#55: County Councillor’s Report, first published in the August 2019 edition of the Highley Forum.

Local Councillor’s Report

The turnout at the public meeting of the Highley Patients Group on July 16 was a testament to the concerns of the community regarding the way local GP practices are changing so having Dr Allen there to explain the wider GP scene was good, not least because it brought home that change is happening because it is having to happen, and that it doesn’t just affect Highley but Shropshire, and in fact the UK generally.

I’ve been following the local county health scene since I was first elected in 2013, in fact the first external meeting I ever attended was the AGM of the Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG – local clinicians who commission all health services in the county) in Oswestry, subsequently attending numerous meetings in the first few years of ‘Future Fit’, which turned out to be little more than an endless round of “consultation” about the future shape of healthcare in the county. I was frustrated because the CCG was trying to please everyone and failing on all counts.

You can only attend so many committee meetings that end up resolving nothing and I eventually dropped my regular attendance at committees I wasn’t actually a full member of anyway. That’s how frustrated and angry I had become. It’s difficult to sit there and hear people waffling on and keep your own counsel, let alone your temper. I did eventually let rip at the last meeting I attended and, significantly, every one of the dozen or so heads around the committee table were nodding in agreement throughout. Did it change anything? Don’t be silly!

It isn’t just the CCG that maintains a distance between themselves and “the people”, regular readers of these ‘reports’ will know how angry I get whenever the conversation moves around to “the council”, and it all has to do with the system of governance that came into being back in 2009, when the old Bridgnorth District Council was absorbed into the new Unitary Council, the old Shropshire County Council becoming just plain Shropshire Council.

That change involved a complete change in the workings of “the council”. The old committee system morphed into a system called (and I kid you not) ‘Strong Leader with Cabinet’, in which the leader of the political party with a majority of seats chooses his or her own Cabinet, in the same way that a Prime Minister chooses their Cabinet. In effect, decisions affecting the 311,000 residents of Shropshire are made by ten people!

There is a requirement in that model for at least one scrutiny committee to oversee the workings of the system, Shropshire has five such scrutiny committees. But whilst the text books on this model of governance tell you that in an ideal world, whilst membership of scrutiny committees is “politically balanced” – in a way that reflects the balance of power within the council – to achieve a democratic balance scrutiny committees should be chaired by members of opposition parties (as they usually are in parliamentary select committees). But the ruling group in Shropshire are not so stupid to risk adverse criticism of decisions made by a Cabinet wholly comprised of members of the ruling group. As scrutiny committees have a majority membership from the ruling group, when it comes to the “election” of scrutiny committee chairs, it’s no coincidence that all Shropshire’s scrutiny chairs are card-carrying members of the ruling group.

When it comes to the wielding of power, democracy doesn’t get a look in.

Dave Tremellen, 20 July 2019.

#55: County Councillor’s Report for July 2019, first published in the Highley Forum.

County Councillor’s Report.

It’s been a funny old month but I’m not laughing after the bone-shaking drive on the first seven miles of the 30 miles to Abbey Foregate.

Newcomers to Highley have it in their heads that no-one has done a thing to improve the situation. As newcomers they won’t know about a recorded history of at least four generations, discovered by Mandy Burgess who found letters to the Bridgnorth Journal from ‘citizens’, businessmen/farmers, even local councillors, complaining about the state of the Highley/Bridgnorth road back in the day when it didn’t even have the number we all now know and love it by, the B-four-triple five.

Geology and geography is our problem, not helped by a self-perception that militates against any serious consideration of Highley as a viable place in which to invest the kind of money it would take to bring our road up to a usable state, let alone a decent one.

DSCN9031In terms of geology? Well, you don’t need me to tell you about the problems on the New Road. It’s built on a series of hillsides all of which give the distinct impression that they’d really rather be in Borle Brook and can’t wait to get there: as fast as a slippage is addressed it starts to reappear, although we’ve been fairly lucky with the last three/four, with just the one bit beginning to move (and older readers will doubtless detect a fair bit of touching wood there), attributable to my insistence that the job(s) be done “properly” this time. It’s worth noting that based on previous geological surveys, Highways give ANY repair to the New Road an expected life-span of five years!

When the recent work on Knowle Sands was being planned I received a conditional promise that if there was “anything left over” then serious consideration would be given to the state of the rest of the B4555. I wasn’t holding my breath.

We’re stuck down here in the remote south-east corner of the county with no A-road giving us a direct link to the commercial centres of the West Midlands, even our doctors and nurses have to travel a considerable distance to get here. I remember when we moved here 19 years ago friends saying: “We’ll call in when we’re passing.” And I’m thinking: “No you won’t because Highley isn’t a place you pass on your way to somewhere else.” It doesn’t matter that we’re a diversion to some of the most interesting countryside in the county, we’re still a diversion. Which, of course, is what makes it an attractive place to live.

Right, that’s geology and geography covered, now what about that “self-perception” bit?

In their recent contentious announcement, Shirehall planning department told us that THEIR “preferred site” for the location of another 122 houses was on the field backing on to Yew Tree Grove. (For reference, 122 houses is exactly the number of houses we’ve seen built since 2013 (Taylor Wimpey 58, Rhea Hall 29, Staley Grove 35), so that’s the scale of the intended development AND WITHOUT REFERENCE TO THE IMPACT ON OUR INFRASTRUCTURE.

So what’s that got to do with what I’m saying is Highley’s self-perception and why is that a problem?

Highley sees itself as a “village”. In the documents that accompanied Shirehall planning department’s notice of the Yew Tree Grove site as the one THEY preferred for 122 houses, the planners said that in 2016 our population was “estimated” to be 3,195. Yet according to the 2011 official government census (not known for making ‘estimates’) the population then (eight years ago) was 3,602, since when we’ve seen 122 houses built since 2013. And the population has shrunk? Hmmm.

Acoording to those eight-year-old census figures a population of 3,600 makes us bigger than at least two other population centres in the southern half of the county, both of which are designated “towns” (figures as per the 2011 census), Cleobury Mortimer (3,268) and Bishops Castle (1,639).

