#90: A musing of sorts… On the matter of the Harworth application to develop the Ironbridge power station getting through… eventually.

Councillors challenge planning committee vote on Ironbridge

This is the report in the Shropshire Star of the happenings at the South Planning Committee held on 20 September 2021. You need to read it.

www.shropshirestar.com/news/local-hubs/telford/ironbridge/2021/09/24/ironbridge-vote-unlikely-to-be-held-again/

The casual observer sees the event, that’s it.

In that screen-shot of the committee meeting that’s an image of me with my hand up.

That meeting on the 20th was described as an “extraordinary” one, the culmination of a succession of events made up of entirely separate issues that all funnelled one way as determined by Shropshire Council planners at the outset.

Kid yourself not.

From the moment the “old Ironbridge power station” ceased to be “just” the old Ironbridge power station and started to be hyped as the “Ironbridge power station development” – full of developer’s promise – the fate of the site and all those even remotely likely to be affected by its development was sealed.

Look closely enough at that screen capture and you’ll detect from my body language that my right hand has gone up in a sort of: “Why not?” gesture, as against the determined thrust evident in all the other “fors” because that sense of giving in to the inevitable was exactly what was going through my mind. The pointlessness of it all. That that’s where we’ve ended up and that from now on things can only get worse.

To complete the picture, a full facial would also have indicated a degree of ‘pissed-offness’ because by that point I was, believe me, severely pissed off, and not just by the matter in hand.

A series of ‘noises-off’ from various players had also mightily pissed me off, not least from officers who ought to have known better but who seemed determined to prove how ‘forceful’ they could be, which is always a danger because whilst they were concentrating on what they were trying to make out was a point of principle, they missed a point of order bigger than any of the egos on show.

As for that newspaper report? It’s politics, and for the LibDems and their erstwhile allies that means grabbing any opportunity for mischief, and there was enough of that going on.

Not that their objection was wrong because rules were broken, it was mischievous for the simple reason that instead of objecting to my being allowed to speak and vote under a “Point Of Order” at the instant of the incident’s occurring, they chose to leave it until they could make the maximum mischief from what would otherwise have been a procedural slip-up resulting from my cancer-induced bursting for a piss and committee chair Cllr David Evans’ good nature. (I append my apology to David Evans at the end of this piece.)

Would I have handled the Point of Order for maximum mischief? Probably, but not with the irritating self-righteous smirk I got from Ludlow’s erstwhile man of the match, ‘Bodders’. At the time I was wondering why the hell he was looking so pleased with himself. Should have realised someone was about to get grief.

Having a clear-out of some of the documents relating to the incident, I found the following email I sent to Steve Mulloy a few days after the event. It actually does capture not just my overall feelings relating to the Ironbridge power station application, but my feelings about the way that the planning system has been corrupted in a way that favours central government policy over TRUE place-making policies that local communities would happily support if only they felt that they weren’t being screwed by unimaginative un-elected council officials and outside contractors, which seem to multiply at Shirehall by the week, as witness…

10.Procurement of Highways Professional Services Contract PDF 293 KB Lead Member – Councillor Dean Carroll – Portfolio Holder for Physical Infrastructure   Report of Mark Barrow, Director of Place – TO FOLLOW   Tel: 01743 258919   Additional documents: Appendix 1 2021-09 – Professional Services Outline Business Case FINAL , item 10. PDF 1

…on the agenda for Cabinet’s meeting on the 1st December 2021.

I’m sure they’re queuing up outside the doors!

Meanwhile, I digress.

Following the meeting of the 20th, I vented my anger and frustration in an email to Steve Mulloy…

What a fucking stitch-up, and Ms Darke showed her hand, and as for those prats [and here I mention two recently-elected councillors], christ.

The vote was always going to be close. Had I voted against it would have been a split one, but then David Evans would have just cast his chair’s vote in support anyway… given the weight the administration placed behind the development’s moving forward would he have dared do a Robert Tindall? I think not. And even if he had, in the immediate, let alone the medium-to-long term, nothing would have changed.

Believe it or not it was my sitting there with that presentation slide of the Ironbridge site on view the whole time that swayed me, not that I took much swaying anyway. Given the weakness of the arguments against the application all people were doing was increasing their pain in the face of, as I said, a stitch-up.

No one took the opportunity (and I don’t except myself here – but see below) to directly challenge Darke’s insistence that the “independent” viability consultant’s independence was compromised by his having worked for the company whose figures he was being paid to challenge. Had my head been fully screwed on (and not screwed up by the way the day had gone up until then) I would have reminded Mrs Darke (and that clown Marshall) that even so much as a TRACE of a pecuniary interest when dealing with local authority affairs is enough to compromise independence, especially when that trace of a pecuniary interest hasn’t been declared!

[NOTE: This preceded the Owen Paterson pantomime, but even then I doubt whether any of the Tories would have made the distinction between screwing the system big-time and, err, screwing the system just a little bit by fudging an ill-defined system that leaves it up to the fudger to decide what they think they ought to be allowed to get away with.]

And that’s the theme of a forthcoming blog!

I thought Claire maintained her dignity in the face of what she had no choice except to accept as inevitable and David Turner was passionate but pointless [I wanted David to address the pointlessness of it all, not try and influence an anyway pointless vote when the outcome was SO inevitable], and I’ve heard him put down similar arguments from others.

And yes, the impact on all the neighbouring communities will be huge. And the Gaskell is the least of their worries, Sheinton Street will be a bloody nightmare but it never got a mention by anyone (they ought to try working on the frontages down there with the quarry lorries thundering past, I have first-hand experience and it is terrifying). The best I can say about Lumby’s pathetic defence of the transport study that makes so little of the increase in traffic is that he can always claim ignorance as his defence.

Steve, listening to Parsons and Boddington, tells me that nothing will change with a change in administration. I heard them when they were part of the committee that dropped the TC Homes development on us here (small as it is, it opens up the way for a further 120 houses on its neighbouring site).

Not a word was said to challenge SC’s housing targets. Did you hear anyone challenging them? In fact all the talk was of the need to take any opportunity on offer to realise those targets, and that was the underlying theme yesterday. Everyone else was wasting their breath.

What I said in my cobbled-up submission said precisely that, whether anyone took it on board or not I don’t know, by the time it had all finished I no longer cared that much.

When I passed through the ante-chamber and saw Jo there interviewing the usual suspects (no wonder Bodders was in such a rush to get away), I was thinking: “Jo, the question you SHOULD be asking is why anyone voted FOR the application.” The answer would have said more about the state of play now than asking the obvious question anyone can see the obvious answer to.

