The following letter from Richard Howell, who is a member of the Society, appeared in the Kingsbridge Gazette of 13/03/13:
Three topics dominated discussion when South Hams Council met at Follaton House recently.
The proposed 3.5 per cent increase in council tax, the planned increase in members’ allowances, along with the previously reported problems with the development management service, all attracted comment.
Taking the last of the three first, Cllr John Carter, the executive member for planning, economy and community, finally gave his long-promised report as to why Marion Playle, the officer responsible for that function, had previously felt it necessary to apologise to councillors for the poor performance of the planning department.
Having begun by somewhat surprisingly referring to Ms Playle as ‘my boss’, Cllr Carter then proceeded to give the distinct impression of a man not on top of his brief, but one subsumed by it. As Cllr Julian Brazil subsequently noted, he omitted to explain at what stage he realised there was a problem, what action he had taken when he became aware, and what he was now doing to ensure the same problem would not re-occur in the future.
The problem, it transpired, was that an unacceptable backlog had built up in the department and, according to Cllr Keith Baldry, the executive member, namely Cllr Carter, should have known about the problem much earlier. Be that as it may, it appears the response of the council has been to employ as many as six outside staff on temporary contracts to reduce, but not yet eliminate, the backlog. Whether those staff had or now have sufficient local knowledge to fully understand the finer niceties of the challenges facing planners in the South Hams could be open to question.
What is not is the cost. The Total Jobs website states planning officers currently earn an annual average of £37,500. Even were South Hams to be paying less, over the year the cost could well be £180,000, and possibly more. And it is here where the increases in both members’ allowances and council tax merit mention. Once again, Cllrs Baldry and Brazil were keen to condemn both. However, only a cynic would suggest their desire to do so was in any way motivated by the presence of a reporter from the Totnes Times, the Gazette’s sister paper, and the imminent county council election. More to the point, the proposed 3.5 per cent increase in council tax is likely to raise around £170,000.
In other words, had the problems with the development management service not been allowed to arise, and had those temporary staff not been employed, and had councillors not decided to have a pay rise at our expense, it is possible no increase in council tax would now be necessary.
Cllr Tucker, the leader of the council, might like to tell us what the actual cost already incurred in employing those staff has been, and what the ongoing cost is likely to be. But regardless of the final numbers, the only certainty is that it won’t be Cllr Carter or Ms Playle paying for this shambles, but residents in the South Hams.
The editor of the Gazette appended the note: The Gazette copied the contents of this letter to South Hams Council for a reponse to Mr Howell’s claims. The council replied: ‘Mr Howell is entitled to his opinions, erroneous or otherwise.’
Agricultural buildings in the AONB - on 3 July 2012 John Chalmers e-mailed District Cllr Simon Wright about damage to the landscape being caused by poorly sited and landscaped new agricultural buildings in the AONB. Among other examples, he asked about a new barn at Preston Cottages, West Alvington, apparently allowed under the 28 day rule, without consultation with the parish councillor or with Cllr Wright as ward member. He received the following reply on 7 September:
As you can imagine much debate on the barn at Preston Cottages.Obviously this building went through on the 28 day agricultural notice. The planning officer sought advice from Landscape who I am lead to believe replied "no Problem".
As you can imagine I have received a large number of complaints which I do with all honesty fully support. Informal negotiations have been taking place with the land owner which I am confident will result in a revised and more effective planting of trees etc.
Hope this helps.
Batson Green - read Bill Blanch's illustrated account of its registration, and therefore its protection for all time, here. (It's a big file and the pictures aren't desperately clear, but it's well worth looking at.)
Any Questions on Renewable Energy? Saturday 12 November 2011
Over 140 people packed out the function room of the Kings Arms on Saturday evening to listen to an 'Any Questions' debate on the importance of renewable energy in the South Hams. The event organised by the South Hams Society and chaired by the President of the Society, and local resident Jonathan Dimbleby. It was supported by the South Devon Coastal Renewable Energy Network (SDCREN) and Towards a Sustainable Kingsbridge (TASK).