You see the problem? How we see ourselves is how others see us, in a way that reinforces the view that couldn’t be better expressed than how it is in the ‘Highley & Surrounding Area Place Plan 2019/2020’:

“The area’s predominantly rural nature will require development to be both limited in scale, and sensitive to the environment.”

Despite tourism being a major contributor to Shropshire’s economy, would you invest money ANYWHERE that was predicted to remain “predominantly rural”? At one time, certainly when I was first elected in 2013, I actively pushed – and still do, actually only a matter of weeks ago – the 2004 feasibility study commissioned by the rather wonderful and sadly missed Highley Initiative with the intention of developing the old Kinlet Colliery site as a tourist attraction along the lines of the lead mines at Stiperstones.

I’ve consistently pushed the technology-based industry argument because ‘rural’ doesn’t always faze them, not least because we have a site with outline planning permission in the form of the area behind the existing Netherton workshops which contains a global player in the high voltage sector: Genvolt. (And there has been some ground-breaking innovations at both our pen factories!)

But I am constantly reminded of Highley’s perception of its status as a “village”. “Villages” no longer attract public funding because most – if not all – current funding from central government or the EU (through the Local Enterprise Partnership), has to be match-funded and used to “promote growth”, housing comes into it ONLY if it supports proposals for industry and/or commerce. So that’s Highley out of it and goes a long way to explain Shirehall’a reluctance to spend money on our roads.

I sometimes feel as if I’ve been entered into a race with my shoe laces tied together.

Dave Tremellen

16 June 2019

#54: Submission to planning department supporting the calling-in of a local housing development.

19/02791/FUL

Erection of 20 (affordable) dwellings with estate road, using existing vehicular access

Proposed Residential Development Land East Of Bridgnorth Road Highley Shropshire

Submission from Councillor Dave Tremellen, Member for Highley Ward of Shropshire Council.

22 July 2019

Throughout the documentation accompanying this application there are repeated assertions about the low impact that these 20 houses will have on the traffic situation at what is LOCALLY considered to be one of the most dangerous short stretches of road in Highley. Quite why this assertion persists throughout the documentation when officer and consultee reports from the earlier application for nine bungalows, whilst acknowledging the low impact of nine bungalows, does so with an air of caution.

Members may remember the officer report to the South Planning Committee (Agenda Item 9) dated 1 March 2016 which said (my italics):

6.2.3 [……] The Councils Highways Officer considers that on the basis that a typical domestic dwelling generates on average 6 vehicle movements per day the 9 dwellings proposed would generate possibly 54 movements, plus any associated with the farm access, although it is noted that the dwellings are bungalows and are likely to be occupied by older people who may not make as many journeys each day.

Compounding the surprisingly optimistic assertions made in the current application, in the ‘Rural Exception Site Planning Application Supporting Statement’ that accompanies it a number of erroneous claims are made and repeated throughout the documentation, not least that:

The traffic speed is 30mph but due to the local facilities and residential properties on the road this is reduced further.”

A claim that, frankly, got an incredulous response on the local Facebook pages. I include representative samples, collected after just six hours online between 09.00 and 15.00, at the end of this submission.

The developer, TC Homes, again quoting another stunning presumption on the part of the earlier traffic engineers (my underlining):

“‘This development will also significantly increase the likelihood of slow moving and stationary vehicles undertaking turning movements at this location, which would not be unexpected in this semi urban environment. Therefore, as long as the proposed new access is constructed to an appropriate specification, including satisfactory visibility splays, parking and turning areas, then there is unlikely to be any issues for highway safety, associated with this development proposal.’”

An assertion strongly contested by local residents far more familiar with a stretch of road generally considered to be one of the most dangerous in Highley because of the brow of Benn’s Bank!

Nor, in the current application fot 20 dwellings, is there convincing evidence that consideration has been given to whether the layout, density and scale are appropriate in relation to the context in which these 20 houses are proposed. A comparison needs to be made with what is being proposed here and the scale of the earlier proposed development of nine bungalows.

The March 2016 report goes on to say about the bungalows (my underlining):

6.4.4 The existing residential dwellings in the area vary in type and size and the majority have spacious gardens. The application site is considered to be of relatively low density which results in the proposed plots being spacious, this and the single storey nature of the dwellings would be fitting for an edge of settlement location such as this and compliments the character of the surrounding estates.

The second report, produced as part of the appeal process when the bungalow application was refused, emphasises the significance of the environmental impact of any development on this site, but points up that the scale of a development of nine bungalows goes some way to mitigating that impact:

6.5 Visual Impact and landscaping

6.5.1 The site forms part of a ‘broad location’ considered to have medium capacity for housing in the Landscape Sensitivity study (part of the evidence base that informed consideration of sites within the SAMDev Plan preparation) and is considered ‘moderate’ in the generalised landscape character assessment. The site is much smaller than the broad location in the landscape sensitivity study but clearly the impact on the setting of Highley, recognising the prominent ridge upon which the village stands, and its potential impact on the visual amenity of the area and the Severn Valley needs careful consideration when determining the application.

6.5.2 The site adjoins the current development boundary that runs along the eastern edge of Highley. The proposed layout shows that the built part of the proposal would not project past the existing built development at Vicarage Lane as such it is considered that the scheme would relate well with existing built development and would not encroach significantly into the open countryside.

6.5.3 It is acknowledged that due to the location of Highley on the ridge the built development at the edge of Highley is visible from public view points in the wider landscape and it is inevitable that the proposed development would, like the adjacent dwellings, be visible.

6.5.4 The scale and density of the development is considered appropriate for the size of the application site and its edge of settlement location. The single storey nature of the dwellings would create a low level development which would go some way towards reducing the potential visual impact. Landscaping and appearance of the dwellings are matters to be dealt with at reserved matters stage should outline planning permission be granted, however it is considered that there is sufficient space to enable the integration of design solutions and landscaping which takes into account the sloping nature of the site to further help mitigate potential impacts on the visual character and appearance of the area. Given these factors it is considered on balance that the impact on visual amenity and the Severn Valley would not be significantly detrimental to justify refusal. The Appeal Inspector on the previous application 14/02129/OUT concurred with this assessment, as may be seen from the paragraphs from the appeal decision letter at 1.5 above.