Mind you, I suppose the obvious-obvious question that should have been asked is why that report wasn’t released until two days before the meeting? And why wasn’t Harworth’s man reminded that had that report been submitted at the last committee, with all its compromises, no one would have been wasting their time going over it all again!!

So what DID happen and why?

And here are the texts of the email exchanges between myself and the Planning Committee Chair Cllr David Evans.

I did feel bad about “dropping him in it” because whilst it’s alright pointing out that a procedural point of order doesn’t need much thinking about, especially when the procedure is as a clear cut as it was here, an error of judgement isn’t a capital crime especially one so easily recitified when identified in time to prevent damage (as it wasn’t in this case). But as I said, the value for the LibDems and Labour was in the potential for political mischief, not in the righteousness of their case.

From: Dave Tremellen <Dave.Tremellen@shropshire.gov.uk>
Sent: Wednesday, September 22, 2021 7:49:42 AM
To: David Evans
Cc: David Minnery; Robert Tindall
Subject: Monday

Sorry about Monday, David, everything conspired against me from the time I left home, and I was frustrated at having to leave the debate having tried to hold on, which is why I actually read out the scribbled note instead of the one-and-a-half typed pages I’d carefully prepared. But thank you for indulging me in that, what I said about cancer being no respecter of sensibilities or orders of debate was a rage against misfortune not an attempt to embarrass you.

It can’t happen again and I’ll speak with both David M and Robert to work something out, which could bugger up the committee membership item on tomorrow’s agenda – which I’m going to miss because I take delivery of a motorised wheelchair tomorrow lunchtime!

Again, apologies.

Regards,

Dave Tremellen

Member for Highley Division of Shropshire Council

From: Dave Tremellen <Dave.Tremellen@shropshire.gov.uk>
Sent: 24 September 2021 12:25
To: David Minnery; Robert Tindall
Cc: David Evans
Subject: Planning stuff

Good morning, both. Assuming you’ve heard the news, sorry to be the outlier, but that’s the embuggerment with being an Independent – there’s always one.

You will doubtless by now be aware of the challenge to the vote on the power station, the challenge coming as no surprise to me, except that I expected the challenge (Point of Order) to have come AT the vote, not days after it. Whoever raised the objection knew what they were doing and obviously timed their complaint to maximise both the nuisance caused and the embarrassment to those officers who should have excluded my vote following David’s ruling (albeit subsequently reversed). I have to admit to being surprised at not having my vote disqualified, there were enough senior officers present to have recognised what happened as ‘a point of order’ and raised it despite the telling silence from those councillors who opposed the development; I was amazed that they were able to contain themselves.

With David having told me that having left the debate (for whatever reason, the details aren’t attractive) I was disqualified from speaking in the debate, I was surprised at NOT being told that my vote wouldn’t count either! (I’ve forwarded to both of you my email to David on this score.)

As my email to David makes clear, I was frustrated by BOTH my personal situation AND what the various officers were doing to the planning process (particularly Tracey Darke and her dangerous take on the matter of pecuniary interests – had I challenged her and the developer’s opinion on that we’d have been there all day), and so given the inevitability of the permission now that the increase in AHC is included together with all the other minor and totally ineffectual tweaks, as I said during my ‘speech’, if I voted for the development it wasn’t an approval but an acceptance of the scheme’s inevitability within the greater scheme of things.

I shouldn’t have allowed my personal feelings to influence events but I did, my anger was so great. Given that David had already disqualified me from speaking in the debate, I was surprised at being allowed to speak (in fact I asked David for confirmation) and totally gobsmacked that my actual (though half-hearted) vote had been counted.

But here we are.

I can imagine Robert jumping up and down in his seat.

I’ll leave it up to you guys to decide on a way ahead. I have no objection to standing down.

Apropos that last bit, just bear in mind that I can’t guarantee anything similar won’t happen again, so if you can find another substitute then feel free – although you certainly do not need my permission!

Regards

Dave T

Forum article for December issue.

You know, for all it’s solemnity, in its way Remembrance Day, November 11th, is a good day because we not only come together to remember those who gave their lives in conflicts in the cause of our own and other people’s freedom, but to give personal thanks to those who survived and to those who are, on our behalf, still actively engaged in various theatres around the world.

I served in an active ‘conflict zone’ in Aden back in 1963 until 1965, as ground crew on a Hunter squadron, which meant I never actually saw ‘active service’ in the sense of being in imminent danger from direct enemy action, although terrorist activity was increasing towards the end of my tour out there, the most shocking of which was the death of a young girl when a grenade was thrown into a children’s Christmas party.

It’s thousands of miles from that married quarter in Aden to the war memorial at Highley church and yet it’s the memory of that young schoolgirl that comes back when I’m standing there, not the Hunter fighter pilot who, having survived operating in the most hazardous conditions imaginable ‘up country’, suffered an airframe malfunction and flew into the ground during an aerobatics display in front of thousands of onlookers.

Those two personal memories fall into line with the names that George Poyner reads out each year, that unnamed young girl and that fighter pilot tag onto the end of that column of local men and march off until they return next year.

Implicit in that memorial service is the acknowledgement of what that loss of life meant beyond any named individual, to those of us left behind.

That was brought home to me when, as one of the guard of honour at the funeral of that Hunter pilot, lined up with others alongside the graveside in what must be the loneliest burial ground in the world – aptly named ‘Silent Valley’ – I watched the wife of that pilot gently push their daughter forward to throw a flower onto her father’s coffin, and that’s the image I have when I see the adults at our Remembrance Day parade gently encouraging their charges to step forward on behalf of our football club, or brownies or scouts and place their wreath on the war memorial.

That’s an image that cuts across not just a few thousand miles of the most barren (and now war-torn) landscape on the planet but 57 years of an incredibly full life.

And back then, the last thing I imagined I’d be doing a lifetime later was carrying the responsibility for representing the interests of those fabulous wreath-laying kids and their parents who promoted such vivid memories of not just a very different landscape but a VERY different world.

We’re lucky living in Highley.

Dave Tremellen. 19 November 2021.

Silent Valley, Aden.

#89: WOKE. Be assured that your human rights, especially the ones that ensure you are treated as an equal according to whatever criteria takes your fancy, just a pity about the pains in your chest. Just grit your teeth.

What follows is the letter written by one of our (Highley’s) First Responders. It is self-explanatory so without further ado…

Local Life-saving Scheme forced to halt due to petty bureaucracy.


Highley First Responders, a scheme, manned by volunteers, to attend 999 calls in advance of the ambulance, to assist patients has been forced to halt because of WMAS governance issues.

The scheme in Highley, has been operating successfully for 20 years. Responders were initially trained on an FPOS course (First Person on Scene). In addition to this course, all responders have attended mandatory annual training to keep up to date with current medical practices, and to be reassessed on their life-saving skills.