The four panellists were John Watson, founder of Riverford Organic Farm, Merlin Hyman, CEO of Regen South West, John Constable, Head of Policy and Research at the Renewable Energy Foundation and Paul Baker, Technical Services Manager from Energy Action Devon and co founder of South Devon Coastal Renewable Energy Network.
A well attended exhibition organised by SDCREN and TASK was held in advance of the meeting to illustrate the various renewable technologies, local projects and initiatives.
Jonathan Dimbleby started by saying that the overarching objective was to reduce carbon emissions and minimise climate change. Renewable energy is a principle way of achieving this but not the only way. Questions to the panel covered the proposed reduction in the Feed-in-Tariff, the importance and relevance of wind generated power, nuclear energy, tidal power, the sensitivities of our local landscape, community installations and concerns that many are heading for fuel poverty.
The panel warmed up by giving their opinions on the importance of meeting carbon reduction targets. Whilst the exact implications of global warming cannot be predicted, said John Constable, 'cleaning up the energy industry' was agreed as a crucial measure for achieving a sustainable way of life across the globe. John Watson added that irrespective of climate change he feared the cost of energy and ongoing economic turmoil threaten energy security and that on this basis alone communities and families should seek to establish greater resilience and control in how they consume utilities and goods.
A question on the Feed-in-Tariff raised concerns whether the proposed 25 year subsidy could be guaranteed and if the proposed halving of the tariff for domestic photo-voltaic installations would compromise the take up of renewable systems. No guarantees for government actions could be given by the panel but a straw poll of the audience indicated that local interest in investing in PV remained high despite the drop in subsidy.
With great good humour Jonathan Dimbleby swiftly changed tack and led the debate into what the audience had anticipated would be the most controversial issue of the evening: wind power. There seemed to be a consensus that wind can make a significant contribution to energy supply in the UK as has been demonstrated in other countries including China. John Constable, however, reported that the Renewable Energy Foundation had concluded that the cost of wind power, particularly off-shore, in both financial and environmental terms should rule it out from being deployed on a large-scale. Whilst many in the audience agreed with this, and doubted its value for money for reducing carbon emissions, the majority expressed a desire to see the vast wind resource in the South Hams tapped, although avoiding significant impact on the South Hams countryside was seen as an essential. Another straw poll of the audience indicated that the audience was evenly split on the attractiveness of wind turbines in our landscape.
There seemed to be little support from anyone on the panel or in the audience for any new nuclear power facilities. The world's supply of uranium was limited, costs associated with nuclear installations continue to rise and the panel doubted that any investment money would be found.
There was fairly strong support from the panel for continuing development of tidal stream and tidal range systems - particularly the former - which may have particular relevance around our shores and in our estuaries. However, the point was made that installations in the sea are at an early stage of development and are likely to be costly and take time.
The justification and level of government subsidy associated with renewable technologies was debated at length by the panel. Merlin Hyman made the point that subsidising energy was not new; nuclear power has been heavily supported in the past and the cost of disposing of nuclear waste exceeds the level of investment in renewables. From the audience Bob Willars responded, to murmurs of approval, that taxpayers money may be better utilised by investing them in renewable energy than being handed over to support the doomed Greek economy.
John Constable presented a hypothesis that, worldwide, governments faced with financial meltdown would abandon any pretense to being green and utilise cheap coal and gas until it ran out. He offered as evidence the fact that China and India had already demonstrated that the short term economic benefits of cheap energy were justifiable given the contribution this made to economic growth and the immediate benefits this derived. A chilling thought said Jonathan Dimbleby. This trajectory would see untold environmental harm.
A questioner expressed concern that renewables drive more into fuel poverty. The Renewable Obligation raised the cost of energy and was paid by all while only the affluent amongst us could invest in renewables and benefit from the Feed-in-Tariff. The assumption was disputed by some of the panel but it was accepted that more must be done to support communities in need, the work of Totnes Renewable Energy Society and, SDCREN were highlighted as initiatives where all members of the community can benefit. The panel concluded that in the absence of any clear government strategy, the best approach is to tackle things at an individual and community level.
