Jennifer Arcuri ‘virtually’ exonerates Boris Johnson.

photo-15410

When I started to watch the following interview on the Victoria Derbyshire show this morning I thought: “You’re screwed, Boris!”

But then as the interview progressed (and all credit to Derbyshire for one of the most balanced interview techniques I’ve seen in a long time, especially when compared with Andrew Marr) the situation subtly changed to one nuanced towards actuality (‘the state of existing in reality’) rather than as it’s appeared in the media – as a scrabble to mine the situation for the tiniest crumb of dirt.

Notwithstanding her hurt personal feelings, Arcuri is scrupulously fair to Johnson in dismissing what Andrew Marr was desperately trying to get Johnson to admit, that Johnson’s dealing with Arcuri as a businesswoman during his time as London mayor were somehow, let’s say, “questionable” if not downright illegal. They were anything but.

According to Arcuri’s own testimony, Johnson did not patronise Arcuri he supported her as a business PERSON who was of use to London, a point she makes throughout the Derbyshire interview.

If Johnson were a French politican he would rejoice in whatever notoriety a “scurrilous media” (with one or two singular exceptions) could have thrown at him.

But he’s not French and so he suffers the slings and arrows thrown at him by Opposition politicians and others whose moral compasses perhaps could do with a bit of oil to free them up because they appear to be stuck permanently pointing north.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000bhpw/victoria-derbyshire-18112019

 

 

#61: THE BLIGHTING OF VIABLE ALTERNATIVES AKA LOCAL PLAN REVIEW.

See also #53; #54; #56

The direct impact of the promotion of the ‘preferred sites’ on Highley.

The realisation of the potential impact of the ‘review’ of Shropshire’s Local Plans (supposedly reflecting the aspirations of local communities within parameters established by national and county policy) started with this email, received Friday, June 15, 2018.

The consultation exercise was part of the Local Plan Review and was promoted by planners as an information gathering exercise, at no time during the meeting that followed was preference for any site considered because, we were told, that would form part of the later “consultation” process.

What we didn’t fully appreciate at that time was that to planners “consultation” means something entirely different to what most people understand to be consultation. [See: #53: How Do Planners Get Away With It?]

The letter Highley parish council received said:

Meeting to discuss Shropshire Local Plan Review – Preferred Options for Site Allocations in Highley

As you are aware, Shropshire Council recently consulted on the Preferred Scale and Distribution of Development as part of its review of the Local Plan. The next stage of work involves the identification of preferred site allocations for Shrewsbury, the market towns and the key centres, [Highley is classified as a Key Centre in planning terms] together with the preferred scale of growth, development boundaries and potential allocations for Community Hubs. We hope to publish these preferred options for consultation in October 2018.

To inform this stage of work, we are assembling relevant information for all settlements which we are proposing will be identified as locations for development in the new Plan (this includes Shrewsbury & the market towns) so that we can arrange a focussed discussion on the key issues. The growth guidelines which we have identified for housing and employment land for Highley within the Preferred Scale and Distribution of Development consultation, will require approximately 4 hectares of additional housing land and 1 hectare of additional employment land to be allocated.

Shropshire Council has undertaken an initial strategic screening of development sites around Highley in order to discount those sites which are unavailable and/or wholly unsuitable. I have attached a map and accompanying table showing the remaining sites which have been promoted to us by landowners (only a small proportion of which will actually be required). This information is currently confidential and should not be shared more widely at this stage. More detailed assessments, including analysis of landscape and visual impacts, are currently being undertaken and these will help to identify constraints and opportunities associated with the remaining sites, which, alongside views from the local community as expressed through the Town Council will inform the site allocation process.

The irony of the planner’s use of the term “preferred site” seemed to have passed them by, because that last sentence clearly implies that whilst the identified “preferred” site is identified as the preferred option, the planners go on to say that the word “preferred” should not be taken to mean what everyone else thinks it means – that using the word does not indicate a preference.

Question a planner on this and you’ll get a blank look because they simply will not see what they’re doing here, and they certainly won’t get your confusion at being told that the word “preferred” doesn’t actually mean exactly what you’ve always taken it to mean – that something is favoured over any alternatives on offer.

It’s necessary to explain all that because the planning department’s take on the English language is unique and, together with “preferred”, their understanding of what constitutes “consultation” will also require a fair bit of effort to get your head around. It’s as well to be prepared and that earlier reference to an earlier blog article will help. [See: #53: How Do Planners Get Away With It?]

In the following article, the question I’m posing is: how does the way Shropshire Council planning department’s approach to “local engagement” relate to principles laid down as far back as 1969.

The Skeffington Report, ‘People and Planning. Report of the Committee on Public Participation in Planning’, prepared by Arthur Skeffington MP was published in 1969 so planners have had plenty of time to get their heads around it.

Until the Skeffington Report, planning had been a largely ‘top down’ system, consultation had been a gesture only, involving those already familiar with the planning process and how to participate, resulting in poor community involvement.

The Skeffington Report proposed that local development plans should be subject to full public scrutiny and debate. Planners were supposed to become more pro-active and ‘hard to reach’ parts of communities become better engaged as part of a “genuinely democratic process”, working towards consensus between a wide range of competing interests.

Those lessons appear to have been forgotten, at least by that part of Shropshire Council’s planning department responsible for the current Local Plan Review.

Shropshire Council’s approach to consultation gives rise to concerns about effective community engagement with the planning system, which can be complex, remote, and generally difficult to engage with, negative factors planners often do nothing to mitigate because the status quo works to their advantage!

As the Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP said following the recent review of the planning system he undertook in 2018:

“We ignore at our peril the anger and disaffection felt by so many communities at the failure of current planning policies and procedures to listen to their concerns and respond to their needs”.

Well, someone doesn’t mind a bit of peril because very little has changed in the interim and it’s arguable that things have actually got worse!

How much worse for Highley?

The map accompanying the letter we got from Shropshire Council setting out Shropshire Council planning department’s intentions identified seven sites, two of which had been the subject of earlier applications for Outline Planning Permission, one had been withdrawn for unspecified reasons – the agent acting for the landowner in that case had been Helen Howie (see blog #56: Planning: The Failed Process or The Curse of the NPPF, a community nightmare) – the other (HNN014, see map below) had been refused, the details of which I set out later in this text.

[Taking advantage of the newly-acquired ‘preferred site’ status, HNN014 subsequently reappeared as an application for 20 ‘affordable’ houses, a development that was refused as ‘over-development’ See Appendix.]

The earlier history of the preferred site.

YEW TREE SITE

 

Look closely at that location map above, in the centre at the top you’ll see “Hazelwells”, a Grade 2 Listed building, the preferred site falls within the curtilage of that historic local asset Hazelwells Hall!

You will also notice that the left hand (western) boundary of the preferred site is indented because 20 years ago, householders on Yew Tree Grove, whose properties overlook the field, bought a 25 yard strip to extend their gardens.

YEW TREE SITE BUFFER STRIP

 

The householders on Yew Tree Grove applied to get the strip of land changed from Grade 3 Agricultural land to Residential but Bridgnorth District Council (BDC) placed an order called an Article 4 Direction on the whole of this site…

An article 4 direction is made by the local planning authority. It restricts the scope of permitted development rights either in relation to a particular area or site, or a particular type of development anywhere in the authority’s area. Where an article 4 direction is in effect, a planning application may be required for development that would otherwise have been permitted development. Article 4 directions are used to control works that could threaten the character of an area of acknowledged importance, such as a conservation area.

Article 4 directions can increase the public protection of designated and non-designated heritage assets and their settings. They are not necessary for works to listed buildings and scheduled monuments as listed building consent and scheduled monument consent would cover all potentially harmful works that would otherwise be permitted development under the planning regime. However, article 4 directions might assist in the protection of all other heritage assets (particularly conservation areas) and help the protection of the setting of all heritage assets, including listed buildings.

[Historic England: Restricting Permitted Development: Article 4 Directions and Heritage]

ANY development by those householders, regardless whether that “development” took the form of a greenhouse or raised vegetable beds, was forestalled by Bridgnorth District Council planning department’s Article 4 Direction placed on the WHOLE FIELD.

Not to be outdone, the house owners on Yew Tree Grove did eventually go to the expense of getting the Article 4 Direction overturned on the strip they’d purchased, had they not then every household would have had to apply for separate planning permissions to erect any “structure” (however loosely defined) on their individual plot.