The training provider has now changed. The course is now FROS (First Responder on Scene) which is essentially the same medical content.

The two remaining responders in Highley, Dave Fulton and Nigel Preece, were booked on to attend the new FROS course in September which ran for 3 weekends. Due to circumstances beyond their control, neither was able to attend. Dave offered to take the course on line, but this was not available. He also requested that the scheme be allowed to continue until the end of the year when he may be able to attend a future course, This time delay would also the opportunity for new recruits to be sought and trained to enable the scheme to continue.

The pleas fell on deaf ears and Highley First Responders were told that until such time as they took and passed the new course, they would be made inactive on 30th. September 2021, which has now happened.

During the past 20 years the Highley Scheme has contributed approx. 140,000 hours on call, and attended more than 15,000 999 calls but this experience has been ignored by WMAS.

Dave recalls several instances where patients in Highley have been saved by the use of their Defibrillator ahead of arrival of the ambulance to cardiac arrests. One person is amazingly still seen walking round the village 18 years on from being saved. Another was actually a Highley First Responder who ‘died’ some 15 years ago whilst playing Badminton. He was brought back to life by one of the other First responders in the group, and is happily still very much alive and active.

The scheme is far from the patient caring scheme it was first set up for. Responders were called to all 999 calls regardless of their severity. Since 2020, responders are only now called to life-saving emergencies such as strokes, cardiac arrests, severe breathing difficulties, (Category 1 and 2). They are no longer responded to Category 3 calls which could be broken limbs, falls, and other ailments which are the majority of calls in Highley. Consequently, the number of activations in Highley as a result of this decision has fallen from some 15 a week to less than one a week. This decision ignores the needs of patients who are sometimes left on the floor in agony for several hours before an ambulance arrives.

Dave recalls one particular instance when responding to a rider who had fallen from a horse. Dave was on scene in 4 minutes to find t6hat the person had been lying in agony for nearly 3 hours. The call was upgraded from a Cat 3 to Cat 2 after the riders partner arrived (from Cheltenham) and made a second irate call to 999. On examination it was suspected that the rider could have a pelvic fracture and the Air Ambulance was then activated.

The scheme car and all the equipment, which was provided with contributions from local people supportive of the scheme, will be maintained until such time as the Highley scheme can continue.

Dave and Nigel are grateful for all the support the village has given over the past 20 years, and regret that they can no longer help patients for the foreseeable future.

Dave Fulton, Highley,


Copy of email to WMAS and reply.


Hi Nick,

Not sure if you will be able to help, Martin from Alveley suggested I send you an email.

I have been a CFR in Highley for 20 years now, obviously trained on FPOS course. I also carry out CPR training for local groups in Highley and surrounding area.

Now the course is FROS so must be retaken. I was booked on the course this month but circumstances will prevent me attending (daughter is having major knee surgery and will be inactive for possible 3 months), As we have horses to look after I have to attend to these each morning and evening for her making it impossible to attend course. I have approached Cliff Medlicott and asked if I can remain active till next year when I can take the course, and even suggested doing something on line in the interim. Cliff said this was not possible and I would have to finish on 30th. September 2021.

After 20 years service I would have thought a more understanding approach would be forthcoming.

The problem is, I am the last cfr in Highley, covering some 100 hours a week. I have put the feelers into the community for additional volunteers and response looks good. Is there any way I could remain active until new recruits can take over.? Otherwise the Highley scheme will have to finish.

Hope you can help.

Regards Dave Fulton  call sign ****, PRF No. ****

Evening Dave

Unfortunately due to the changes in governance for CFR’s there is a requirement that has been agreed by the Trust Board, that all CFR’s must have a regulated qualification which is only ASCFR or the FROS qualification from the 1st October 2021. This was agreed as part of the Initial Response Model back in April 2020 which saw the standardisation of the CFR’s operating across the Trust and why we have had many course planned for this year to enable all to book on to a course.

I and the Trust do truly thank you for all the years that you have completed for your community over the last 20yrs, it is amazing and this is now more about the governance requirements for where we are today.  This is not about ability, this is about governance that underpins the CFR’s being able to respond now and for the future. Due to this, all CFR’s that do not have the ASCFR or FROS course completed by the 30th September, they will have to pause from responding until this requirement is met.

We will work you and each individual to make the best of this situation.

Best wishes
Nick

#88: PECUNIARY INTERESTS ARE OF INTEREST TO WHOM? THEY MATTER TO WHOM AND WHY?

On the matter of pecuniary interest…

At an “extra” meeting of the South Planning Committee on the 20th September (2021), called to reconsider the submission of the Ironbridge Power Station application, I substituted for Robert Tindall and it was with a sinking heart that I heard the current Assistant Director of Economy & Place, Tracy Darke, actually defend the argument made by a representative of the company that decided on the level of viability that would determine the number of affordable houses to be included in the development (5%), subsequently increased prior to this meeting to 10%.

Mrs Darke denied that his company’s claim to complete independence on the question of viability was open to challenge “just because” he and/or his company had acted on behalf of the power station developers Harworth in earlier schemes. Hmmm.

OK, went the argument, so those earlier instances might well have established a commercial relationship, the “so what” implicit in the challenging body language, argued that most people engaged in commercial operations will have had multiple dealings with other companies operating in the same sector, it would be naive to assume otherwise.

Mrs Darke was supported in her argument by a couple of councillors who made much of their “commercial experience”. It was, they insisted, indeed naive to believe that wasn’t part of how commerce kept the world on an even keel, so what was the problem?

Well, indeed, what was the problem?

Neither that independent consultant nor Tracy Darke, nor those recently-elected councillors were aware of the authoritative legal opinion a few of us had heard frequently expressed by the ex-Head of Legal & Democratic Services at Shropshire Council, Claire Porter, that whether a pecuniary interest should be declared is a matter for public perception (I reminded her of that on a number of occasions, much to her annoyance), not the opinion of the person with the potential pecuniary interest. In other words the benefit of ANY doubt should always err on the side of caution and the pecuniary interest declared. At no time had that happened, whether out of ignorance of the higher ethical standards that we elected Members were held to, or heaven forfend, any intention to mislead.

In other words, the exercise of that caution is the difference between commercial interests and the concerns of those of us who represent the interests of a general public who actually expect their elected representatives to look after their affairs; the reality is that those parties to the discussions who have a fiduciary duty to shareholders are not going to share the same concerns as taxpayers who don’t like the idea that they might be being ripped off, a sentiment enshrined in something called the Localism Act which actually makes a criminal act of any attempt to hide a hidden interest, a pecuniary interest.

