Barlow's Beef: Cheshire East rebuilds the Iron Curtain


Do you remember The Iron Curtain? As a child I thought it was a massive shutter descending from heaven. In reality it was an ideological and physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas.

I hadn't thought about it for some considerable time until I needed to call a contact within Cheshire East planning department. We hadn't spoken for a while but I was sure he would remember me.

The telephone number I had was 'unavailable' and a recorded message directed me to an alternative where I was informed 'all our agents are busy.'

I called back later and the agents were still 'busy.' So I formed an orderly queue and waited several minutes for another recorded voice giving me the option of pressing a number of buttons where I finally spoke to real live person. I was getting closer... or so I thought.

"Good morning," I said cheerily. " Can I please speak to Joe Soap?" (Fictitious name obviously).

"And your name is?" the lady operator asked.


"And your Christian name?"


"One moment... Now, Mr Barlow, can I have your post code?"

"Look, I don't wish to be difficult but Mr Soap knows exactly who I am so can you please put me through?"

"Not without your post code."

I gave the all-important zonal reference and waited to be transferred.

"And the first line of your address is?"

"This isn't a call-out. I don't need a home visit. I just want to speak to Mr Soap."

"In order to do that I must create a record card."

I was growing nervous. This had the whiff of Big Brother.

Nevertheless I complied.

"When did you last call Cheshire East?" she asked.

"I have absolutely no idea," I answered truthfully.

"I need this information for the 'system'."

'The System...' now I was spooked.

"Err...the system?"

"Yes, we are showing no recorded calls from you."

"Can't I just speak to Mr Soap, please?"

"What about?"

"I just want his opinion?"

"About what?"

"About a planning matter."

"What is the nature of your enquiry?"

"It's just a quick question about our garden."

"That is too complex to answer," she informed me.

"I'm not asking for a sworn statement, I just want a bit of guidance."

"That won't be possible."

"Look, I don't want to fall out with anyone here I just need a brief word."

"Every case is different so it will be impossible to answer."

I was sorely tempted to point out that a great number of questions can be answered with a simple Yes or No e.g 'Can I build a recycling plant without permission?'

But with goodwill aforethought I simply asked: "Are you going to put me through to Mr Soap?"

"No, I am not." (End of call)

Clearly, no approach was going to get me through to Mr Soap. (God help his wife if she calls to ask what he wants for dinner.)

No doubt the 'agent' to whom I spoke was acting under strict orders to screen out unwanted calls.

Given the controversy surrounding the current 'Build it and They Will Come' policy it appears an 'Iron Curtain' has descended around CEC Planning.

So, comrades, should you have the need to make contact be sure to have your Personal ID, Party Card, membership number, blood group, sector reference and try to avoid Olga.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of

Barlows Beef, Vic Barlow


Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Mark Goldsmith
Tuesday 3rd November 2015 at 12:08 pm
I tried to call the East Cheshire council tax helpline recently too.

But they are only available between 1pm and 1.30pm on the 3rd Tuesday of the month. Unless, this happens to be a full moon, in which case it reverts to the following Wednesday at 9am to 9.30am.

I didn't bother and emailed instead. However, I never got so much as an automated reply, let alone an actual answer to my question.

Presumably that was because they were too busy logging the addresses of all the emails and calls they don't have time to deal with.
John Clegg
Wednesday 4th November 2015 at 1:33 pm
Mark, how dare you bother your local, caring council. They've got enough on their plates compiling a dossier on Vic B.
They don't need to waste time bothering with your trivial requests.
Peter Davenport
Friday 6th November 2015 at 6:59 pm
I would like to say, likewise I phoned the police re overweight vehicles, to speak to the correct person at Macclesfield.
They now have a call centre,(not overseas, for a change), and I was given the great run around.
How do you know they are overweight. Well a full length vehicle full of bricks is more than what the sign on the bridge says.
Then there might only be a small weight in the cement wagon. Then comes another question to me.. do they park overnight, and so on. Well at that stage, one gives up the ghost.
If this centre acts the same way with crime, no wonder the crime figures are down.
It is obvious they are instructed how to deal with people. Well done Vic in mentioning this.