At which point it is interesting to note observations by Ian Kilby (Planning Services Manager at Shropshire Council) when he was resident at the Bridgnorth Office of the (then new, 2009) Shropshire Council, Ian having been a planning officer with the old Bridgnorth District Council:

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.

At that time, it should also be noted, an Article 4 Direction was in force on this site together with its larger neighbouring field to the north of the site.

The March 2016 report concludes:

7.0 CONCLUSION

7.1 The site is considered to be in a sustainable location and the proposed layout and scale would be appropriate for the area. The development would relate to existing built development being bounded by housing to the south and west would not represent significant built, encroachment into the surrounding countryside. It is considered on balance the scheme would not be of significant detriment to visual amenity or the character and appearance of the Severn Valley. The scheme can be implemented without compromising highway safety or exacerbating flooding, further the scheme can be developed in a manner so as not to result in undue harm on residential amenity. The Inspector in the July 2015 appeal decision, prior to the adoption of the SAMDev Plan, reached these same conclusions about the proposed development.

From nine bungalows to 20 two-storey ‘affordable’ houses is a jump too high and too far, an over-development that shows no consideration for either its environmental or social context (in terms of its impact on a local infrastructure already stretched beyond breaking point).

Again, as noted in the 2016 report:

setting aside the location being outside of the village development boundary, [….] the provision of bungalow accommodation has often been requested in development proposals for the area; the impact nine 2 bedroomed bungalows on village services would be limited;

Members will recall that I withdrew my objection to the earlier development of nine bungalows because I considered that the development of the ten houses on Whittles Close breached the principle (established earlier by Ian Kilby – see above) of restricting development on that side of the Severn valley. In comparison the development of nine bungalows on the site under consideration here would actually have had less impact than those ten houses on the lower slope of the eastern ridge. In fact I had earlier argued for a development of ten bungalows on that old garage site, in alignment with the existing bungalows on Rhea Hall!

The claim by TC Homes that their development…

…will have minimal impact on the established setting of the village in the countryside.”

…ignores all the reservations expressed in earlier reports.

Nor was I impressed by the cut and paste nature of TC Homes’ ‘Rural Exception Site Planning Application Supporting Statement’, a desk-top exercise as evidenced by the inclusion of one sloppily edited section which even managed to locate the site in question on the opposite side of the county…

Furthermore the Council’s Supplementary Planning Document: Type and affordability of Housing makes it clear that the provision of affordable housing should be reflective of the scale of the community and where exception sites seem out of proportion to the scale of local need – there is a strong need for housing growth in Bishops Castle to meet the demands of the area and this is supported by the Council’s Housing and Enabling team.”

That more or less did it for me, I’m afraid!

But that was just the full stop to all the reasons why I not only cannot support this application but object to it in the strongest terms because, unlike the earlier application for nine bungalows, it has absolutely nothing to commend it.

FACEBOOK POSTS.

Hannah Ellis The bend is absolutely lethal Dave. My parents live in the White House at the top of the rec, and the majority of the time, someone has to CROSS THE ROAD to see us out of the drive safely. The speed at which some people go is is scary. People also take it wide as well, but when you’re coming the other way in a vehicle round that corner, it’s a bit of a shock when they are over the white line on your side of the road, and people that turn into that junction coming up from the village chance it as it is due to poor visibility. As you can well imagine, the visibility hasn’t been great since Severn Centre had their fencing redone many moons ago and the repositioning not its best; they’ve only recently strimmed down there because my Dad sent emails and pictures complaining. How on Earth are we all going to cope when we have this heavy duty traffic- and for how long will the work be going on right opposite the house on that unforgivable bend? To even entertain the notion for access there is completely ridiculous when there is another viable, safer access point that the vehicles necessary for this job can use. It will save them travelling through through the top half of the village, and will also keep commuting school children safe when the work does start, as they can use the other access point. It will also have less impact on commuting. I’ll speak to my parents and see if I can collate their views here for you?

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Anne Windsor Absolutely ridiculous that bend is dangerous at the best of times as you don’t have any visibility around the corner

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Chris Sandy That bend is horrendous.

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Alice Pete Burden Utter madness to even consider that increased traffic in and out of that access at this point on the road is feasible.

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Megan Plant I live right opposite that junction and even though the main road is 30mph most traffic is doing approximately 50/60 mph and of course the roads are terrible.

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Alan Edwards Plenty of cars regularly exceed 30 on all parts of the Bridgnorth road. To assume people go slower because it’s sensible will not protect the children going home from the Severn Centre.

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Russell Drye Then the same problems exist, turning out on to the main road will be a gamble as some don’t always follow the 30mph limit so will be harder to judge traffic coming from the right, even now crossing the road by the alleyway is a nightmare at times. I traffic lighted crossing would make crossing safer for all to use. Speed bumps? Mini round about? Whatever is said by us the people won’t be listened to, they have made their minds up already and nowt we can do to stop it sadly.

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Jane Woods That stretch of road, specifically the corner bend is totally lethal. Using the track, regardless of having it widened or not will not make any difference to the speed people go on the Bridgnorth Road and around that bend, in particular. The amount of times I’ve nearly experienced a head on collision with a driver who is driving WAY TOO FAST around that bend, subsequently driving on my side of the road, beyond the white line is unmentionable, you add building trucks etc to that and a fatality is imminent.

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Colin Beesley the bend is dangerous why are we letting this happen and also there are people always crossing the road i have seen cars doing 70 mph

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Dave Tremellen

Member for Highley Ward of Shropshire Council.

22 July 2019

#53: HOW DO PLANNERS GET AWAY WITH IT?

DSC_0004THE LEGISLATIVE CONTEXT.

The Basics.

For the process to have any meaning consultation has to be meaningful and something other than a tell and sell exercise that puts inverted commas around “consultation”.

It’s not as if there isn’t enough guidance to point planners to the right path, rather than the righteous one they insist every decision of theirs takes them down.