Now, back in 2019, representatives of Shropshire Council (the Local Planning Authority, let us remind ourselves) attended a jolly in Cannes.

Now, you don’t need a particularly long memory to recall a few salient details, not least of which is where it was reported that:

Three delegates from Shropshire Council will be attending the show, including Steve Charmley, executive director for place, Mark Barrow, and business growth and investment manager, Matt Potts. They will be joined by delegates from their partners and sponsors: Harworth Group plc, Berrys, Morris Property, WSP, Montagu Evans and LDA Design.

Whilst there, the council will showcase four investment opportunities via two events:

  • Shrewsbury: The Big Connection will tell investors the story of how the birthplace of Charles Darwin is evolving, in particular the opportunities with Riverside as a development corridor.
  • Shropshire: Rooted in Heritage, Developing for the Future will highlight the county’s countryside, vibrant market towns and strategic central base within the UK, unlocking key development opportunities through infrastructure investment including the former Ironbridge Power Station site which will be led by Harworth Group plc, The Oswestry Growth Corridor and The A49/A41 Growth Corridor.

Photographed in Cannes at taxpayer’s expense, just a few months later the name of Harworth Group plc reappears in reports of the affairs of Shropshire Council, although not surprising given the heads-up above, all to do with the Ironbridge Power Station.

At the first planning committee meeting called to consider the Ironbridge Power Station, what struck me was that everyone was at pains to stress their independence, especially when the amount of affordable housing was officially declared (although known about from the official documents) to shouts of “pitiable” loud enough to drown out Harworth’s insistence that that’s all they could afford, pointing to the “independent” assessment made by the consultant appointed by Shropshire Council and Telford & Wrekin Councils.

Much to the dismay of the planning officers, the decision was deferred to allow that disappointing affordable housing contribution of 5% to be “discussed”. At the next planning committee meeting it was noticed that the independent consultant whose figures were being cited by the two local authorities – and challenged by some members of the planning committee – had had dealings with Harworth before, raising the question of his independence, which is where we came in.

Alongside that revelation, adding insult to perceived injury, it had come to light (thanks to research by Steve Mulloy) that there is a completely independent viability valuation service:

DVS provides property valuation services including for financial accounting and housing revenue purposes, acquisition/disposal advice, compulsory purchase and general valuation advice.

We work closely with local authorities providing independent viability appraisals for site assessments where Affordable Housing and s106 contributions are in dispute. We only undertake work for Public Bodies and so provide completely independent advice, to ensure appropriate and fair contributions are made, where Developers are seeking to vary from fully Planning Compliant housing schemes.

[ Copy and paste ] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/services-for-local-regional-and-devolved-government

Questioned as to why this clearly independent service hadn’t been one of the consultees, Shropshire Council’s response was rather surprising, they simply didn’t think the completely independent service was up to a project the size of the Ironbridge Power Station.

But had they bothered to look?

But had they asked?

Can you see where the problem’s coming from?

Shropshire Council’s planning department can’t, nor can Tracy Darke.

#85A: RE-WRITE OF: A reminder to myself of how far we’ve come without actually covering any distance. Not so much an obituary for wishful thinking as a last word on the art of artful lying and how much easier it is just to go along with it – as if you had a choice.

I still wonder how many constituents took on board what I said back in April 2017, when I reviewed the government’s Housing White Paper, predicting a major change in the relationship between planners and councillors and the people they represent.

Even further back in 2013, the residents directly affected by the Taylor Wimpey development of 58 houses off Jubilee Drive were the first local residents to experience the full impact of the National Planning Policy Framework, and few people were aware that Taylor Wimpey’s appeal over the refusal of the Jubilee Drive development in Highley was the test case for Shropshire Council’s 5 year housing land supply, the shortfall – by 0.05% – triggering the NPPF’s “presumption in favour”, a distinction I’d rather we didn’t have.

And no, “it” hasn’t gone away!

Successive ‘refinements’ in local and national planning policy have brought us to where we are now, with a Shropshire Council-nominated ‘preferred site’ blighting all the alternative sites identified during the so-called “consultation” process between Highley Parish Council and a Shropshire Council planning officer insisting that his judgement over-ruled local knowledge, knowledge that he had ostensibly sought in meetings with us! It became clear at the subsequent public meeting that because our opinions differed with his they were discounted, as witness a village-wide petition of almost 600 signatures asking that infrastructure considerations be given equal status to the need for affordable housing in order to make the development more sustainable. That petition was reduced to the status of a single objection with 600 signatures.

Although the land chosen as the preferred site had been earmarked for development since the old Bridgnorth District Council (BDC) days, successive applications had been blocked by Shropshire Council’s senior planning officer (Ian Kilby, who left the Authority in August 2021).

Separately, a number of applications had been submitted for the development of a small estate of nine bungalows on what is now the TC Homes development, now complete to second fix, but those applications were opposed by Shropshire Council, opposition which vanished when the potential of the smaller plot to open the way for a development of 100+ houses on the larger plot to the north was recognised. Something magical happened then. Those successive applications for nine bungalows, on land always considered to be of environmental “value” and worth protecting, overnight became a single exception site and an application for 20 affordable homes nodded through.

[see: https://wordpress.com/post/dtremellen.com/1294 ]

Given earlier planning officer’s reports carrying a cautionary note regarding the appropriateness of the site access directly onto what is considered to be one of the most dangerous bends on a busy main road, at the planning committee meeting called to consider the TC Homes application, I argued the need to protect children at the access to the site and a condition was placed on the permission requiring an ‘appropriate’ crossing point to be installed at the site access, no houses to be occupied until such time as that ‘appropriate’ crossing point was in place and approved. Despite this, Planning Manager Ian Kilby subsequently gave TC Homes the go-ahead to build anyway.

No one, apart from the now-departed Mr Kilby, and whoever the relevant manager is at TC Homes, and the Shropshire Council highways planning officer who consistently refuses to answer questions regarding the development, knows what was agreed to swerve around that planning condition.

Successive formal requests for the basis of Ian Kilby’s decision have been deliberately ignored. My last request for that information was made in person and a personal assurance given by Ian Kilby that the information would be forthcoming. When he made that promise he knew damn well that he wouldn’t be around to fulfil it.

We await the outcome when the houses are ready for occupying!

For well over ten years that site had actually been protected by the Council’s Local Planning Policies. At a stroke of Ian Kilby’s pen, all that changed.

Local residents on Bridgnorth Road and Vicarage Lane found themselves with the TC Homes development overlooking their gardens and were the first to discover what that government-enabled power-shift to the housing developers meant in practice; planners, no longer constrained to protect local communities and their environment, were now tasked with pushing through local developments regardless of their impact on resident’s lives or, critically, the environment.