Crucially, that Article 4 Direction remains in force on the rest of the field to this day.

The senior planning officer for Bridgnorth District Council at the time issued additional guidelines that precluded any further development on the WHOLE of the eastern ridge of the ‘plateau’ that Highley sits on, to preserve the skyline as viewed across the Severn Valley. That senior planning officer was Ian Kilby, current head of planning at Shropshire Council who said…

The view of the Bridgnorth Office is that we would prefer not to see more development on the eastern side of the village – i.e to not add to existing development on the western ridge of the Severn Valley or the upper slopes to the western side of the village. We consider therefore that any allocations should be on land to the south/southwest on the basis of landscape impact.”

The blighted alternatives.

There are a number of realistic alternatives to Shropshire Council planning department’s preferred site, but one in particular offers a solution to a long-standing problem on the main road through the village – the rat run down the Hazelwells estate road to avoid being stuck behind the 125 bus in either direction as it travels along Clee View Terrace, the terrace of houses shown in the centre of the Google Earth image below.

There is a bus stop opposite the middle house in the row (under the large tree in the image). With cars parked on the road immediately outside the houses the road becomes a single carriageway, so if there is a bus there you have to wait until it clears Clee View.

Clee View bus stop and rat run via Hazelwells Road…

CLEE VIEW AERIAL

Coming from the northern Bridgnorth direction, in anticipation of that hold up vehicles choose to turn left off the B4555 and travel down Hazelwells Road to its southern junction with the B4555, the route shown shaded running vertically down the middle of the image below.

RAT RUN AERIAL

This site offers the solution…

TAYLOR SITE
… Woodhill, obscured by the ‘HNNO19’ label, to the left of Clee View terrace.

The schematic drawing below shows one design for the site. The block shown away from the separate dwellings (bungalows) is a residential block for nursing the elderly and infirm.

TAYLOR SITE PLAN WITH CLEE VIEW

The design is an indicative illustrations only and subject to change following detailed discussions with the landowners, their architect, and the planners, but it’s an idea of what COULD be done.

The bus stop is to the right of the word “Shelter” and the area roughly drawn in outline is the area where off-road parking for Clee View residents could be sited, together with an off road pull in for the 125 bus.

The bonus offered by this alternative site is the employment opportunity offered by the sheltered retirement housing, a significant economic benefit to Highley.

APPENDIX

The following Appendix is particularly useful in demonstrating how advisory comments can be ignored by both developers and by the planning officers that make them.

A planning application for the smallest of the preferred sites (HNN014) for TWENTY two-storey ‘affordable houses’ has recently been submitted. An earlier application had sought to build NINE bungalows.

The earlier application for bungalows was refused planning permission in 2016 and was taken to appeal on the grounds of non-determination because of delays by Shropshire Council in processing the application. The application was then refused for the following reasons:

1. Insufficient information has been provided to enable the Local Planning Authority able to conclude that the proposal will not cause an offence under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2010), the scheme as such is contrary to National Planning Policy Framework and Shropshire Council Local Development Framework Core Strategy CS17.

2. In the absence of the agreement to make a contribution towards affordable housing provision, the proposed dwellings would be contrary to Policy CS11 of the Shropshire Council Local Development Framework Core Strategy and to the Council’s Supplementary Planning Document on the Type and Affordability of Housing.

(Officer’s report to the South Planning Committee.)

My own view as the Local Member was that whilst the application for nine bungalows was a reasonable use of the plot (because relatively low profile in terms of its visual impact), I shared both the parish council’s concerns about the site falling outside the established development boundary and the serious concerns about access to the site off the busy B4555, otherwise it would have met a local need for such housing.

On notice of the appeal, Shropshire Council’s report (subsequent to the earlier officer’s report to the South Planning Committee) was submitted because…

2.1 An appeal has been lodged against non-determination of this application and the decision now rests with the Planning Inspectorate. However the Council is required in the appeal process to indicate what its decision would have been if it still had authority to determine the application.

2.2 The application is presented to committee as the Parish Council has submitted a view contrary to officers and the application has been requested to be referred by the Local Member.

That report went into considerable detail to explain how the development of nine bungalows would have a moderate-to-low impact, both aesthetically and in terms of its impact on the local infrastructure, Shropshire Council’s own planners were of the opinion that whilst…

Highley is identified as one of the key centres in Policy CS3 of the Core Strategy. This establishes the principle of Highley as a sustainable location for new development. The application site in particular is located within walking distance of town centre services and facilities (the town centre around 500m from the site boundary) and is within close proximity to the Severn Centre. It is considered that in these respects there are clear sustainability credentials to the site which must be weighed up when determining the application.

…it should be noted that…

Sustainable development’ isn’t solely about accessibility and proximity to essential services. The NPPF states that it is ‘about positive growth – making economic, environmental and social progress for this and future generations’. In paragraph 7 of the NPPF it states that these three dimensions give rise to the need for the planning system to perform a number of roles:

an economic role – contributing to building a strong, responsive and competitive economy, by ensuring that sufficient land of the right type is available in the right places and at the right time to support growth and innovation; and by identifying and coordinating development requirements, including the provision of infrastructure;

a social role – supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by providing the supply of housing required to meet the needs of present and future generations; and by creating a high quality built environment, with accessible local services that reflect the community’s needs and support its health, social and cultural well-being; and

an environmental role – contributing to protecting and enhancing our natural, built and historic environment; and, as part of this, helping to improve biodiversity, use natural resources prudently, minimise waste and pollution, and mitigate and adapt to climate change including moving to a low carbon economy.[6.1.15]

Significantly, the original committee officer report referenced the contextual factors that are supposed to be at the heart of a “plan-led planning system”.

It is not considered necessary or appropriate to [seek] additional sites outside of the Highley development boundary in an area of open countryside, and this would be contrary to the development strategy for the area. A core planning principle in the NPPF is that development should be genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings, and this is what the recently adopted SAMDev Plan [Shropshire Council’s long term development plan] has achieved, providing a practical framework within which decisions on planning applications can be made. The use of this land for residential development would undermine the NPPF’s objective of a Plan-led approach to development.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development that runs through the NPPF is a relevant material consideration, but it is not considered that this ‘presumption in favour’ should outweigh the significance and primacy of the up-to-date development plan policies in making decisions. On balance, it is considered that the proposal would not be acceptable, being contrary to Policies CS3, CS4 and CS5 of the Core Strategy, and SAMDev Policies MD1, MD3, MD7a and S9.

The promotion of Shropshire Council planning department’s preferred sites blows a hole through all those clearly expressed reservations about the earlier application for the development of the site HHN014, the smaller of the two sites comprising the preferred development area identified by Shropshire Council.

According to Shropshire Council’s figures, the two sites HHN016 and HHN014, are scheduled to take a development of 122 dwellings, despite the reservations expressed over the earlier 2016 application for “just” nine bungalows.

The more cynical among us saw the recent application for 20 affordable two-storey houses as an ill-disguised attempt to sneak in a larger development on the back of the clearly expressed Shropshire Council preference for this, a suspicion that was confirmed in the albeit brief conversation I had with the developers of those 20 two-storey houses at their ‘public exhibition’, the preferred status actually being cited to confirm the “local need” for “such a development”.

It was also clearly inferred that their decision to apply for planning permission was AFTER discussion with Shropshire Council and so I was doubly gobsmacked that, given the history of the site, they still went ahead with an application that was subsequently refused as “over development”!

And Shropshire Council are giving the go-ahead for 122 dwellings regardless of the consequences. Why? Because they can point with one finger to a site that meets in one go what Shropshire Council planning department has determined to be Highley’s contribution to meeting the county’s housing quota until 2036.

That’s why.

 

#60. County Councillor’s Report, November edition of the (Highley) ‘Forum’.

County Councillor’s Report

Excepting my RAF years from 1959 to 1965, I’ve been known to have a bit of an anti-Establishment “attitude”, doubtless because of a dry/wry sense of humour that has meant I’ve always had a bit of a job taking seriously people who take themselves too seriously, but I’ve nevertheless always respected the views of others as long as they haven’t tried to thrust their views down either my throat or the throats of others.

Sincerely held beliefs are deserving of respect unless they are extreme and impact adversely on the lives of others. I’m an atheist and have been for as long as I can remember, but I believe that religious principles are the basis of any civilised, caring society and as such are central to the principles of democracy because they are the basis of the civic principles upon which an orderly society are based.

