake? It's popular for walkers and dogs for sure, but let's look at the feasibility of filling the thing in to create what, 20-odd acres of prime real estate? I think it was originally built to service the canal but I can’t see that decaying relic lasting long in its present guise.’ He stopped and turned to his colleague with a glint in his eye. ‘Come to think of it, wouldn’t the canal make rather a good through road straight down the valley floor?’
Phil’s eyes lit up. He smiled as the cogs began to whir as they passed back into the urban wasteland of the borough of Rochdale.
It had been a profitable morning, albeit a trifle explicit in the urinary department.