From the outset I had anguished residents phoning me up and expressing disbelief when I explained that there really was nothing I could do about it. To make the point I advised them early on to look into undertaking a judicial review of Shropshire Council planning department’s actions, being sure to employ a lawyer who was both familiar with planning procedures AND CRITICALLY with dealing with Shropshire Council planning department. It was only when their solicitor came back admitting defeat that residents accepted what I’d been telling them all along about the shift in the power balance. Quality of lives were being destroyed, tens of thousands of pounds lost on the value of their properties.

Exaggeration?

A couple of weeks ago I had reason to drive up to Vicarage Lane and those 20 affordable homes dominated what had once been an open view across the Severn Valley, a view Ian Kilby had once thought important enough to protect. It was, literally, shocking, and I don’t use that word lightly, I was shocked. The housing association houses at the far end of the cul-de-sac that is Vicarage Lane have gardens that are now directly overlooked by houses just a few feet from their boundary. Oh, and a view of brick walls.

That’s a taste of things to come. Not that I haven’t forewarned everybody, I went to some length to explain the implications of the terms attaching to the new planning policies when I described in some detail what the fanfared Right Homes, Right Place (RHRP) survey really meant for local people and, especially, for parish councils.

This government’s planning and housing policies have already brought about a dramatic loosening of planning laws to create a housebuilding boom that will, as I explained in some detail in that earlier report…

[ see: https://wordpress.com/post/dtremellen.com/1691 ]

…damage local democracy and destroy swathes of countryside by granting property developers a freer hand to build over green fields – that’s any green field, anywhere, as evidence the 1,000-house Taylor Wimpey (“windfall”) development at Tasley in Bridgnorth!

Oh, and let’s not forget the similar development on the other side of the river at Stanmore, when swathes of genuine Green Belt will fall to the chainsaw.

Oh, and in case I forget, have I mentioned the 500+ houses on the site of the cattle market off the Wenlock Road in Bridgnorth, the cattle market being re-developed on the opposite side of the road.

As explained in that earlier report on Right Homes Right Place the introduction of “zoning” is a radical shift in the way decisions are made on new developments by zoning land either for growth, where developers will be allowed to build homes and related infrastructure without individual planning consents, or “protection” where development will be restricted, although getting such a restriction in place will be as hard as pushing through an objection under the NPPF and, as we all know, the ‘presumption’ at the heart of the NPPF insists that the balance of proof lies with the objector to make a case against a development, not with the developer to make a case for, and, given that the NPPF is weighted in favour of the development, the benefit of any doubt will be given to the developer.

And let’s not forget that all this is on top of the still-ongoing impact of the government’s tightening of the Right To Buy (RTB) legislation in the last White Paper which gave Housing Association (HA) tenants the right to buy their properties at a large discount for which the housing association will have to be compensated. Local Authorities have been forced to sell off high value social housing to compensate HA’s for having to sell their houses at a loss. The consequent loss of LA social housing stock radically affects a LA’s ability to fund the building of social housing at a rate that would make up that loss, creating an unsustainable situation.

And then along comes this latest wheeze.

Amongst all the bells and whistles is the clearly stated aim to “simplify environmental assessments for developments”.

We all know what “simplify” means. Like the NPPF the outcome will be an oversimplification that renders all situations arguable by couching them in terms that can be defined only in general terms and, as anyone used to dealing with case law will tell you, what swings a case one way or the other is detail; arguing on the basis of a principle is fine as long as you can back it up with a reference to whatever makes that principle apply to your specific case.

Or, as I’m constantly pointing out: You can point a finger as much as you like, but if you haven’t got something to actually put your finger on, you’ve wasting everyone’s time!

It’s said there will be stronger rules on design – but countryside campaigners warned the changes would lead to the suburbanisation of the countryside and rural sprawl, that is certainly the impression given by the TC Homes development.

I spent several years as a senior moderator on what was reputed to be the best (certainly the biggest in terms of membership and technical expertise on the design and building of energy efficient houses) online construction forum on the internet – anywhere, ‘ebuild’ – and what grieved those of us who were handing out the advice was the poor standard not only of workmanship in the UK but the pathetic standards in design, usually in terms of the low expectations that architects and planners had in their expectations for the finished products they were ultimately responsible for. They demanded nothing more than the standard of build the builder told them they could expect. Genuine self-builders (who got stuck in, as against those who merely signed the cheques), on the other hand, specified what they wanted and personally engaged with their builders in order to get it.

But we’re talking here about developers – not hands-on builders – working to meet government targets within a set of standards designed to ensure numbers of houses are built to an established minimum standard to minimise the time taken to build-out land acquired with the specific aim of meeting targets, not standards, and certainly not in terms of meeting “a known local need”, especially when that “need” is met with “affordable” houses most local people cannot afford anyway and which tend to go to people who fancy a home in a rural area from which they commute to work!

Announcing a planning bill that is expected to be the most radical since the 1948 Town and Country Planning Act, the government promised “simpler, faster procedures for producing local development plans, approving major schemes, assessing environmental impacts and negotiating affordable housing and infrastructure contributions”.

What does that mean in practice?

Take a walk up to Vicarage Lane.

And on a purely parochial note…

Activity at “Shirehall” continues to be restricted to limited meetings that are, to all intents and purposes, ‘invitation only’; the days when meetings were going on, somewhere, almost continuously, are now long gone.

The justification for this closing down of the human side of council activity is no longer Covid but the financial savings that the Administration are realising through staff working from home. Concerns about decisions being made in what is, to all intents and purposes, closed session, are dismissed by making the RECORDINGS of such meetings available on the council website.

It is NOT the same. Personal contact, the ability to gauge the “implications” of an unconscious tic when answering what should be a relatively harmless question, raising the question: “What was that about?” Those little unconscious moments often said more than several minutes of carefully structured presentation.

Ah, the good old days.

Looking back over my old diaries, in the days leading up to the Covid lockdowns I was at Shirehall at least twice, usually three times a week, occasions when I fitted in meetings with individual officers to follow up on something local to Highley or personal to a Highley constituent. There were often meetings of various committees going on which you could drop into and eavesdrop on proceedings and, because of the “open forum” nature of such meetings, if there was anything arising that piqued interest, it was not only allowed but expected that “visiting” councillors sitting-in on the meeting contributed (at the invitation of the committee chair, of course, which was usually forthcoming) to the proceedings from the public ‘gallery’. That’s open democracy. We’ve seen the last of that!

The “Covid opportunities” (don’t you just love that phrase?) identified by service directors are still being rolled out and the questionable advantage of grasping those opportunities pushed by some officers and directors alike with an enthusiasm so keen that I often wonder what they’re on.