Just as religious symbolism is important to the communicating of religious principles, so civic symbolism is important to the communicating of civic principles, “the panoply of State”, whether the Monarch’s ‘opening of parliament’ or the small ceremony that marks the opening of full council at Shirehall, when a bell is rung and everyone stands for the prayer that precedes official business. You don’t need it explaining, you just know that something “important” is going on, and even if the significance isn’t obvious to you, you appreciate its importance to someone.

Out of respect for the beliefs of others and to show deference to those principles of democracy, I stand throughout that little opening ceremony because it costs me nothing and reminds me that others hold to different beliefs.

I always remember what we “sprogs” (new recruits) were told when we were first on parade in our blue serge uniforms and had the technique of saluting drilled into us along with the explanation of the significance of the cap badge.

Each of the armed services has a different way of saluting. In the RAF, palm facing forward, finger tips one inch behind the right eye; in the army, palm facing forward, edge of index finger above the right eye; the navy, palm down, index finger above the right eye)

The crown on the cap badge was what mattered because it was symbolic of what we had joined up to defend. As explained by the sergeant instructing us on why we were expected to salute officers:

“Even though you scrawny lot are not old enough to be trusted with a vote in this democratic country of ours” – most of us were 151/2 or 16 at a time when you had to be 21 to vote – “the head of the British state is the Queen, and what does the Queen wear on her head? A crown. THAT’S what you’re saluting. Even if the person wearing that badge is a complete idiot, it’s the QUEEN as represented by that crown that you’re saluting, not the person who holds a commission from her!”

That was our baptism into the significance of symbols, of symbolic ceremony.

Whether it’s saluting that cap badge, standing for the prayers of others, singing the National Anthem, or respecting the procedures of council that engender civilised debate over matters of differences of political opinion. Which is why I was so angry about the disruption of council business by members of Extinction Rebellion at the last Shropshire Council meeting and the unforgivable applauding of that disruption by members of the Labour, LibDem and Green parties.

Such behaviour is bad enough in Parliament, but in what I’ve always vainly believed should be a non-political arena primarily concerned with local issues, it was incredibly disheartening.

But also revealing.

Dave Tremellen

Independent Councillor for Highley Ward of Shropshire Council.

#59. Thinly veiled contempt of the liberal elite, updated…

A motion tabled by Green Party Councillor Julian Dean at full council on Thursday 19th September made the headlines of the Shropshire Star. For some reason the motion and the subsequent debate (which consisted largely of defensive statements by Julian Dean and his LibDem allies in response to my speech) was reported in the North Shropshire edition of the Shropshire Star but in neither of their two other editions.

This is the article followed by the full text of my speech…

This is the full text of my speech…

This move by openly anti-Brexit Members to continue to damage this nation with their delaying tactics is to be regretted.

In the Shropshire Star of September 12th it was reported that Shropshire farmers, like the rest of the nation, just want to “get on with Brexit” and end the uncertainty introduced into the whole process by the people who propose motions like this, motions that prove that ANY arguments supporting the result of the 2016 referendum won’t have the slightest impact on the pro-EU camp.

They display a breathtaking arrogance, dictating policy by arguments based on denigration and verbal intimidation, using emotive terms like “disaster”, “cliff edge”, and “crashing out”.

I didn’t gloat over the outcome of the 2016 referendum, I just drove home and got on with looking forward to seeing the government carry forward the clearly expressed will of the British people to leave the EU, with or without “a deal”, because I had researched the potential options BEFORE choosing which side I would campaign for. The deciding issue for me was that we leave the EU – not the Europe with whom we’d had a succession of successful free trade arrangements within a common market, but the explicitly political EU and its plans for a federalist state.

The thinly-veiled contempt in this motion for anyone who voted for Brexit displays the liberal elite’s denial of the right of anyone else to hold any view that runs counter to its own.

Anyone tempted to read too much into the “narrow” margin by which they failed to get their way, should take note that the total number of Shropshire votes cast for Remain was 78,987, the total number of Shropshire votes cast for Leave was 104,166, which is a wide enough margin to convince anyone that Shropshire’s vote to LEAVE THE EU was both conclusive and informed.

To fully understand my anger at Julian Dean’s action you need to read my earlier blog post from three years ago, July 11 2016…

#25. On the Liberal elite’s thinly-veiled contempt for anyone who voted for Brexit.

From which you will see why Julian Dean’s motion stoked an old fire that had smouldered for over three years, with Andrew Bannerman continuing to stoke the embers…

https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/local-hubs/shrewsbury/2019/03/04/open-britain-shrewsbury-to-join-brexit-march-in-london/

This (further) response of mine was meant to appear a few days after my speech in response to Julian Dean’s motion but, after the contentious judgement that came out of the Supreme Court ruling on the legality of Boris Johnson’s proroguing of parliament, it’s taken me a while to calm down and take on board the many observations on that ruling that subsequently appeared, not least that of an ex-SUPREME COURT JUDGE

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1177020/brexit-news-gina-Miller-supreme-court-lord-sumption-sky-channel-4-prorogation-parliament

Although I’d written my response to the motion early on the morning of Full Council (19th September), I still wasn’t sure whether to speak because I know that nothing anyone says in support of Brexit has ANY effect on the pro-EU Remain lobby, but once Julian Dean stood up and voiced his “concern” for the livelihoods of livestock farmers and the agricultural industry generally in the event of a ‘no deal Brexit’, well the hypocrisy was just too much.

One thing I do regret is that after the debate I never thought to ask how many of those supporting the motion were vegetarian or vegan, or how they squared the Green Party’s advocacy of plant-based diets to reduce dependency on the greenhouse-gas producing livestock industry with the motion’s claimed concern for the livelihoods of those same greenhouse-gas producing livestock farmers rearing all that offending livestock.

The LibDems, of course, are determinedly anti-Brexit, period, so Heather Kidd’s insistence that their ONLY worry was the impact of a no deal Brexit was at best disingenuous.

That the Labour group supported the motion, despite the Leader of the Labour group attacking the LibDem’s for hypocrisy, was to be expected, although what wasn’t expected was my not being singled-out and reference made to my past membership of UKIP!

NOTE: I actively campaigned with UKIP during the lead up to the referendum and left the party three days after the result, job done as far as I was concerned. I was actually dismissed from the Independent Group at Shirehall because, I was told: “UKIP is racist and we don’t want a member of a racist organisation in the Group”. This despite the Local Government Association (LGA), of which the Independent Group at Shirehall is a member, includes UKIP as a member of the LGA Independent Group along with the Green Party. A few months after I’d left UKIP I was allowed back into the Independent Group.

The Leader of the Independent Group who helped sponsor the motion has relatives who live and work in Europe and so her support for such a motion was a given.

But the background…

Most of the people campaigning so loudly against Brexit have no idea of where most of us who want to leave the EU are coming from because most of the pro-EU grouping have no idea of a UK outside the EU; most of them either weren’t even born when the EU’s roots were first put down or were too young to know what was happening.

Having been around at the time, I remember few people signing up to the political aspects of what is now the EU when the UK joined its predecessor the European Economic Community (EEC) on 1 January 1973 because, at the time, the “political aspects” weren’t in the forefront of everybody’s mind because, during the subsequent campaign leading up to the 1975 referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU, both Conservative and Labour supporters of EU membership ignored the political and constitutional issues and emphasised the economic aspects of membership.

That said, the political and constitutional issues were a factor in uniting some individuals who on most other issues would have been violently opposed to each other, people like ultra-right-wing Enoch Powell and the ultra-left-wing Tony Benn, both of whom strongly opposed membership because they could see that talk of “ever closer union” foreshadowed federalism: the creation of a European State to which all its constituent member states would be subservient, subsequent moves by the EU proving Powell and Benn right to voice concerns.

Tony Benn said: ‘Britain’s continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation and the end of our democratically elected parliament as the supreme law making body in the United Kingdom.’

[It’s worth reading the Spectator article that came from to see how it would, today, be a commentary on the shambles that dedicated anti-Brexit parliamentarians (especially the Conservative ones) have created in their determination to frustrate the result of the 2016 referendum… https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/05/a-lesson-from-the-1975-referendum/ ]

[It’s also pertinent to consider Benn’s words in the light of the recent ruling by the UK’s Supreme Court that they have the right to consider themselves “the supreme law making body in the United Kingdom”, rather than merely empowered to enforce laws passed by parliament, parliament being the government of the day by virtue of their majority within the House.]