A final question pointed out the growing need to save energy as an effective way of minimising climate change and asked the panel for suggestions. Putting on another pullover and turning down the thermostat were the most cogent suggestions.
Those interested in knowing more about the range of renewable technologies available are encouraged to contact SDCREN on Tel. 01752 235180 Mob. 07739351184
Kingsbridge bus services slashed - letter from Amanda Bloomer, Kingsbridge Tourist Information Centre (July 2011)When the Winter bus timetables were published last September we realised that the Sunday 93 service operating between Plymouth and Dartmouth had been discontinued. This was a disaster!We had worked extremely hard to secure accreditation for Kingsbridge as the very first Walkers Are Welcome town in the South West - one of the critical factors being that it was a public transport hub from which walkers could freely access some of the best walking in the South Hams. So the absence of this service on one of the most popular days of the week for walking and leisure activities was extremely frustrating, especially as walking is one of the activities we were relying upon to promote the area as an all-year round destination and reduce the seasonal dependency of our tourism industry!In addition, it effectively meant that Kingsbridge was "marooned" on Sundays and Public Holidays. We have only 2 buses to and from Exeter on a Sunday (late morning and early evening) making train and coach connections very limited and visiting Torbay Hospital almost impossible. Without the 93 no-one could get to Derriford Hospital, visit events taking place in Plymouth or Dartmouth, or just enjoy a day out strolling along Slapton Sands! A very poor state of affairs indeed.We immediately started campaigning for the reintroduction of the Sunday 93 service and were advised that we might be successful in securing it for the Summer season if we could muster sufficient support! However this would all depend upon the budget for the coming year…..Image our delight when we knew that we had succeeded - delight which very quickly turned to utter dismay when we saw the other amendments to the services Kingsbridge had hitherto enjoyed which came into effect on 11thApril 2011.With the exception of the two buses on Sunday we lost the X64 service to Totnes, Newton Abbot and Exeter which now terminates and commences at Totnes. At a stroke we had effectively been "disconnected" from our county town! The 164 service to Totnes (which had always alternated with the X64 effectively providing an hourly service to Totnes) was severely curtailed and had been timetabled with neither wit nor wisdom; it spectacularly fails to connect with the X64 service, it equally manages to "miss" the mainline trains and it has forced at least one person living in one of our rural villages to give up their employment. Others are seriously considering moving as the rural village life they had planned for their families has been rendered impracticable unless you have at least one and preferably two cars!
Protection of the AONB - copy of letter from the Society to SHDC, dated 16 June 2011:
Alan Robinson,Dear Mr Robinson,
South Hams District Council,
Totnes TQ9 5NE
On 4 May Mr Munday e-mailed to me a letter (copy attached) to update me and others on the issues raised in our December meeting with yourself on planning in relation to Hendham View Farm. It by no means settled my concerns but I had intended not to pursue it as Mr Munday was no longer working for the council. However other similar cases suggest that SHDC's care of the AONB remains uncertain, so I am returning to the subject, now on behalf of the South Hams Society, to which Mr Munday also sent a copy of his letter.
Barns at Hendham View FarmAt paragraph 5 Mr Munday set out his reasons for the council not yet changing, or clarifying, the criteria for referral to the planning committee. He believed the right thing was to increase the power and responsibility of members rather than constrain them. Nevertheless........ So we hope that you will continue to seek clearer guidelines for referral.
Meanwhile the planting which we were assured was to be the visual saviour of this development appears still not to have been started. It will presumably now have to wait until the autumn.
Barns at Borough Farm, Prawle
Three large barns, with a total floorspace of 1400 sq m, have arrived in the AONB in Prawle. The first was permitted under 2208/10, dated October 2010. It appears there was no assessment of the acceptability of its impact on the AONB, the landscape officer's comments being confined to planting conditions.
Eight days after the date of the decision notice for 2208/10 the council received applications for two more buildings (2782 & 3/10) on the same site. This time the landscape officer did consider the impact on the AONB but had to do so in the context of the building for which permission had just been given. This is exactly the incremental approach taken by the (same) agent in the Hendham View case. When they were processing the first application did officers know there was more to come? If they did know, why wasn't it made clear? If they didn't know, how carefully did they enquire?