Your comments have been noted.”

I’m never going to forget that response.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that when I first raised my concerns that local communities seemed to be sidelined in all the policy decisions emanating from Shropshire Council’s “Executive”, the response I got from our newly appointed Chief Executive was: “Your comments have been noted.” Which said it all. Indeed, so much said in so few words.

Basically, the new top layer of administration is accountable to no one but itself and, critically, answerable only to those fellow members of what I’ve come to call the ‘Director’s Forum’, the body of professionals who meet regularly to formulate the policies that, as I said above, determine the direction in which the county is now running.

But, and it’s a big one…

For the sake of my own sanity, I am now gradually coming to terms with the new way of working, one characteristic of which was brought home to me on the afternoon of the 25th October.

One item on the agenda of the Place Overview (Scrutiny) Committee, enforcement, was of particular interest to me and in the old days I’d have just gone along and sat in, but not this time because of the way that meeting rooms are laid out in deference to Covid – you can’t just go along and eavesdrop because seating is laid out to observe Covid restrictions (desks equally spaced and all facing forwards, as against the old system of committee members sitting around a large table and facing each other) and you need to have made your intention to attend clear to the committee officer from the outset. Trouble was, the item I was interested in didn’t take on any significance until the morning of the meeting and I couldn’t reach the committee officer until she got back to me at 13.15, too late for the hour’s drive to get to the meeting at its start time of 14.00!

Ah well.

But thanks anyway to the committee officer who passed on my concerns to the committee chair, Joyce Barrow, who did offer to read out anything I wanted to say. Trouble is, as explained above, dependent on what was said I wasn’t sure WHAT I wanted to say because it was SO dependent on those subtle little tics.

Like I said, it’s not the same.

Visit to upgraded Highley CCTV system by Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner Tracey Onslow.

Vice-chair of Highley Parish Council Cllr Peter Vinall; DPCC Tracey Onslow; Chair of Highley Parish Council Cllr Dave Tremellen

Tracey Onslow, the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for West Mercia, visited Highley this week to see the recently upgraded CCTV system in the village.

The scheme has been running for several years but the grant enabled the parish council to extend the reach of the camera system and enable Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).

The DPCC was impressed by the system, and recommended the parish council apply for further funding to expand the reach of the ANPR which has already been used in to provide supporting evidence in a recent case.

Councillor Dave Tremellen said that the upgrade had already proven its worth to the local community and police.

He added: “It has helped to improve the partnership between the police and the community.

“The local police cover an area of around 200 square miles, and this will help them to do their jobs.”

Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion said: “I recognise that CCTV is an extremely valuable resource. Not only can the presence of a camera make people feel more secure, but by having fit-for-purpose equipment it will ensure better quality of images which will assist the police.

“I am pleased to be able to support Highley, which has suffered with anti-social behaviour and rural crime. I’m committed to making sure that people are safe and feel safe, so I hope these new cameras will provide reassurance to the community.”

#87: County Councillor’s Report to October meeting of Highley Parish Council. (Longer version of the earlier ‘Forum’ article.)

Well, as far as Covid is concerned, the county council was still taking it seriously enough to announce that the last Full Council was once again held at Theatre Severn. Not the best venue because movement is restricted and the audio isn’t the best during debates. I wasn’t best pleased at having to miss that meeting – but health issues took priority – because there was a debate and vote on the crazy, short-sighted decision to close Stourbridge Road highways depot, the base for winter highways maintenance in the east of the county, a closure that would leave just the three depots in the west of the county. That was a decision made by someone who couldn’t read a map!

I was by now hoping to have at last come to terms with the new way of working, which isn’t working whatever anyone says because it is not a case of “the same, just different”, it is totally foreign to someone like me who has spent seven years (pre-lockdown) working face-to-face with officers. Those working relationships work because they smooth the working of the council, but new councillors will know officers only as a name under a face on a monitor screen.

I don’t know about you but outcomes are unquestionably better if either party feels comfortable enough to raise a laugh to relieve the tensions generated by both having to work with limited resources and finding a way to work with those limited resources, especially over a remote connection. But no more.

We could have tried to pretend that things are still how they were, were it not for what seems to be a deliberate policy of separating-off the staff functions from what I always thought were the critical functions that kept a representative democracy functioning, one of which was the answering of awkward questions from elected representatives acting on behalf of their constituents. And not just any old answer, either, but one which explained the logic of how the answer got there, using words we all understood the meaning of, not words that had been spun so many times anyone could make them mean anything.

Then out of the blue on the 16th September I’m presented with a headline in the Shropshire Star telling me that Shropshire Council is no longer looking to close Shirehall and move its “civic centre” into the Pride Hill shopping centre. I’m left sitting staring at the screen in disbelief. I have challenged and questioned the sense of that move since the very beginning and met closely argued opposition from the outset, so I’m sitting there reading what’s being said VERY carefully. What’s going on? We don’t know because the Executive is refusing to say what plans they have, if any, for the future. (Mind you, that reluctance to engage only stretches as far as councillors, they’re always ready to talk to the media, in fact it’s the Shropshire Star and Oswestry Advertizer who keep me up to date with happenings at Shirehall, although twas ever thus. Says it all!)

With a few reservations over the commercial proposals in the £380,000 consultant’s report presented to us councillors by ex-Leader of the Council Peter Nutting and ex-Chief Executive Clive Wright, there was/is a lot of sense in retaining the Shirehall well into the future. It might not be a beautiful building (although it has its charms), but to those of us who were around in the 60’s functionality was at the core of a lot of civic architecture and the Shirehall was built for the purpose of civil government.

Internally it needs hardly any remodelling and what it does need can be easily realised because once you take the internal walls down you have a blank canvas, spaces that can be redesignated to suit any need. Structurally it is sound, only infrastructure like air conditioning and double-glazing would require major work, and then only in terms of time, not fitting it. Likewise a fire sprinkler system can be retro-fitted, as it will have to be in most older civic buildings anyway.

And the beauty of it all is that, because of the building’s layout all the work can be done on a rolling schedule with minimum hassle.

But that subsequent decision to close and sell off and demolish Shirehall was made under pressure from service directors and councillors with egos they felt they had to live up to who had different ideas about the working environment they wanted to match their aspirations as empire builders.

Distinctly uneasy with the decision to go back on those earlier plans and not a little confused, given the original enthusiasm to go with the consultant’s report, I asked the service director (Mark Barrow) driving the plans for closure in favour of the move to Pride Hill, for the data on which the decision to condemn and demolish Shirehall had been based. I was sent the £380,000-worth of specialist consultant-generated data on which the original decision to RETAIN, remodel and repurpose Shirehall had been based!