My principle objection to the EU is about what the UK signed up to back in the day, as former Master of The Rolls Lord Denning put it in 1974: ‘The Treaty of Rome is like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back.’ He was referring to the further integration of “European” states into a single political entity, the federation of states known as the European Union.

A fear too far.

It is 74 years since the end of the Second World War and yet the rhetoric from the pro-EU side is still about Europe trying to escape from its shadow, despite all the institutional changes that have happened since to make a repeat of that dreadful time difficult to comprehend. Despite the emergence of far-right groups within some members of the EU, to envisage the kind of ‘triumph of evil’ that led to the Third Reich is to assume that the world has not moved on.

It is worth reminding those who promote the EU as an engine of peace of the signal failure (in which the UK played a significant role) of the EU not only to prevent but to implicitly encourage the massacre of more than seven thousand Bosnian muslim men by Serbian forces – an act of genocide that could have been prevented had “Europe” not sat on its hands – by insisting that the break up of the former Yugoslav Republic was a ‘civil war’ in which the competing factions should be allowed to sort out their ‘differences’ without outside interference.

It was the US-led air attacks against the Belgrade-backed Serbian military that led to the ‘Dayton agreement’ and the backing down by Slobodan Milošević.

After the Second World War Germany was a divided country with scant hope for reunification. The Cold War raged and people lived with the ever-present fear of nuclear annihilation, a reality I was actually a part of as a 19 year-old airman nurse-maiding the nuclear bomb in the bomb bay of one of the Victor v-bombers at RAF Honington, with the aircrew on 4-minute standby for what would have been a suicide mission because there would have been nothing to return to. That was the ‘Cuban missile crisis’ of October 1962. The Second World War was just 17 years past and yet here we were literally four minutes away from WW3.

In 1962, it was a totally different world. Whilst travel by aircraft was common, it was still rare for the majority of people. Compared to today, there were still few telephones (I never had one in any of the houses I lived in until 1973) and even fewer televisions – most of those that were around were rented – and certainly no computers or at least none available to ordinary people, so no internet and no email.

But as the shadow of the Second World War receded the European economic community, the precursor to the EU, was changing, its membership greatly increased once the Berlin Wall came down and fear of the old Soviet Union and the prospect of WW3 receded.

The advantages of membership of a Common Market between the continental European nations made sense as the old fears receded and the post-war effects of the war were gradually overcome.

The UK had not been as badly damaged in the war as mainland Europe, its small and efficient agriculture sector surviving intact, but that wasn’t enough to stop the UK’s economic post-war decline (relative to the continental European countries who anyway started from a lower base line), a decline that – despite the obvious comparisons with its Continental neighbours – had nothing to do with Britain being outside the European Community.

As unpalatable as the fact is to some sectors of the UK political establishment, the reason the UK’s relative economic performance improved was down to Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990) getting to grips with the real factors that had held the country back: excessive trade union power (I witnessed that first-hand at British Leyland), weak management (the self-destruction of the British car industry being a case in point), and under-investment resulting in a poor economic structure.

But still the Establishment insisted that wholehearted membership of the European Community (with an aspiration to monetary union) was the only answer to Britain’s ‘problems’. It was only later that the fallacy of such thinking was exposed when, in 1992, with the UK inside the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM, introduced by the European Economic Community), unemployment was soaring, businesses were going bust and the economy was in recession. Nevertheless, the Treasury and most of the ‘usual pundits’ (coincidentally the same ones who rail against Brexit) insisted that if the UK came out of the ERM, the results would be disastrous.

When the UK was eventually forced out of the ERM on 16 September 1992 interest rates fell and economic recovery was soon underway. There was a lesson there, one that those of us who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum had not forgotten!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Exchange_Rate_Mechanism

Sovereignty, what’s that all about?

The EU’s shoehorning of states with different histories and characteristics into an artificial common identity – “Cross-nation integration” – may be a noble objective, but it is one doomed to failure because it is an abstract intellectual construct predicated on wishful thinking.

Which is what drives UK euroscepticism. Too many vested interests, prime amongst them being the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the reason most British farmers supported leaving the EU at the 2016 referendum. And of equal significance for communities directly impacted by it is the Common Fisheries Policy that devastated communities around the coast of the UK from Scotland to Cornwall.

I mentioned earlier:

That the UK had not been as badly damaged in the war, its small and efficient agriculture sector surviving intact”.

What angers British farmers is seeing the bulk of the vastly expensive CAP being channeled to the inefficient agricultural sectors of France and what are referred to as “the emerging economies” of the ex-Eastern bloc countries. For years the heavily-subsidised French farmers have effectively (as one farmer expressed it to me when I was campaigning in the lead up to the referendum) “taken the piss”. That farmer was scathing in his opposition to the CAP, others who campaigned to Leave reported similar unsolicited reactions from farmers, who approached us to voice their support. That was an eye-opener for me.

The Cameron years.

And not the recent BBC programme of that title, but the few years leading up to the 2016 referendum when David Cameron tried to negotiate reforms within the EU to bring it more in line with the expectations of not just the UK but many other European countries, most of whom were quietly complaining but doing nothing about it.

Cameron did try, although seeking for the UK to be excused from the EU’s ultimate aim of “ever-closer union” was an unrealistic step too far because the EU’s founding fathers had made it clear from the outset that they were about establishing “ever closer union”, an aim that remains at the root of UK unease with the European project.

Martin Schulz, at the time the president of the European Parliament, said it all:

“What makes me sad and angry is the undertone of national resentment. Hatred is spread. People are used as scapegoats.” It was “not possible” to change the UK’s relationship with the EU, said Schulz, adding that Britain “belongs” to the EU.

Cameron, in a January 2013 speech, laid out general principles for reform that included a transfer of powers back to member states and their national parliaments so that European leaders should remain accountable, although the “remain” bit was always a case of hope over expectation because one thing the EU has never been is accountable and they’ve never given any indication that that’s ever likely to change.

The coup de grace to these aspirations was Cameron wanting to enshrine these changes in a new treaty for the EU. Not a chance.

Despite his efforts to get reform (meeting resistance at every turn), Cameron was never a fan of the UK’s coming out of the EU and his hopes of keeping the UK in the EU lay in winning the general election in 2015 and then winning the in/out referendum he had promised in January 2013 in an ill-concealed attempt to neutralise the growing support for UKIP.

Note: Cameron first raised the prospect of a referendum in 2010, when he said that voters had been “cheated” out of a vote on the Lisbon Treaty

Cameron did not expect to lose in the referendum and so he simply didn’t prepare for something he considered an impossibility.

As we all know, the referendum happened in June 2016 with the majority voting to leave the EU.

One of the things that convinced me that I was right to campaign to leave the EU was WHY Cameron failed to obtain those reforms – EU intransigence. The EU had been, without putting too fine a point on it, contemptuously dismissive of Cameron and, as Cameron was Prime Minister of the UK, contemptuously dismissive of the people of the UK.

In his thoroughly-researched book ‘Brexit & Ireland’ (pub. Penguin Books, 2018), Tony Connelly says:

[within the EU single market] There are still many obstacles that, according to critics, are simply forms of protectionism under the guise of health or cultural sensitivities.

Ireland is not alone in wanting those impediments removed. Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland and the Baltic states all pursue a more liberal, free-market course. Germany and France tend to be protectionist.”

He goes on to say:

There was one member state Ireland could always rely upon to champion greater access for companies to sell their goods and services across the EU. That member state? The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

Cameron didn’t have a hope in hell of getting change, let alone compromise, out of a EU dominated by France and Germany.

Is there life after the EU?

No one doubts that the UK’s trade with the rest of the EU is significant, but it is wrong to presume that all British exports to the EU would cease as soon as the UK leaves the Union. A good proportion would continue, pretty much come what may. Exactly what would happen depends on what sort of trade relations were agreed.

The thing is that whilst we cannot be sure of the answer, we can get quite some way by focusing on considerations of self-interest and the structure of existing international arrangements. One thing is clear, though: there would be enormous advantages for both sides in continuing a very close commercial relationship. Those supporting Brexit believed that would have been the most likely outcome but for the tactics of the Remain lobby sabotaging any attempt to get ANY deal from negotiations with the EU.