Barn at Horsecombe, near Salcombe
In August of last year the council agreed an agricultural determination (0246/10) for a new barn at SX726398.
The officer report showed that a change of site had been negotiated, to a position which would mean that the building "would be read against the backdrop of rising land and screened by hedgerows. Views from the south east and west are largely screened by landfall and hedge". Other than saying that the agricultural unit qualified by size, and that the building would be used for machinery and hay, it did not consider whether the land was actually being used for agriculture.
In January this year, for reasons that are not clear, the same applicant applied for retrospective planning permission for the same building (0323/11). A landscape assessment dated 8 March (attached) showed that the site was not being used for agriculture and agreed with the common-sense view that the building is very damaging to the landscape in the AONB. It can be seen from miles around.
It seems at least possible that the applicant was taking a deliberate two-stage approach: to get the building up under an agricultural determination and then to get retrospective permission for non-agricultural use.
0323/11 was withdrawn and a fresh application (1313/11) has now been submitted. The two applications are essentially identical. Both show agriculture as the use (despite the landscape officer's 8 March report), and neither offers any reason for the application being made. The position of the building appears to be the same as was originally applied for under 0246/10, despite it having apparently been agreed that it would be moved. Access arrangements are not mentioned, though a new track has been laid through the field.
It concerns us that the current application would probably not have been submitted without some indication of likely approval having been given, and the form does indicate that Mr Kinsella gave pre-application advice on 28 March. Could the record of that meeting please be placed with the other application documents on the website, together with an explanation from the applicant, so that the public can properly understand what is intended for this sensitive site?
We are very much in favour of a strong farming sector within the district, and we know that agriculture must move with the times. But the AONB is very poorly represented, so we see the council as having a particular duty to uphold the policies adopted for its protection. In each of the cases above, we think that if officers had been more vigilant on its behalf, and more questioning of the ultimate intentions of the applicants, much better solutions would have been found.
The protection of the AONB is something in which we want to involve our members more, particularly through our website. Could we have an early discussion on the matters that we have raised?
Copied to: Marion Playle, Head of Planning, SHDC
(A specific objection to application 33/13131/11/F is at Planning applications.)
The Localism Bill - correspondence between the South Hams Society and Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes (in date order)
John Chalmers to Dr Wollaston, 6 May 2011:
Dear Dr Wollaston
I am writing to ask if you would support the New Clause 4 to the Localism Bill, which I believe will be considered at Report stage of the Bill in May. This amendment, tabled by Stephen Gilbert MP, gives the community the right of appeal on local planning decisions.
As a local society regularly contributing to planning decisions we sometimes come across situations where we feel community views have not been adequately taken into account. As I'm sure you are aware, there is an asymmetry in the planning acts which permits an applicant to appeal against a refusal to approve but makes no provision for a community to appeal against a decision to approve.
The Government encourages local communities to draw up plans for their neighbourhood and many spend much time and care in doing so. Yet large scale developments are sometimes approved that go against them. In these cases we believe that, subject to limitations, appeals by the community should be possible.
I know from our previous meetings that you consider that local views should be an important factor in taking decisions about local matters so I hope you will be able to support this amendment. I look forward to hearing from you.
South Hams Society
Dr Wollaston to John Chalmers, 13 May:
Dear Mr Chalmers
Thank you for your email of 6^th May 2011 regarding the Localism Bill. I understand the need for communities to feel that there is a balance in the planning system which does not discriminate against local views.
In bringing forward planning reforms in the Localism Bill, the Government recognised that the current centralised, bureaucratic planning system has given local communities little option but to rebel against Whitehall and regional diktats and, all too often, against the notion of development itself. In seeking to address this problem, it looked at whether changing the appeal system would be a sufficient response or whether communities would gain more by a fundamental change to the planning system as a whole. The view was that the system needed fundamental reform.