What seems to drive them – whilst offering justification of their adopted stance – is the business case for whether to engage or not; what the costs and benefits of alternative actions would be, enabling them to work out the ‘opportunity costs’; what the alternative uses of those resources could have been. This could be doing nothing, BUT, as they are officers of a local authority that just happens to be the Local Planning Authority (LPA) with legal obligations and constraints, doing nothing is not an option, which is when the planners start to look for a “different method of engagement” that has all the outward characteristics of “consultation”, which is when they stop listening to anyone who isn’t saying what they want to hear.

They justify that with reference to their local authority being cash-strapped and the consequent need to avoid “unnecessary” cost to the taxpayer, in the process missing the irony that the taxpayer is the one being screwed by whatever scheme they’re pushing through. In the case of Shropshire Council the most common justification for cutting corners is “lack of resources”.

None of my readers will be surprised to hear that I have little sympathy with such pleas of poverty for the simple reason that NOTHING supersedes the Public Law Duty to Consult.

There is another tactic used by planners which is to insist that “nothing has yet been decided”, meaning: What’s all the fuss about? Hmmm. Really?

[I’m here quoting extensively from a paper produced by Eversheds Sutherland… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eversheds_Sutherland ]

Key Principles

The public law duty to consult is one aspect of the principle that public authorities should exercise fairness in the exercise of their functions.

Where the duty to consult is imposed by statute, then the procedure to be adopted is also likely to be prescribed by the legislation. In other contexts, the issues for a public authority will usually relate to; (1) whether there is a duty to consult anyone at all; and (2) if so, what “fair consultation” entails in the circumstances.

It’s the way that our planners interpret those “issues” that I take issue with!!

Guidance as to how those issues should be addressed can be found in the Cabinet Office Consultation Principles (“the Cabinet Office Principles”) and relevant case law.

The Cabinet Office Principles do not prescribe the requirements for a valid consultation. [However…] The message the Government has attached to the Cabinet Office Principles is that:

…the goveming principle is proportionality of the type and scale of consultation to the potential impacts of the proposal decision being taken, and thought should be given to achieving real engagement rather than following bureaucratic process.

There are five pages of guidance which public servants are advised to follow to guarantee that both the letter and the spirit of what’s universally known as “consultation” is carried out to everyone’s satisfaction, I’m not going to reprint all five pages but I strongly urge everyone to Google for “the public law duty to consult”.

I’ll end my visit to Eversheds Sutherland with a final reference to their excellent paper because they bring the ‘Gunning principles’ into the discussion…

…the Cabinet Office Principles augment but do not displace the general principles derived from case law as to how consultations should be conducted. Those principles, known as the “Gunning principles” are:

Consultation should occur when proposals are at a formative stage;

Consultations should give sufficient reasons for any proposal to permit intelligent consideration;

Consultations should allow adequate time for consideration and response;

There must be clear evidence that the decision maker has considered the consultation responses, or a summary of them, before taking its decision.

All of which says to me that there isn’t just a public law duty to consult but a common sense duty to consult.

I take a relatively simple view of any failure on the part of any officer working for any local authority, to me it’s all about ethical standards at a level every citizen has a right to expect of both the elected Members of their council and the salaried officers who are professionally tasked to carry out the roles they’re appointed to. In short, a basic level of professional behaviour governed by the basic standards I’ve just run through.

There’s another paper I often refer to when I need to reassure myself that I’m not being as anal as some of my critics try to make out, it’s Local Government Ethical Standards: A Review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It’s great bedtime reading, guaranteed to send you off after about five pages — but at least you can sleep soundly with a good conscience if standards in public life are important to you.

Shropshire Council makes much of its commitment to “involve” the public in its decision making, whether it be along the lines of a “plan-led planning system”, or the creation of “managed spaces”, otherwise known as “place making”; they are all “Statements of Community Involvement”, and if they’re made within sight or earshot of me then, by god, I’ll hold the person making such a statement to account if they subsequently renege on that commitment.

A Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) should not be made and certainly should not be published unless it is considered by everyone, and not just understood by the general public, to be a statement of intent, a clear one at that, stated unequivocally.

Legal precedents exist, case law is clear.

There is (relatively) recent case law on the reach of this procedural expectation:

EWCA Civ 1029 (2009) R (Majed) v London Borough of Camden

The court of appeal held that a local planning authority’s Statement of Community Involvement gave rise to a legitimate expectation that the consultation process set out in that SCI would be carried out.

https://www.casemine.com/judgement/uk/5a8ff70f60d03e7f57ea6ea2

5. The place of legitimate expectations in public law was broadly summarised in the judgement of Laws LJ in:

EWCA Civ 755 (2008) R (Bhatt Murphy) v lndependent Assessor

As follows:

“The power of public authorities to change policy is constrained by the legal duty to be fair (and other constraints which the law imposes). A change of policy which would otherwise be legally unexceptionable may be held unfair by reason of prior action, or inaction, by the authority”.

https://www.casemine.com/judgement/uk/5b46f20d2c94e0775e7f15eb

Planners give the impression that they depend on public ignorance. Planning law is complex and forbidding for the layman, which is why I stick to the principles involved and, as a general rule, if something seems wrong you can be fairly sure that there will be what Private Eye calls a whiff of something.

Ever heard of ‘Pareto’s principle’? It’s a shady business model, otherwise referred to as the 80/20 rule: you get 80% of the gain from 20% of the effort.

This is known as the “Vital Few, Trivial Many”, or “Law of the Vital Few”.

Now whilst ‘Pareto’s Principle’ has a place within a commercial business where marketeers have a place on the board, it has no place in planning and especially not in the management of a contentious policy where the needs of a community should determine how that policy is applied.

If anyone needs an object lesson from within Shropshire Council on the application of Pareto’s principle then look no further than the “consultation” preceding the implementation of the ‘Shropshire Affordable Housing Allocation Policy & Scheme’ in January 2014, when Shropshire Council proceeded on the basis of feedback from nine out of the 6,500 people on the waiting list at that time, a (hardly) representative sample size of 0.0013846 of the people on the waiting list at the time.