The UK is in a strong position to negotiate. The UK is the EU’s largest single export market. The EU exports more to the UK than the UK exports to the EU. The UK has a strong hand in negotiations over future access to UK fisheries.

European car manufacturers would want to maintain free and open trading links with the UK. With the UK’s existing trade relations favouring EU imports into the UK, it’s likely that Britain could negotiate a trading relationship that would work to everybody’s benefit, except that with ‘no deal’ effectively off the table (thanks to the mischievous Benn Act – I wonder what his father would make of that!) the UK has literally to hand even more negotiating leverage (and the mere act of triggering Article 50 also meant the EU called the shots on the nature and timing of any negotiations) to a EU that just wants to keep us in the EU.

What about foreign direct investment (FDI)?

It’s not an easy one to call.

The answer is that the UK is successful at attracting FDI for reasons other than its membership of the EU:

  • the English language;
  • a legal system that can be trusted;
  • a skilled and flexible workforce;
  • a familiar social and political culture and global links

– although all of the above can be said of Ireland who, moreover, introduced a notoriously corporation-friendly tax regime, lowering capital gains tax (in Apple’s case to 0.005% in 2014) in order to attract high-tech companies to the Republic at the UK’s expense.

https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/060316/why-ireland-sometimes-referred-tax-haven.asp

By doing so, Ireland raised the ire of the European Commission (EC) who ruled the move illegal. Ireland appealed the European court’s judgement on the grounds that, as a sovereign nation, it had the right to determine what was best for Ireland and to do whatever was necessary in order to achieve that end.

There is, of course, nothing to stop the UK from doing the same!

At the time of Ireland’s scrap with the EU, Nigel Farage said:

I think Ireland, in the next few years, [.…] is going to have to have the same debate about its future relationship with the European Union, about its right to its own government.” (ibid)

If the economic case for coming out can be made to appear “not particularly overwhelming”, the economic case for staying in is equally challenging because they are both based on uncertainty about how the world will be in the foreseeable future, an uncertainty made worse in terms of its impact on UK businesses by the delaying sabotaging tactics of the Remain lobby.

But the Bexit side didn’t exactly help its case. Had we done what the Irish government did, anticipating an ‘either way’ outcome to the 2016 referendum (explained in forensic detail in Tony Connelly’s book), then the UK would indeed have left the EU, fully prepared, by the end of the transition period triggered by Article 50.

The ‘personal’ bit.

About 14 years ago I had been contracted to convert a regular customer’s cellar into a study/playroom for their children. My business was called ‘Conservation Joinery Services’ which involved joinery work almost exclusively on older properties, the bulk of my work coming either through word of mouth between customers or via the Conservation Department of Bridgnorth District Council (prior to unitary). I worked alongside fellow tradesmen who I either sub-contracted directly or recommended separately to the customer to contract in.

I was working with a plasterer friend, Nigel, who had recommended to the customer a local company to do the electrics. When the electrician turned up it happened to be the owner of the electrical contracting company. Now he was known to turn up to quote for work but then usually sent one of his two employees to actually do the work. We took the mick, pulling his leg about things having got so bad that he was forced to get his hands dirty for once. We had no idea how close to the truth we were.

Faced with competition from Polish tradesmen, (at that time Poland had recently joined the EU and so its people could move freely across other EU member states) he found his work – including long term regular contracts established over many years – simply going to Polish workmen who were charging prices so low that he couldn’t compete. The Poles were able to do that because they were coming over from Poland and staying with relatives among the long-established Polish community in Telford, often two or three to a room, staying only long enough to earn however much and then returning home to Poland, coming back to the UK when they needed to earn more money.

The Polish guys the electrician found himself competing against were getting around the need for work to be certified [ Approved Document P: electrical safety, dwellings ] by doing what quite a few uncertified UK electricians were doing, paying a Part P qualified sparks to inspect the completed work and signing it off for Building Regs. All perfectly legal and an experienced electrician in one European country doesn’t have to do much to adapt to working with the electrics of another European country. The Poles are bloody good tradesmen, the trouble was they were over here and seriously undercutting British tradesmen who had mortgages and families with a reasonable expectation of a decent standard of living – but at UK prices.

That Part P-qualified electrician working on that cellar job was no longer the owner of a three-man company with regular contracts, he was now a sole trader having had to lay off his two guys who he then found himself competing against for work as well as the Poles.

And what went for electricians also applied to all other construction trades. Many Eastern European construction gangs were multi-skilled, able to offer a full service to customers, from digging the first hole in the ground to topping off. You can’t blame the British customers for wanting to save a few thousand pounds on their job, nor could you blame them for not appreciating the severe impact it was to have on the availability of home-grown tradesmen, an impact that wouldn’t be felt until – as is now becoming evident – Poland’s economy picked up and Poland started enticing those Polish tradesmen back home.

The EU policy of open borders and free movement of people had a direct impact on the British tradesmen that I knew back then and, arguably, on the skills shortages that are now beginning to be felt in the construction industry.

On a personal level I wasn’t directly affected because I operated in a specialist niche market that had as much to do with a knowledge of English architecture combined with a professional relationship with Local Authority officers and specialists from English Heritage (now ‘Historic England’). At the time in question there was also an unofficial ‘approved tradesman’ scheme operating in Bridgnorth District Council, entry to which was dependent on your “coming to the attention” of the local Conservation Department, if you weren’t “approved” you didn’t get the Listed Building Consent to work on buildings of “historical architectural interest”. A bit of a specialist closed shop, in other words, which officially didn’t exist – or at least wasn’t admitted to!

That personal experience of the impact of at least one of the EU’s “four freedoms” isn’t the only one, the second case surprised me even more.

In the course of my work as a joiner working on older (usually Listed) properties it sometimes happened that I needed to form a complex profile that my existing machinery couldn’t produce in a single pass, one such being the corners of a shop-front I’d been asked to repair. I could have done it using multiple passes and some delicate positioning of expensive oak, but that was risky and expensive in time. I needed a bigger machine and so I went on ebay to see what was out there. I found just the thing, a spindle moulder with the capacity to take the size of piece I needed to shape those shop-front profiles.

The machine was in Ipswich, I was in Shropshire, but the ‘Buy It Now’ price was good enough to make the trip worthwhile.

I arrived at a sizable building on the River Orwell just outside Ipswich, a boat builder. When I got inside the building I was amazed at the two boats inside, one of which reminded me of the yacht in the film ‘High Society’, True Love, on which Bing Crosby serenaded Grace Kelly, it was all mahogany and brass – beautiful.

Having phoned ahead to give an approximate time of my arrival the owner was waiting for me with the machine blocked up ready to load onto my van. His son came out of the office to help us load, during the course of which I asked him why he was selling such a good machine for what was a ‘give-away’ price (in fact I had been sceptical about the claimed quality of the machine on the basis that if it seems too good to be true it usually is) and he told me that he’d tried to sell it locally but had no interest at all, and that the ebay entry I’d responded to was the second one he’d submitted. He then went on to tell me that ALL the machines I could see around me were available if I cared to make him a reasonable offer, either for the lot or for individual machines. Because my own workshop was already well equipped I passed on the offer but asked him why he could afford to be so generous. And that’s when it all came out.

He was closing the business down because he couldn’t compete with boatyards in the Baltic states who had recently joined the EU. He had been in the business all his life, the third generation of boat builders in the same shed, his son would have taken over the business had he been able to keep it open, as it was the shed was so quiet because the other two craftsmen he’d employed (both of whom had done their apprenticeships with his company), both highly experienced men, were now working at a local composite-board factory doing unskilled jobs, and his son was starting at a local replacement window factory as works manager. Himself? He intended to retire.

He explained that it wasn’t the Eastern European tradesmen coming to the UK that was the problem, it was those Baltic states boatyards taking business off UK yards by undercutting them; it was cheaper for the owner of a yacht, like the ones he still had in his shed (although they were both owned by him – “Part of my pension”), to pay for the boat to be taken by road to, in this instance, a Polish yard on a low-loader, have the work done by highly skilled Polish tradesmen – as he put it: “Boat building is boatbuilding” – and then sailed back to a UK port by a Polish crew. To add insult to injury, a Polish yard could buy Volvo marine engines from Sweden and then SELL them on cheaper than a UK boatyard could BUY them for. Why? Because the EU allowed Volvo to subsidise the sale because Poland, having just joined the EU, was classed as an “emerging economy” and state aid rules (designed to cut out unfair competition) didn’t apply.