You couldn’t make it up.

These people are paid six figure salaries. Triples all round.

#86: This month’s ‘Highley Forum’ article.

Well, to say “so much has happened” since my last report would be something of an understatement. In fact a hell of a lot has happened, it just hasn’t been completed.

The B4555 has been more or less done (with permanent patches – which seems to be the norm now) with the exception of the High Street. Now that’s something you WILL have seen happen because your life will have been thrown into so much chaos by the road closures and diversions. That the High Street would be “put back in the schedule” has always been a fear of mine, so when I was told that the delays on the main job (due to the incredibly hot weather delaying the curing of tarmac) meant that time was lost and the High Street ceased to be an “emergency project” and, in order to get it financed, it had to become a “capital project”, my heart sank because it meant the High Street was now just one amongst others competing for limited resources within a restricted capital budget.

I’m hoping that its relatively high profile (thanks to the media) will give it some protection from the competing, neighbouring areas who felt so put out by seeing Highley’s earlier pleas (all of which fell on deaf ears) finally being heard and, thanks to a Kier highways engineer, acted on. It had been a hard two-year slog against highways officers who were more concerned with insulating themselves from criticism than actually listening and reacting to the genuine concerns of local people.

Adding insult to injury, we, meanwhile, were reading about expensive schemes to make Shrewsbury more attractive to visitors, the rationale being that by doing that somehow the rest of the county would benefit. The reality, of course, is a bit different to that claim. Once again South Shropshire misses out to North Shropshire and again the Wenlock Edge becomes a psychological as well as geographic barrier.

Picking up on that argument – and I suppose calling Shirehall’s bluff on its claims – that what is of benefit to one part of Shropshire ultimately benefits the rest of the county, I’ve long argued that “Shrewsbury isn’t Shropshire”.

Picking up on that argument, for years I’ve tried to promote Highley as a place with much to offer, especially when it comes to tourism, but also because we are ideally placed to pick up on a scheme that was widespread back in the seventies and eighties and which capitalised on rurality rather than point up that rurality as a disadvantage… ‘CoSIRA’… ‘Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas’. As it said on the tin, CoSIRA promoted small rural industries (not always “craft” industries either); the craft workshops at Jackfield were probably the prime examples of what it meant to invest in an area and promote it for what it could be, rather than for what it fell short of as an “industrial” area. That’s a thought we need to incorporate into our future plans rather than allow the remnants of Shirehall to dictate what they think we really need as a perceived second-rate option to North Shropshire and its multi-million pound business parks.

Dave Tremellen

18th August 2021.

#84: County Councillor’s Report in the August edition of the Highley ‘Forum’.

By the time this report appears the work on the B4555 (Bridgnorth/Highley road) will hopefully have been completed and, if indications at the time of writing this are anything to go by, it will have been worth the major hassle the unpredictable road closures have caused. I’m offering a not-so-silent prayer that for a few years at least our tyres may now see out their normal service life!

But what a ridiculous fight it’s been with Shropshire Council highways going out of their way to be obstructive in the most patronising way imaginable. They have consistently denied there was a problem – when they’ve bothered to respond at all – insisting on their absolute right to deny that what WE were experiencing on a daily basis was not, in their “professional opinion”, an issue worth investigating let alone doing something about.

I was subsequently taken to task by the current highways portfolio holder, Deputy Council Leader Steve Charmley (who is expecting the rest of us to find several tens of millions of pounds to pay for the North West Relief Road that feeds into his council patch of Oswestry), although the experience was a bit like being savaged by a dead sheep. In his response he deliberately managed to completely miss the point. Pretty pathetic way of going about things. The whole point of my campaign being that Shropshire Council highways had arrogantly ignored local representations and then lied, dismissing the detailed submissions of myself and local parish clerks out of hand.

But the highways stuff is relatively small beer when you consider all the other changes that are now in place at what used to be referred to as “Shirehall”, a place that now exists in name only, where the business of responding to community representatives hardly figures. It is no longer a “shire hall” in the sense of its being a civic centre where the people elected by the people of Shropshire do the business of running the county on behalf of that electorate, the process otherwise known (or used to be known, although it’s now a foreign concept) as democratic governance. The council is now managed by its directors of service according to how they see fit, the consequences of which we’ve seen in the way the council highways department is run, according to how THEY think it should be run to give us what they think we really need, forget what we WANT and which we pay for!

Years ago (a lot of years ago!) I was in Carvers, the Wolverhampton-based builders merchants, ordering a special connector for a bidet that a customer insisted they wanted in an en suite, and found myself in argument with the guy serving me who had no idea what I was talking about, despite my showing him a picture of the item. He insisted no such part existed and wouldn’t even check his inventory. He was insisting I just didn’t fit the bidet. So I asked him how much he was paying me for this visit.

“Well, nothing, you’re paying us!”

‘Right, that’s established the basis of this COMMERCIAL relationship. Care to reconsider?’

At which point a female colleague of his who had overheard the exchange stepped in and within a couple of minutes returned with the part.

That’s all I’m expecting from Shropshire Council – at the very least acknowledgement of the basis of a relatively simple commercial relationship – on behalf of the people who pay their wages, the very minimum you lot have every right to expect for your money.

Dave Tremellen.

18 July 2021

#83: (Based on) County Councillor’s Report to Highley Parish Council

Following on from Shropshire Council CEO Andy Begley’s last regular email to all staff, in which he rallies his troops by repeating what has become Shropshire Council’s most fundamental approach to governance (the main tenet of which Brian Williams quotes in his email below: ”A new partnership between councillors and officers”), the overall reaction from elected Members across the political divides has been one of disbelief that our CEO actually believes what he’s saying because, given our own experiences in the real world, it is difficult to see where he’s coming from.

The significance of Brian Williams’ email (circulated to all Members) is in his normally being one of (if not THE) staunchest supporter of whatever comes out of the ruling group’s collective mouth, any voiced criticism of a Cabinet decision usually put down by Brian Williams in the most patronising way, so to see this coming from his pen is indeed singularly significant. And if that were not earth shattering enough, he signs it as the Vice-Chair of the council.

From: Brian Williams <brian.williams@shropshire.gov.uk>
Sent: 24 June 2021 15:49
To: Andy.Begley@public.govdelivery.com
Cc: Members <Members@shropshire.gov.uk>
Subject: RE: Message from Council Leader and Chief Executive

I welcome the Chief Executive’s statement yesterday of ”A new partnership between councillors and officers”. In keeping with that ambition I trust that the Chief Exec will remind all officers, of whatever seniority, that there is a Council protocol which states that all e-mails (whether from members or the public) should be acknowledged within two working days and responded to within five working days, even if the e-mail at that time is simply to acknowledge that a full response is taking longer to prepare.