The “Vital Few” became the Pathetic Few, But hey…

…it was a sign of what was to come!

#52: “Exposed, the scandal of the inadvertent comment and the true intentions revealed” or “Who’d have thought it, shock, horror”.

I was going through some older posts and having a general clear out of saved downloads and found what is probably the most revealing little item in the collection.

As an indication of the true intentions behind the duplicitous publication otherwise known as the Shropshire Council Agenda for Full Council meetings, it is a classic…

STIFLING DEBATE

After all, we don’t want to create debate and draw media attention to what we’re up to, do we!

Bit difficult to make that out, so…

STIFLING DEBATE ENLARGED IMAGE

#51. A whirligig is an object that spins or whirls, or has at least one part that spins or whirls. Whirligigs are also known as pinwheels, buzzers, comic weathervanes, gee-haws, spinners… or Shropshire Council.

DSC_0004

Broken trust.

I’ve written a lot about the case of ex-Council Leader Keith Barrow’s resigning as chairman of the council-owned trading company ip&e and his subsequently standing down as a Shropshire councillor, as an example of how standards in public life can slip it is an object lesson.

Shropshire Council has a Code of Conduct which all councillors are expected to follow and there is a range of sanctions for breaches of that Code. Unfortunately, a surprising number of councillors view the Code as guidance open to individual interpretation rather than what it is, “the law”. A Code of Conduct establishes the minimum standards expected of a public servant, it should not be subject to spin!

I’ve written a lot about the case of the bungled police investigation into Keith Barrow when he was Leader of Shropshire Council, but there is both a prequel and a sequel to that sorry tale, and as sequels go whilst this one may not have sex and murder it does have more than its fair share of conspiracy theories, threats, and intimidation, all of which would have come to light if either of two police investigations had been more thorough.

As explained in the very first blog article [see #1. Standards In Public Life: Is it all a matter of perception?], certain issues came out of my 2015 Code of Conduct Complaint that had to do with the ownership of a company called ‘Peakfast’, specifically the relationship between Keith Barrow, Leader of Shropshire Council and Tony Mathews, principal partner in DRE, a firm of accountants based in Oswestry who had been appointed external auditors for the council-owned company, ip&e, that Keith Barrow was chairman of.

My Code of Conduct complaint did not involve Peakfast directly but had to do with the probity – in accounting terms – of DRE’s appointment as external auditor because DRE dealt with Keith Barrow’s personal and business accounts, a relationship that the Auditing Practices Board (APB) guidelines proscribed.

At the time of my complaint, Peakfast’s ownership was incidental, in fact I had assumed that Declarations of Pecuniary Interest had been routinely declared which, had that indeed been the case, for the purposes of my complaint made DRE’s appointment even more surprising given that everyone involved in the decision would have been aware of the APB’s guidelines on the appointment of external auditors, had they not been aware then they had no business serving as directors of a limited company!

What I didn’t know at the time of my 2015 complaint was that Peakfast and Keith Barrow’s part-ownership of it had featured in formal complaints five years earlier, in 2010.

Some people might be surprised that “things” were allowed to progress for as long as they did but in effect, where internal audit by Shropshire Council was concerned, scrutiny to any degree was virtually absent, not helped by Keith Barrow moving ip&e’s operations out of Shirehall and into separate premises.

I genuinely believe that moving the business into separate premises was not in itself a conscious attempt to ‘hide’ ip&e’s activities from scrutiny, it was simply that the ‘hiding’ was the consequence of the move and allowed for the more “relaxed” (less constrained by protocol) management style for which Keith Barrow was known.

Out of sight and very much out of mind in terms of close scrutiny (as a formal report to Shropshire Council Cabinet made clear in April 2016), the situation was made even more problematic by much of ip&e’s normal business transactions/minutes of meetings being labelled “commercially confidential” by the ip&e board.

The earlier 2010 complaint had been made by two individuals, but I’ll concentrate on the one individual who was better placed than anyone else to make a judgment on Keith Barrow’s activities, being a solicitor with Bachelors and Masters degrees in law; a Doctorate of Philosophy; a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (Town Clerks), who had also been the Solicitor and Monitoring Officer to two councils and Chief Executive of two.

He took his concerns about Peakfast and Keith Barrow’s failure to declare the nature of his relationship with Peakfast – his intimate relationship with a business he stood to profit from – to the police. The police failed to prosecute on the basis of insufficient evidence.

Incredibly, given the impeccable professional pedigree of the person making that 2010 complaint and the peripheral involvement [see below] of some prominent Conservative Members, Shropshire Council’s own Standards Sub-Committee dismissed the complaint as ‘malicious’. If the Universe can be considered to be full of mysteries, that decision must count as one of the more mysterious.

All of which explained why the informant who supplied me with the background information that prompted my own (2015) Code of Conduct Complaint had been told, when he offered the same information to the Leader of the Labour Group AND, on being rebuffed, then to a prominent member of the Liberal Democrats at Shirehall, that as it had already failed in 2010 it was hardly worth the effort trying to resurrect it five years later.

The reluctance on the part of the police to prosecute can be explained by their perception of a “crime” against the civil Standards Code of a Local Authority not being a crime in their eyes; it simply doesn’t fit with their culture of prosecuting “criminality”.

A breach of a Local Authority Standards Code might indeed be a criminal act in the literal sense (under the Localism Act 2011 it most definitely is), but to the police it registers as little more than a “domestic”, especially if there have been no “aggravating” factors, in other words, what has happened hasn’t actually COST anyone anything. (Significantly, that was one of the defences subsequently alluded to by Keith Barrow in the press coverage of his leaving the Council.)

That earlier complaint and the way it had been handled made it an object lesson in what I’ve called “benign corruption”, the sort you can point a finger at but not put a finger on unless you can get close enough to lift a few corners of the carpet it’s been swept under.

Transparency International’ in their paper: ‘Corruption in UK Local Government, the mounting risks’ (First published 2013), says:

In England, this leaves the police as the main body able to investigate. Yet there are serious reasons to doubt that the police will devote resources to investigating possible violations or that the Crown Prosecution Service will consider it worthwhile to prosecute.