And I am NOT singling out Poland for criticism here but the EU’s insistence on no opt-out from its four freedoms – for goods, services, people and capital to move freely within Europe – regardless of any individual country’s circumstances, it is just that my personal experiences have their basis in events that involve that country, in fact Poland has been a friend to the UK throughout the Brexit process, as witness this Daily Express report…

‘It is NOT ACCEPTABLE’ Poland hits out to demand EU stops punishing Britain over Brexit… POLAND’s foreign minister has accused Brussels of punishing the British people over Brexit as he argued the EU must accept some of the blame for the UK’s vote to leave and MUST undergo ‘deep reform’ if it hopes to keep the bloc together. (Daily Express Tue, Oct 23, 2018)

Now contrast that with an earlier article back in 2016 that reflects an attitude maintained throughout the negotiations between the EU and both Cameron and May (and latterly Johnson)…

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/07/uk-must-pay-price-for-brexit-says-francois-hollande

So no, I’m not a fan of the EU and I don’t agree that the UK will not do well outside of the EU… had it been allowed to complete the process that should have started in earnest over three years ago.

And for the record, the Farmers Weekly poll in 2016 prior to the referendum…

https://www.fwi.co.uk/news/eu-referendum/survey-reveals-58-farmers-back-eu-exit

And after the referendum…

https://www.fwi.co.uk/news/farmer-support-brexit-strong-ever-fw-poll-reveals

At the time the National Farmers Union, much quoted by LibDem Heather Kidd, disagreed with its own readership and lobbied to Remain. Hmmm. Sounds a bit like some of our parliamentarian’s attitude towards the people who voted them into power and trusted them to honour the result of the referendum and get us out of the EU.

But what do I know?

#58: County Councillor’s Report, first published in the (Highley) ‘Forum’ September 2019.

County Councillor’s Report

Not a lot to report or comment on this month because for some obscure reason everything “political” still closes down over August. A fellow councillor said that he’d been in Shirehall earlier in the week (I’m writing this in mid-August because of the Forum’s deadline) and reported that the place was “like the wreck of the Hesperus”. The ‘Marie Celeste’ might have been a more accurate comparison.

I suppose I can understand Parliament at Westminster shutting down to allow MPs to spend time in their constituencies, but at a local level it always seems a bit of a faff because it’s not as if local councillors spend days stuck in committees or attending rounds of meetings, as I explained in last month’s report all that is a thing of the past since the Cabinet system was introduced in 2009.

The concerns of our town or parish constituents don’t go away for a month so council officers are still in post to keep the wheels turning, although with the increasing tendency to promote “flexible” working trying to find an officer at their desk when you phone can be challenging, if often happens that your first point of contact is a request to leave a voicemail, ending with the dreaded words: “… and we’ll get back to you.”

There is some advantage to email because at least you have a paper trail, but there are often instances when you’re having to chase someone up just to check they’ve had it, the old fashioned way of confirming receipt as a simple common courtesy is sadly a thing of the past, which can be embarrassing if you’ve told a constituent that you’ll get onto their case without delay but then find yourself having to hang fire getting back to them because you’ve been assured you’ll get a response “ASAP” and then hear nothing.

Which is why I’ve given up making promises or indeed raising expectations, because a central plank of Tremellen’s First Law of Fundamental Errors acknowledges that disappointment is directly proportional to expectation – the greater the expectation the greater the disappointment. Conditional assurances like: “I’ll get back to you as soon as I hear something”, are meaningless because making an outcome ‘conditional’ on something else happening is to introduce doubt; the hedging of a bet where the chances are odds-on.

I’ve always tried desperately hard to avoid doing that conditional thing, but over the last few years it has got increasingly harder because “non executive councillors” (by definition those councillors who are not one of the ten members of Shropshire Council Cabinet) have very little power, they are essentially conduits of information.

Add to that the obvious North Shropshire bias evident in both Cabinet and the Authority as a whole and you have a recipe for the factional make-up of Shirehall, where even some Members of the majority Conservative group can find themselves representing areas that are overlooked for funding. It’s a bit of a postcode lottery, but one weighted in favour of the north.

Pretty much every area to the south, east and west of the Wenlock Edge consistently loses out in favour of the north and north-west, which is why I have – for a VERY long time – insisted that the Wenlock Edge isn’t just a geological barrier for the powers-that-be at Shirehall, it’s a psychological barrier.

Shrewsbury is an anomaly because a massive amount of funding goes into the town despite it being the power base of the Labour group at Shirehall (virtually all Labour seats are in Shrewsbury electoral wards). So how come? Simples. Shrewsbury Town Council sees power shared between Labour and Conservative, two recent (successive) mayors of Shrewsbury have been Labour and Conservative, their electoral self-interests are mutual. So yet another factor that sees the self-interest of “the north” work against the desperate need of “the south” for a fairer share of funding.

But at least we have each other.

Dave Tremellen

Independent Councillor for Highley Ward of Shropshire Council.

#57. REPRINT OF… #25. On the Liberal elite’s thinly-veiled contempt for anyone who voted for Brexit.

I’ve resurrected this because of recent events that have angered me beyond anything I’ve known for a very long time, namely the attempts by virulently anti-Brexit hate groups to confound the will of the British people as expressed in the result of the 2016 referendum.

A report about the local “demonstrations” in Shrewsbury against what the protesters insist was a Boris Johnson “coup” in the form of the prorogation of Parliament, took up a few column inches in the local press and attracted a hardly impressive turnout of 400 from a county population of around 310,000. Like the earlier “demonstration” calling on Shropshire Council to declare a “climate emergency”, the demonstration gave the Green Party an opportunity to canvas for membership amongst schoolchidren and a disaffected middle class annoyed that their opinions didn’t carry the day on June 23rd 2016. Good luck to them because the result of a recent poll by the Shropshire Star showed 54% of the newspaper’s readership supporting Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit and 46% against.

But that won’t have the slightest impact on the anti-democratic pro-EU camp and their breathtaking capacity to dictate policy not by argument but by denigration and verbal intimidation, disguising attacks on one group in society as compassion for another, effectively suppressing free speech under the guise of seeking to prevent ‘offence’.

That one of the people leading that recent anti-Brexit “demonstration” in Shrewsbury was the Green Party county councillor who is included in the Independent Group at Shirehall is the reason I am seriously considering standing down from that Shirehall grouping, in future standing again as a “non-aligned Independent County Councillor”, as I was classified following my expulsion from the Independent Group after (nominally) crossing the chamber to join UKIP to actively campaign for the 2016 referendum and, having got the result in the referendum that I had campaigned for, five days after the referendum count I left UKIP, on June 28th 2016, job done.

I didn’t gloat over what at that time seemed a conclusive outcome of a democratic process because, being “British”, it wasn’t the way “we” reacted to elections results. Whatever the outcome of every democratically constituted  election I had experienced in my 73 years of life (as of June 2016), I did what I always did, just congratulated all the people I’d campaigned with, drove home and got on with looking forward to seeing the government carry forward the clearly expressed will of the British people to leave the EU, whether with or without “a deal” because I had researched the potential options BEFORE choosing which side I would campaign for. The information relating to ANY option has always been out there, accessible to anyone who took the bother to look and who used the information to inform their decision as to which way to vote. The sole issue for me was that we leave behind us the disastrous Maastricht Treaty and with it the EU.

The current demonstrations are undeniably aimed at frustrating the result of the 2016 referendum, regardless of the hypocritical statements of intent claiming they have to do with the “defence of democracy”. They are clearly aimed at frustrating Brexit and keeping the UK in the EU.

 

FIRST PUBLISHED ON JULY 11 2016.

If anything has angered me beyond any measure, it’s been the reaction by some sectors to what was without doubt one of the most democratic processes I’ve ever taken an active part in, the recent EU Referendum, a process in which every individual’s vote was equal to every other individual’s vote.

And yet, under the headline: “Brexit bunch must produce quick plan”, Liberal Democrat councillor for the Quarry and Coton Hill Ward of Shropshire Council, Andrew Bannerman, said in a letter to the Shropshire Star of 1 July 2016…

Like half the population I am devastated by the referendum result. The genuinely disadvantaged and the anxious have been manipulated by a vigorous and mendacious campaign. “78 million joining soon” says the disgraceful sinking ship on the Bridgnorth Road – project fear or what?