In the same spirit of cooperation it would be helpful if members making telephone calls to officers, if those are not immediately answered, could receive a call back within 24 hours, always assuming that the officer is not ill or on leave.

Brian Williams

Vice Chairman of the Council.

Chairman of the Audit Committee.

As of today, Wednesday 30 June, there has been no official response from Andy Begley to Brian Williams’ email, which is hardly surprising given his response to my email (of a few weeks back) asking him to start including elected Members in his thinking about the restructuring of council governance, when his reply consisted of: “Your comments have been noted”. Hmmm.

He consistently repeats his belief that Shropshire Council is a “member led organisation” despite knowing damn well that it is anything but and, moreover, anything but because of the change in culture that he and his fellow service directors are quietly slipping in whilst insisting that nothing is changing, just ‘improving’.

What Andy Begley insists is happening simply isn’t happening, at least not in the way he insists, and hasn’t been happening that way since well before Covid came along with its “Covid opportunities”, every one of which has been eagerly grasped as justification for cuts in council in-house services, the impact of which has been felt by every town and parish council clerk in the county, let alone every elected Member and the people whose interests they’re elected to represent.

The irony in all that is happening – the removal of effective avenues of representation – is that this would have happened years ago had Keith Barrow remained as Council Leader and carried his vision for ‘ip&e’ (the council-owned trading company) through to fruition, and yet – when they eventually came out of the woodwork – it was the ‘privatisation’ aspect of ‘ip&e’ that had so concerned his critics.

He was also putting Shirehall on the market and “moving council closer to local communities by moving its operations out to the market towns”, but as was pointed out in a 2016 police report following his standing down as Leader (and resignation as a councillor following my Code of Conduct Complaint against him), the effect of his policies was not only to move council operations away from Shirehall but, crucially, scrutiny, which is exactly what’s happening with Andy Begley’s promulgation of his and his fellow service director’s policy of making the council more of a business and council employees more accountable to service directors instead of the people who actually pay their salaries – the taxpayers of Shropshire. Recent events involving my exchanges with highways highlight this trend!

Planning is following the same trend, although in planning’s case it’s no longer so much a ‘trend’ because it’s reached the point of cementing evolved practices into place, thanks in large part to changes in government policy that have swung the emphasis away from protecting communities from excessive development towards persuading them to accept over-development which they didn’t know they needed. When that still didn’t meet government targets for house building then “persuasion” swiftly changed to compulsion, the clear indication of which we saw in the recent circular selling us the idea of ‘Right Home, Right Place’ (RHRP), the central theme of which was hidden amongst the ‘need’ for more ‘affordable’ housing.

It’s worth looking closely at the spiel put out by the RHRP teams. It’s one of the cleverest con tricks I have ever seen in my decades of involvement with Local Authority Planning departments, not as a developer but as someone trying to earn an honest living in a specialised area of the construction industry – the joinery involved in Conservation and Listed Buildings – whilst navigating a way through national policies that seemed to change annually, a process rendered almost impenetrable by the inconsistent interpretation of national policy by individual planning officers. It’s why I retired three years earlier than I’d intended; at the time my actual words were: “I really don’t need this shit”.

But at least the killer stroke is out there with this RHRP scheme; loud and proud there’s nothing hidden because what would earlier have been a hidden agenda is now blatantly front and centre. “We will screw you so you might as well at least pretend you’re enjoying it.”

There is the threat…

‘A small number of parishes believe that by not taking part – and encouraging residents not to take part either – they will protect their area from housing development. However, that isn’t the case. If the survey reveals a clear housing need, and a parish doesn’t wish to get involved, they may be in a position where the housing is built anyway, but without their input.’

Then the come on…

‘The most successful housing schemes across Shropshire are those in which the parish council takes an active interest and involvement, and understands that by taking part, they will have a far greater influence over the type of housing created and how it fits into their community.’

Those of us who enthusiastically took part in the “consultation” process for the preferred site adjoining TC Homes’ current 20 affordable home development, only to see our “local opinion” completely ignored, know how criminally misleading the whole “consultation” process is. Up to that point, I was a keen advocate of closer involvement in the planning process, it’s why having that enthusiasm kicked out of me by an arrogant little planner came as so much of a shock!

And this simply adds insult to injury…

‘Shropshire Council’s Affordable Housing Team will provide guidance and support throughout this process, and once a Registered Provider has been selected and confirmed, representatives from the chosen Registered Provider will join the steering group and the group explores potential sites and selects the most suitable location. The RP then take on all the risk – so there’s no financial risk to the parish council.’

‘The chosen Registered Provider will then secure the land and handle the negotiations, while the steering group consider what they’d like their affordable homes to look like, and who may be living in them based on local need – subject to the advice of the Council’s Planning Department.’

And the coup de grace? It’s what the recent housing survey was all about. It was not and never intended to be a partnership thing with mutual benefits, a coming together of minds.

What you’re about to read isn’t new, it’s what’s been happening for years, and here in Highley is what happened with the ‘preferred site’ on which TC Homes is building. Despite all the environmental protections in place on the site, all of which were dismissed with the stroke of a pen from the man who had, ironically, put them there in the first place, that plot of land became a Standard Exception Site on which to build 20 “affordable” houses despite Highley Parish Council’s objections, based on local knowledge and supported by reservations over the safety of the site access expressed in earlier planning officer reports going back well over ten years. What follows applies to the TC Homes development, every word!

‘The second option for parishes is a Standard Exception Site Scheme. In this instance, a Registered Provider will find and acquire a plot of land based on evidence of need. While the parish council may have some input into the planning application, they wouldn’t have any further say once development begins.

‘The Registered Provider will handle everything from site selection to planning permission to build. Registered Providers usually have a standard model for the type, size and aesthetics of their properties, so it’s likely that this model would be applied to any new affordable homes built within a parish.

‘The benefits of choosing a Standard Exception Site Scheme over a Community-Led Scheme are that the parish council won’t have to do any work, and Standard Schemes tend to be completed more quickly than Community-Led Schemes because while they meet the needs identified in a parish’s Housing Survey, they don’t need to take into consideration the Parish Council’s preferences around site location and building design.’

Now consider the implications of the recent RHRP housing survey again. If a watchword is needed it’s probably: “Proceed with extreme caution tempered with cynicism”. Mind you, that’s always applied to dealings with a planning department anyway.

As I said throughout the “consultation” process on the current TC Homes development, whilst those 20 affordable homes might well be the “Right Homes”, they are in the “Wrong Place”.

Dave Tremellen

30 June 2021