This appears to be the default situation in Shropshire and is hardly surprising given the “civil” nature of the type of offences passed to them.

The police may not be able to justify an investigation as a good use of their limited resources. One senior local government expert described the likely lack of will to investigate on the part of the police as “the main hurdle to this [new offence] being effective”. The police’s capacity to investigate fraud and corruption has in general declined considerably in the current era of spending cuts. Moreover, the magnitude of corruption and fraud at the local government level involves financial amounts that the police often consider insignificant. If the allegations are severe, the potential crime is likely to be a more serious one, such as bribery or mal-administration.

When you read that you can sympathise with the police’s adopted position with regard to Shropshire’s own: “… financial amounts that the police often consider insignificant”.

What isn’t so deserving of sympathy though is not just the failure to investigate but the subsequent attempts to cover up that failure.

Had what came out of my complaint been an isolated incident and the first of its kind then you might just manage to rustle up a bit of sympathy for a cash-strapped police force…

https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/politics/2016/06/17/no-action-against-former-shropshire-council-leader-keith-barrow-over-misconduct-complaint/

Detective Inspector Mark Glazzard said: “Following receipt of a complaint in November 2015, a thorough and detailed investigation was conducted into an alleged offence under the Localism Act 2011. This investigation has concluded, and no further action will be taken into this matter.”

but the investigation in the second case hadn’t actually “concluded” but had rather been closed down because of “lack of evidence”. That DI Glazzard had been closely involved in the earlier 2010 case is – what’s the word I’m looking for – “disappointing”. It’ll have to do.

When the details of the 2010 case came to light I was shocked on a number of counts, not least the fact that on the basis of what is out there the police consistently make a habit of marginalising issues that, in their (and bugger the Localism Act 2011) view, have no “aggravating factors”, by which they mean no one lost out financially.

Back in February of this year (2019) I had a lengthy discussion with a senior police officer in which I tried to explain that as a Local Elected Member for a constituency with a population of 3,600 it was expected of me that I would place a greater emphasis on maintaining, upholding, and promoting ethical standards than someone who did not consider themselves answerable for their actions. He did concede the point.

As an example of the “benign corruption” that can go on, that earlier 2010 case had as many sinister undertones as eventually came out of my 2015 complaint, in fact they were arguably “darker” because they went deeper into the fabric of the Shirehall Establishment.

In October 2010 David Roberts was the Conservative councillor who tabled a question to the then Leader of the Council (Keith Barrow) at a Council meeting and was asked by another Conservative councillor to withdraw it because the complaints made against (both) Keith and his wife Joyce Barrow – and the subsequent police actions – had led to severe stress for another Conservative Councillor, Aggie Caesar Homden, whose husband was a local police Inspector. There is no proof that Inspector Homden was involved in the Keith Barrow/Peakfast investigation, but his wife, Cllr. Aggie Caesar Homden was at the time a member of the Keith Barrow Cabinet at Shirehall.

Also a little creepy, was the activity of Keith Barrow’s solicitor, Adam Kerr, which prompted an email from the 2010 complainant about actions that bordered on intimidation…

Adam

Thank you for your letter. I note that your client is Keith Barrow who is known to me. I do not understand your references to the Data Protection Act and as I am an expert in such matters consider that the reference to such in your letter is misplaced and misdirected. I do not consider it appropriate to engage in any communication with you as you will appreciate any matters in which the police may have an interest are matters which the proper authorities need to comment on and respond to. I am sure on reflection you will come to the same conclusion and allow the police to conclude such work as they may need to do without either you or your client making any approaches to other people who may be witnesses or whatever in such a case. I am not sure whether your letter at this stage is seeking to influence either me or any witness in such a matter which would be wholly inappropriate and therefore for the avoidance of any doubt I will pass your letter to the police so that they are aware of your interest.

Best wishes

It’s instructive to look closely at Peakfast because its activities back then highlight the problem of unravelling the complexities of relationships within Shirehall, complex because not all written down, the informal network of connections being more significant than the formal.

To refresh… Together with Tony Mathews, Keith Barrow was a director of Peakfast. Tony Mathews was a principal partner in accountants DRE of Oswestry who had been appointed as external auditors of the Shropshire Council-owned company ‘ip&e’ which was chaired by Keith Barrow. My Code of Conduct Complaint was concerned with the probity of DRE’s appointment given Keith Barrow’s close association with the company’s principal partner.

According to Keith Barrow’s testimony to the Code of Conduct investigation, Peakfast existed solely to own a ransom strip controlling one of two possible accesses to a 69-house development plot at Morda near Oswestry. For me, this revelation came as a complete surprise because I was concerned exclusively with the probity of DRE’s being appointed as external auditors to ip&e; for me, Peakfast was just another link between Barrow and Mathews, but had no significance beyond that, in fact I asked the investigating solicitor if she could tell me WHY Keith Barrow had even mentioned Peakfast’s activities in so much detail. She didn’t know.

Unbeknownst to me, because separate and instigated by someone with whom I had no close connection at the time, the details of that ownership and the way in which those details were presented to the North Planning Committee of Shropshire Council (by both Keith Barrow and his wife Joyce Barrow) were what formed the basis of a separate police complaint, the one I reported on earlier, where I quoted from this:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-shropshire-36550406

The salient part being…

Detective Inspector Mark Glazzard said: “Following receipt of a complaint in November 2015, a thorough and detailed investigation was conducted into an alleged offence under the Localism Act 2011. This investigation has concluded, and no further action will be taken into this matter.”

Like the earlier 2010 case, that “detailed investigation” had ground to an inglorious halt because of the failure of the West Mercia Economic Crime Unit (ECU) to take the complaint seriously, resulting in the Crown Prosecution Service having too little time to consider the case for prosecution once it was handed to them.

The case was being considered under the Localism Act 2011 which is time-limited, which is why the CPS could not have completed their review in the time left to them.

That in itself was bad enough, but what became the matter of serious public concern were the subsequent efforts by some VERY senior police officers to minimise the fall-out from the consequent train-wreck.