The Government looked at the planning appeal system and were prepared to look at a number of radical options - including whether there was a need for an appeal system at all. The Conservative Green Paper - Open Source Planning - did propose that there was potential for a limited third right of appeal, but this was not envisaged as a community right of appeal. Some have pointed to the existence of a third party right of appeal in the Republic of Ireland as an example we might follow, However, such a right there has led to considerable concern in view of the way it is seen often to have led to corruption in the planning system. Scotland too spent considerable time examining whether a third party right of appeal would add anything to the Scottish planning system and decided that it would not.
The Government believes it has addressed the need which a third party right of appeal might have filled by the introduction of neighbourhood planning and by strengthening the plan-led approach. Under neighbourhood planning, communities will be able to bring forward plans to help shape the areas in which they live. These may be as light touch or as detailed as the communities wish but in order to become a formal part of the planning system they will need to be approved by a referendum of the neighbourhood. In these circumstances, a third party right of appeal would allow communities a second bite of the cherry in objecting to something they had just overwhelmingly approved. That would not be equitable and would bring the planning system into disrepute.
Some have advanced a case that a third party right of appeal might be restricted to those cases where an application is outside the local or neighbourhood plan. One result of adopting such an approach would be to put more decisions in the hands of planning inspectors whom local residents have often criticised as being remote and without local knowledge. Given that the Government's reforms of the planning system include limiting the scope of the Planning Inspectorate, this would seem to be a retrograde step. It would, therefore, much prefer to see situations like this resolved at the local level through local planning committees.
I am sure you will be interested to note that my colleague, Zac Goldsmith MP, has tabled two amendments to the Localism Bill at its Report Stage. Firstly the introduction of binding local referendums as opposed to the provision for non-binding referendums as currently set out in the Bill. Secondly Mr Goldsmith proposes recall elections for local councillors if 25 percent or more of voters in the constituency of an elected local government petition for it. The Localism Bill will have its report stage in the House of Commons on the 17^th May 2011.
I hope that you have found this information useful. Thank you for taking the time to contact me. Please do not hesitate to contact the office should you require any further information or advice.
Dr Sarah Wollaston
Member of Parliament for Totnes
John Chalmers to Dr Wollaston 15 May:
Dear Dr Wollaston
Thank you for detailed reply to my email on Clause 4 in the Localism Bill. Having gained the committee's agreement I was about to write on the same subject from the South Hams Society and I append the text below.
I understand your reservations against third party appeals and to some extent share them if it opens the way to frivolous actions and obdurate individual opposition to otherwise acceptable proposals. It was for this reason that I said in my letter below that they should be permitted subject to limitations - for example, support by a significant section of the community.
There are several situations that can arise to distort planning decisions even if detailed local plans are carefully prepared which can only be guarded against if community appeals are allowed.
The first is that the central local planning authority may override local plans. This happened in a number of instances in the forward planning exercise carried out by South Hams District Council to produce the Site Allocations DPD. Despite statements to the contrary by the planners, local plans were ignored although being carefully thought out by residents and apparently given status by Government. Your Localism Bill needs the ultimate sanction of community appeal if it is going to change this patronising and inbred assumption that central authorities know best
Individual developers also can make very powerful cases for projects contrary to the local plan which the local planning authority finds hard to resist. These applications are often backed by the threat of appeals supported by the virtually unlimited resources of large corporations, such as supermarkets, to employ the best legal resources. No matter how desirable they may, be local planning authorities have limited finances to oppose these appeals especially in these days of cuts. We know that fear of this threat plays a part in many planning decisions.
There are also cases where individual local interests distort planning decisions, for example here in the South Hams the farming interest is very strong, is present at all levels of local government, and has in the recent past clearly overridden the local and nationally agreed objectives of the AONB.
For all these reasons the Localism Bill, if it is to do the job you intend, needs more substantial back-up than simply depending upon the belief in the homogeneity of interests in a community and the levels of local government. A right of appeal by the community supplies it with the necessary resource.
South Hams Society
Dr Wollaston to John Chalmers, 20 May:
Dear Mr Chalmers
Thank you writing to me again and the points you made.
I am grateful to you for bringing these to my attention however I do not think I will be able to see these included in the Bill.
Dr Sarah Wollaston
Member of Parliament for Totnes