Some of the areas that have benefited most from EU grants and EU trade agreements were amazingly the least sensible of this. Welsh farmers sell 90 per cent of their lamb to France, so why vote out? It’s like turkeys voting far Christmas? Bob Wydell and Co, aided and abetted by the right-wing press, have proved that if you say something often enough, many people will believe it.

The old have deprived the young (70 per cent of whom voted to Remain) of the opportunities offered by membership of the EU. No thought was given to the effect on Scotland, Ireland or the rest of Europe. We may have wounded the EU, we may have lost Scotland and resurrected the anguish of Ireland – but what do they matter to the comfortable pastures of Shropshire?

So Brexiteers, we now know what we have NOT got – the EU — with all its imperfections and all its vast potential to make us all friendlier, safer and more prosperous. Just what have we got‘? You haven’t a clue. “Independence” will butter no parsnips. You’d better came up with something sharpish.

Andrew Bannerman

Shrewsbury

My reply was printed on Monday 11 July 2016.

I edited down the letter to the Shropshire Star to keep it short enough on fine detail to be considered for publication, but here is the full text of the original…

The thinly-veiled contempt in Andrew Bannerman’s letter for anyone who voted for Brexit displays the underlying extremism implicit in the liberal elite’s denial of the right of anyone else to hold any view that runs counter to its own.

Councillor Bannerman is a Liberal Democrat and a decent man who has the misfortune of many in his party to suffer from a myopia that gives him a rather restricted view of the real world, the world as experienced by ordinary working people.

I am still desperately trying to work out how an otherwise intelligent man still doesn’t understand that every penny we get back from the EU in grants and subsidies was paid into the EU by the UK anyway. As a matter of official public record, our net contribution to the EU Budget in 2015 was circa £8.5 billion. That is a lot of reasons for them needing us more than we need them.

And as for the EU as a keeper of the European peace, with its “vast potential to make us all friendlier, safer“? That is specious nonsense. The closest we have come to a Third World War was the EU’s attempt at drawing Ukraine closer into the Union and into the sphere of NATO, creating a perilous situation equal to that of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, when US President J.F. Kennedy warned Russia not to site missiles (on Cuba) within striking distance of America’s seaboard. Happily, Russia backed down and, as an 18-year-old RAF airman, sleeping and eating in a one-tonner alongside a V-bomber on a dispersal pan at RAF Honington in Suffolk, with the aircrew in the cockpit on 4-minute stand-by, I and the rest of the duty crew of armourers stood down and went for a beer we never thought we’d see again.

And there is a reason why the EU was not a signatory of the Dayton Peace Agreement that brought a kind of peace to Kosovo, it has to do with the EU’s insisting that the murderous Slobodan Milošević be allowed to sort out his country’s “internal affairs” without outside interference, in the process arguing against the US-led bombing campaign that went ahead despite the EU’s protests, a campaign that eventually ended the genocidal war that would have seen the completion of Slobodan Milošević’s ethnic cleansing of every Bosnian Muslim from “his” country. Nice one, Councillor Bannerman.

Andrew Bannerman is a student of history with either a very short or a very convenient memory.

Dave Tremellen

Highley

What Andrew Bannerman said in his letter was deeply offensive, at best patronising, not just to Welsh farmers but to everyone whether on the “right wing” or “left wing” of British politics who disagrees with him. The Brexit campaign, quite apart from being genuinely cross-party, was not driven by an ideology based on the fanciful notion that the ideal state of mankind is one where everyone thinks and acts like Andrew Bannerman.

I don’t suppose it ever occurred to those who share his views that the farmers’ vote was probably against the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that works against the interests of both British farmers and British consumers? I thought not.

When the EU spends our money 40 per cent of it goes on the CAP, it is then paid out as subsidy, only a fraction of which comes back to UK farmers, thanks largely to the political power of French farmers, a situation many in the rest of the EU would happily see an end to – were they ever given an opportunity like our recent referendum.

Councillor Bannerman might like to spend some time pondering a situation that sees many dairy imports into the EU hit with a tariff of around 50 per cent, a situation that discriminates against developing countries where agriculture makes up such a big slice of their economy. Taking the UK out of the CAP means it can trade openly with those developing countries, a move that is a far more effective anti-poverty – and anti-corruption – measure than any amount of direct monetary foreign aid because the UK will be helping people to help themselves without lining the pockets of their leaders.

Personally, I thank our farmers for a vote that will see UK consumers paying lower food prices, despite the fall in the value of the (still) over-priced pound because, according to a recent report by the Institute of Economic Affairs, as a direct result of the CAP food prices in the EU are 17 percent above world market prices.

Whilst I have no idea what the breakdown of the vote was for the local farmers who voted ‘Out’, the ones Andrew Bannerman has so much contempt for, but a poll in Farmers Weekly before the vote indicated 58 per cent for Brexit and only 31 per cent against. So perhaps what he refers to as the turkeys who voted for Christmas had a better view of the roots of the Christmas tree and saw just how rotten they were. They are the experts after all.

Anyone else upset by the margin by which they failed to get their way, should take note that Shropshire people were not fooled by (to borrow Councillor Bannerman’s phrase) the “vigorous and mendacious campaign” of scaremongering peddled by the likes of Cameron and Osborne, to the extent that whilst the total number of Shropshire votes cast for Remain was 78,987, the total number of Shropshire votes cast for Leave was half as much again, totalling 104,166, which is surely a wide enough margin to convince even the most cynical of deniers that the vote and its outcome was fair.

Hopefully, when the local council elections come around in May 2017, the people of Shropshire who wanted out of the EU will remember the contempt in which they have been held for apparently thinking for themselves.

[Note: Andrew Bannerman stood down as a county councillor at the 2017 local elections.]

#56: Planning: The Failed Process or The Curse of the NPPF, a community nightmare.

NPPF CARTOON

The Local Context.

The cartoon at the head of this article was used several years ago by Helen Howie, at the time a senior planning officer in Shropshire Council’s planning department, in a presentation to local councillors at Shirehall to illustrate the power of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Helen Howie subsequently followed other planning department colleagues by leaving Shropshire Council to work for one of the larger local land agents.

Following the mass exodus of senior planning officers in 2013 (South Shropshire alone lost 40% of its experienced planning staff), those that were left behind found themselves facing private sector planning agents who had not only helped to draw up Shropshire Council’a planning policies but knew where all the skeletons were hidden.

Helen Howie would now, of course, be sitting up there in the cab with the developer.

Helen Howie used that cartoon to demonstrate what everyone in the county would be facing if Shropshire Council’s 5 year housing land supply – on which all planning assumptions regarding housing need was based – was challenged by developers who argued that they should be allowed to build more houses to meet a need that THEY determined. If that challenge to Shropshire Council’s figures was successful then the NPPF would kick in and developers would have carte blanche, it’s why the NPPF even in its consultation stages was known as “the developer’s charter”.

The 5 year housing land supply figure was challenged, in a case known as the Teal Drive appeal…

https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/local-hubs/oswestry/ellesmere/2017/07/07/appeal-to-build-homes-near-the-mere-in-ellesmere-thrown-out-/

As the case progressed, Shropshire Council had to acknowledge that the methodology used to determine its 5 year housing land supply needed to be amended to make it more “objective”, a process that was actually called “Full Objectively Assessed Housing Need”, handily referred to as “FOAHN” (pronounced as in “phone”).

The impact of the NPPF was eased only in the sense that its grip on the throat of Shropshire Council was no longer deadly enough to kill it off, it lived. Ironically, the victim then started to emulate its tormentor to the extent that it was difficult to tell them apart.

The victim becomes the perpetrator.

As I explained in some detail in blog #53: How Do Planners Get Away With It? planners are not averse to forcing through schemes that they haven’t fully consulted on by claiming to have neither the time nor the resources for such a waste of taxpayer’s money.

“Not in the public interest.”

Planners have a blind spot for irony!

What’s so creepy is that what’s between the lines is the implicit threat to any community that challenges the underlying assumption that it’s OK to build houses as long as houses ARE being built, that where they’re built is a mere detail not worth losing sleep over.

Planners vs The People: the chasm has in fact always existed but has just got wider.

On being elected to Shropshire Council in May 2013 my previous experience of “planners” had given me a rather jaundiced view of the profession, to the extent that I lumped them in with lawyers and architects, in fact in with all the various “professionals” who decide what’s best for the rest of us based on their tenuous grasp of reality.