As alluded to in my opening comments, what few people will know is that there was a hell of a lot more going on that a “thorough and detailed investigation” would have turned up.

Pre-history.

Peakfast existed solely to manage a ‘ransom strip’ controlling one of the potential accesses to a potential housing development site in Morda, a village to the north of Oswestry. That was what surprised me and the question I asked of the investigating solicitor was why would Keith Barrow, Leader of Shropshire Council, the Local Planning Authority (LPA), admit to owning a ransom strip that was valueless unless and until the land whose access it controlled got planning permission off the LPA?

The original planning application was for a development with two accesses coming off Weston Road to the south and Kingfisher Way to the north, the ransom strip controlled access off Kingfisher Way.

An application was made to vary an original planning condition – Condition 12 – to a single access off Weston Road only, avoiding Kingfisher Way and the ransom strip.

The variation had planning officer and Highways support and was unanimously supported by the residents of Kingfisher Way who were concerned about the creation of a rat run under the original condition.

Having so much support from all the consultees involved, the application to vary the access met all the conditions for the application to be decided under ‘delegated powers’ by planning officers.

Instead it was called in to committee, a decision made by the Chair of that committee.

The committee refused the application to vary Condition 12.

Unfortunately for the reputation and good standing of the Shropshire planning system there were a few salient facts that cast a shadow over that outcome, giving rise to an allegation of ‘political interference’, an allegation that was the basis of a formal complaint (separate to any of the complaints referred to earlier) to the police by the aggrieved landowner applying for the variation.

In earlier blogs I’ve talked about the incredibly strong bonds that are formed within the constituency associations of political parties. If you are a member of a constituency association and your neighbouring councillors, business associates, friends and family are also members, it is likely that you will mix socially not just across your constituency but into neighbouring constituencies of the same political persuasion. That’s a support network that is incredibly reassuring and supportive. The bonds thus formed are incredibly strong.

In blog #27, ‘The power of patronage’, I end it by saying:

Patronage plays an incredibly important part in the formation of the power groupings, it’s power magnified by the social cohesion created by political party constituencies exercising their power and influence. It isn’t just about financial and back-office support, it’s the moral support they offer through the social functions that draw like-minded people together, confirming bias, the groups thus created forming the bonds that bind; break the bond and you threaten the cohesion of the group. Dare to do that and you’re dead – politically and socially. To a member of any mainstream party that’s the end of the civilised world.

In an earlier blog article I gave examples of how close those political, commercial, and social bonds are (some of the roles and functions attributed to individuals may have changed, but they are still indicative of how close the relationships can get)…

Keith Barrow – Business partner with Tony Mathews in Peakfast Ltd, owners of the ransom strip at Morda; close friend of Clive Knowles, owner of the British Ironworks Company, Oswestry, with whom he and his wife spent two weeks on a Caribbean cruise, together with Chris Schofield, Chairman of North Shropshire Conservative Constituency Association and Chair of the Finance & General Purposes Committee of Oswestry Town Council. Barrow is also election agent for the North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson who provided him with a disallowed character reference during the Code of Conduct Complaint process that ended his tenure as Leader of the Council in 2015.

Cllr Robert Macey – Conservative Member for the Gobowen, Selattyn and Weston Rhynelectoral wards of Shropshire Council and currently Portfolio Holder for Planning and Housing Development; formerly Co-Director of Furnish UK Ltd along with Keith Barrow and his daughter Kirsty Walmsley (nee Barrow). Company dissolved 13th September 2011; Director of Politics UK Ltd, former directors of which were Keith Barrow, James Robert Barrow, and Kirsty Walmsley.

Tony Mathews – Director of DRE & Co Accountants, business associate of Keith Barrow via Peakfast Ltd and part owner of the ‘ransom strip’ at Kingfisher Way, mentioned in the Code of Conduct complaint regarding the appointment of DRE & Co as external auditors for IP&E (Shropshire Council-owned company – dissolved in 2016 – chaired by Keith Barrow) whilst personal accountants to Keith Barrow; also accountants for DS Fabrications (Mid Wales) Ltd whose director, Daniel Skilton, set up Skelly Fabrications Ltd that provided services that were part-funded by an £80k grant from Shropshire Council to TNS FC (see below).

Lady Harlech – Family home was Brogyntyn Hall; received substantial discount on the subsequent purchase of Shrawardine Farm, the Brogyntyn Shoot Secretary was Tony Mathews who in turn employed Annabel Mason, a friend of Lady Harlech, who attended the DRE & Co pitch for auditing the Council’s private company ip&e which was chaired by Keith Barrow.

J Ross Developments Ltd – Oswestry-based. Purchased Brogyntyn Hall from the Harlech family, the subsequent development receiving £860,000 Community Infrastructure Levy exemption (CIL is a developer contribution to mitigate the impact of a development on a community’s infrastructure), an exemption approved at the 10 June 2015 Shropshire Council Cabinet meeting chaired by Keith Barrow, despite J Ross Developments refusing to reveal the purchase price for the viability assessment on which an exemption is based; Owned by the Pickstock family who are business associates of Michael Harris, owner of The New Saints Football Club (TNS FC).

Michael Harris – Owner of TNS FC, Oswestry; business partner of one of the directors of J Ross developments Ltd (John Roland Pickstock); employed Keith Barrow when he stood down from Shropshire Council in 2015.

Cllr Mathew Lee – Conservative Member for Llanymynech electoral ward of Shropshire Council; Employed by Michael Harris at TNS FC since November 2016; Former chair of Oswestry Rural Parish Planning Sub-committee; former member of Oswestry Town Council planning committee.

On a general note, the current Leader of Shropshire Council is Peter Nutting, Leader of the Conservative Group at Shirehall who also serves on Shrewsbury Town Council and is its current (2019) mayor and therefore Leader of the Town Council.

Based on Shropshire Council’s own figures, central government funding going to schemes in and around Shrewsbury and North Shropshire is ten times more than in the south of the county.

Shropshire Council’s Labour Party elite are also members of Shrewsbury Town Council (the mayor before Peter Nutting was Labour’s Jane MacKenzie).