For a number of years I was a Moderator on the ‘ebuild’ forum, an internet-based forum dealing primarily with energy-efficient self-builds (and any other incidental construction subjects, including historic buildings). If any subject took up more time than any other it was “planning”, not just the bare-bones law of national planning policy but the post-code lottery type of issue, where one local authority’s planning department took a different view on an issue than its neighbour; the subjective issues, subjective because planning departments have directors of planning and, as in all organisations, whatever cultural bias exists at the top will filter down through the ranks.

I remember a similar pattern of enquiries during my few years as a regular contributor to the Green Building Forum.

So I’ve had a lot to do with planners and planning departments from this side of the fence, including what used to be called Conservation Officers. My own business was called ‘Conservation Joinery Services’ and I was engaged in that work for over 20 years so I’m familiar with the way planning officers think and planning departments work – or did, until fairly recently, when even more power was shifted into the hands of planners.

What little accountability they were subject to before was lessened even further by the greater control they were handed by central government to self-determine whether and how far accountability applied to them. (See blog #53 and its references to the ‘Statement of Community Involvement’.)

What happened was not a subtle shift, it was a difference of an order of magnitude.

It’s worth getting your head around the NPPF because it’s so important a planning consideration, but also note that whilst the NPPF might be the primary factor, what’s lubricating the wheels is the Localism Act 2011. That, too, needs a little explaining.

So, the “NPPF”?

The NPPF followed a commitment made in the 2010 Coalition Agreement to ‘publish and present to Parliament a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development setting out national economic, environmental and social priorities’. The then-Minister for Planning and Decentralisation, Greg Clark, suggested it introduced a simpler and more accessible approach to planning policy.”

https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/National_planning_policy_framework_NPPF

[See also… https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/planning/318-planning-features/38849-reflections-on-the-revised-nppf ]

Eric Pickles (now Lord Pickles) was the government minister who wielded the axe over the old planning regime.

From the outset the NPPF was generally recognised by affected stakeholders as disastrous for local communities, in fact as being nothing more than a lightly disguised “developer’s charter”.

Pickles had dissembling down to a fine art; a consummate politician he wasn’t averse to bending rules, including arbitrarily calling-in and over-riding judgments of the High Court and Appeal Courts to suit his own ends when things weren’t going his way; the loose wording of the NPPF allowed him to justify every twist and turn.

The Localism Act 2011 was ostensibly about decentralising power to local people to “give local people far more ability to shape the places in which they live”*.

Through a series of reforms, Pickles claimed that:

the coalition government was making the planning process more accessible to local communities, because planning works best when communities themselves have the opportunity to influence the decisions that affect their lives”*.

Specious beyond belief!

That cartoon at the head of this article says it all graphically, the NPPF does the ethical and moral damage by ploughing its way through objection and the Localism Act adds insult to physical injury by sticking a bandage over it and telling communities that “at least you’ve had your say”.

Under the subtitle: ‘Greater community consultation’, Pickles actually set out in the National Planning Policy Framework “the importance of early and meaningful engagement with local communities”*, a statement that verges on the criminally misleading.

[* Written statement to Parliament by Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government.]

Giving with strings attached.

The NPPF guidance says that a proposal should be approved as sustainable development unless the adverse impacts clearly and significantly outweigh the benefits. Anyone with even a passing interest in semantics will see that the battle is lost before it’s begun.

That “a proposal should be approved as sustainable development unless the adverse impacts clearly and significantly outweigh the benefits” is, on the face of it clear enough. But define “clearly”; define “significantly”.

To make an aggrieved local community faced with an unwanted development feel as if it has a chance of arguing its case, the NPPF dangles a carrot by saying that if the development is not “sustainable” any claimed planning advantages can be considered non-existent, therefore the presumption in favour can be challenged, which is WHY developers pepper their supporting arguments with the word “sustainable” and so, supported by the government’s determination to encourage building wherever a brick can be laid, the planning “benefits” can be made to appear overwhelmingly in favour of the “presumption” which, bitter experience has taught us, makes it difficult-to-impossible to displace, proving that you can be beaten around the head with a carrot as well as a stick.

Keep the buggers guessing.

Another consideration, for the planners as well as the developers, are “market signals”.

Market signals may be just one of many factors but they can be manipulated easily (planners are learning from developers here – as are the politicians), objection can be made to appear unreasonable:

But people need somewhere to live, are you suggesting we shouldn’t build houses?”.

Given the malleable nature of “market signals”, subject as they are to government policy based more on the numbers on a spreadsheet, as well as political expediency (especially close to general elections), than locally determined need based on, well, locally determined need, “market signals” are nothing more than white noise.

So how do you determine “need” when that “need” is presented as being nothing more than a response to “market signals”? It’s a movable feast!

Here in Highley a few years back the number of houses the community assessed it needed was determined according to the number its infrastructure could handle, the sums were kept simple. The assessment was completed as part of the main county-wide planning document known as ‘Site Allocations and Management of Development (SAMDev).

By the time SAMDev was first rolled out in its final form the bulk of that locally determined “need” had already been built and occupied, leaving a balance of 30 houses needed to meet Highley’s quota, a balance easily identified and classified, not least because one outstanding site within the development boundary had Outline Planning Permission (OPP) for at least 30 houses in place for over 30 years anyway!

Also on the books was another site (known locally as ‘The Cedars’ and officially included in Shropshire’s 5 year housing land supply figures) with OPP for 40 houses which has subsequently been developed with 35 houses and renamed the Staley Grove estate, so more than enough to satisfy anyone other than the planners.

Bewilderment Rules, OK.

So what about the “plan-led” planning system Shropshire’s planners make so much fuss about?

So what about it?

Indeed.

Couch legislation in the vaguest of terms and it’s made arguable and whilst both sides of the argument might be heard, only one voice will ever be listened to – the planners.

It’s my conviction that even in planning it is not unreasonable to expect a minimum standard of professional ethics at a level the public expects of its public servants (and public perception here is paramount) because the term “public servant” isn’t without meaning, and certainly isn’t without expectation on the part of the public, a public that public servants ostensibly exist to serve.

They often add insult to injury by claiming that the “consultation” they engage in is a concession because they are under no obligation to consult at all. That was made clear by the planning officer presenting Shropshire Council’s case for the further 122 houses in Highley assumed in the Council’s latest Local Plan. His exact response to criticism of the methodology in respect of the publication (2019) of their “preferred sites” locations was…

Well, we didn’t actually have to consult at all!”

What the planners rely on is the document I referred to earlier, the ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ (SCI). As an exercise in just how extreme the limits of cynicism can be stretched it takes some beating because the CSI not only allows a local authority to decide whether to consult, it allows them to set out the conditions on which it is prepared to consult.

https://www.shropshire.gov.uk/planning-policy/local-planning/statement-of-community-involvement/

When 2 + 2 = 3.5 – x (where x = infrastructure).

Even a basic understanding of the social housing market explains why, in a place like Highley (population circa 3,600+ and semi-rural with little local employment), the availability of social housing at affordable rents can make the difference between a family or an individual just about managing and not being able to manage at all. There is, after all, supreme irony in building houses for the open market that no one can afford to rent, let alone buy.

But you cannot in all conscience build houses in communities without thought for the impact those developments will have on local roads, shops and schools, yet significantly for Highley future development is not linked to infrastructure in any way, shape or form.

Without consideration of infrastructure the word “sustainable” is meaningless.

Consideration of infrastructure is critical at the outset and makes the inclusion of Highways in inter-departmental planning an imperative, but the impression given is that, at least in the Shropshire Council planner’s book, instead of being a core consideration it is seen as a radical divergence from orthodoxy.

Planning classifications of ‘communities’, which determines how a community is viewed in terms of its potential to absorb more development, is now decided by Shirehall planners. Regardless of how those communities might insist they should to be classified in line with their local knowledge based on actually LIVING in that community, it is Shirehall calling the shots.

How out of touch with reality planners can be is demonstrated by their continuing to argue that the population figure for Highley in 2016 was “estimated” to be 3,195, despite the earlier 2011 official government census (not known for making ‘estimates’) showing the population – eight years ago – as 3,602, since when we’ve seen 122 houses built since 2013.

Either the planners have got it seriously wrong or the population has shrunk.

The population has obviously shrunk, there couldn’t possibly be any other explanation.