Vast sums go into Shrewsbury’s infrastructure at the expense of places like my own rural constituency of Highley, serving to maintain the election base of both Conservative and Labour councillors in very urban Shrewsbury.

And what benefits Shrewsbury Town also benefits those immediate neighbouring constituencies held by Conservatives and Labour, making for an interesting mix of unlikely bedfellows united in a common cause – their own.

It’s a complex old world.

Many, many more political, commercial, and social connections and all perfectly innocent.

Well you might say that but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Knowing something is not proving something.

But it is easy to see how misconceptions arise.

Immediately preceding the planning meeting that was due to consider that variation to the planning condition at the Morda development, three of the planning committee members, two of whom were close friends of the Barrows, were seen by the applicant in conversation outside the room in which the planning committee was about to meet. The third of those three was Joyce Barrow. All perfectly innocent.

On the basis of what had been witnessed by the applicant, given the unexpected outcome of the meeting, a formal complaint about “political interference” was made by the applicant to Shropshire Council. The Head of Legal & Democratic Services quite properly passed that complaint to the police who, incredibly, given the sensitive nature of the case and the personalities involved, interviewed everyone on the “defence” side but spoke to no-one on the complainant’s. It was passed back to Shropshire Council as no case to answer because at every stage of the process the record shows that “Declarations of Pecuniary Interest” were made at all the committee stages that required such a declaration.

I asked the Head of Legal & Democratic Services about that police response, her reply: “The police did not do Shropshire Council any favours”.

So hardly an investigation in the accepted sense of the word, but then I’ve explained why that might have occurred in my opening spiel.

I’ve been doing this for long enough now to have reached the conclusion that the Establishment depends on the public’s not understanding the complex obligations that are known as Declarations of Pecuniary Interest (DPI) and the responsibility a DPI places upon councillors to be open and transparent – in fact just plain accountable!

So what’s the problem?

OK, so the application seeking to vary the planning condition controlling access to the Morda site – Condition 12 – failed. Need it have ended there?

The landowner could have applied for a judicial review of how and why the committee had made its decision. He didn’t and time for an appeal in relation to that application expired. At the time, to those of us familiar with the case, that failure to appeal was incomprehensible, literally beyond belief, because on the face of the ‘evidence’ the odds of the appeal succeeding were massively in favour of the applicant.

Allegations were made regarding whether the planning committee had been influenced in reaching their decision.

That the Leader of the Council happened also to be Leader of the Local Planning Authority understandably heightened sensitivities about the matter. This connection was known about, in fact could not have been otherwise given the influence that Keith Barrow exercised over all activities of Shropshire Council at the time and, as I said above, appropriate declarations of interest were made when the planning application was being determined.

However, such were the serious concerns about the potential impact of such a contentious decision on the public perception of the Council’s planning regime that it was seriously suggested that Shropshire Council should consider using powers to revoke the original outline planning permission which would have taken it all back to square one. In fact so serious was the consideration of that move that I actually phoned the applicant and advised him to hold back on “signing anything away”.

Uppermost in all our minds at that time was that, whilst the Council has the power to revoke, it would generally only exercise it in exceptional cases, which of course depends on how one interprets the term “exceptional”. Revocation is a very significant step to take, not least because compensation is payable to any person interested in the land if a permission is revoked, and no one on our side had any doubts that Peakfast would challenge revocation when they saw a quarter of a million pounds slipping away.

At the time it was decided that on the basis of what was known there was not enough substantive evidence of any “injustice” which would have justified a revocation of the original planning permissions and the conditions attaching to the original planning application.

The question subsequently was, with the wisdom of the hindsight afforded by emerging evidence (although known by some of us at the time), whether revocation should have happened?

On the balance of probabilities the answer is yes because despite what I said earlier…

At every stage of the process that led to the failure of that application to vary that planning condition relating to access to the Morda site, the record shows that Declarations of Pecuniary Interest were made at all the committee stages that required such a declaration.

…there were serious doubts concerning the veracity of some of those declarations, it was those serious doubts that prompted the (separate) complaint to the police in November 2015.

Postscript.

But apart from the concerns over the subsequent police cover-up, which was bad enough, our concerns about the failure of the police to investigate under the time-limited Localism Act, and Shropshire Council’s failure to push for the allegations to be investigated as ‘Misconduct in Public Office’, which is not time-limited, come out of our knowing what WOULD have come out if the investigation by the police Economic Crime Unit had not fallen apart at the seams.

The owners of the ransom strip were pressurising the landowners to sign the contract to take the option on the purchase of the ransom strip, increasing the purchase price by increments of thousands of pounds with each refusal to sign. Incredibly, they also threatened the landowners with “legal action” for defamation if they reported the pressure that was being applied to them to the police. Despite my urging the landowners to bring the whole murky business out into the open, they were by then terrified of the consequences.

The cases that came out of the Morda “situation” highlighted failures in the system, especially in the system’s apparent inability to exercise basic checks and balances: checks to ensure compliance whilst an equitable balance between the public and private interests is maintained.

As I’ve said elsewhere and as the Head of Shropshire Council’s Legal & Democratic Services keeps reminding us, where standards in public office are concerned, “perception is all”.

I and others involved in what has been a seemingly endless process of lifting the corner of the carpet Shropshire Council brushes its dirt under understand the obligation placed on Elected Members to maintain the highest standards in public office, but the reality is that to the public the membrane separating public/private interest in a Declaration of Pecuniary Interest is pretty damn permeable.

That’s not good enough.

Hands up all those who think it is.

Thought so, my faith was not misplaced.

#50. Would you jump, or wait to be pushed?

DSC_0004

County Councillor’s Report.

Well, as anyone who bothered to pick up a local paper or tune in to BBC Radio Shropshire yesterday (Thursday 16 May) will know, yesterday’s Full Council was taken up with an interminable debate about whether Shropshire Council should declare a ‘climate emergency’ and become carbon neutral at some date in the future. The arguments started over that date – 2030 for the Greens (main Motion), 2040 for the Tories (Amendment).

Whilst the general tenor of the Green Party Motion was accepted by Council, the date was the sticking point. In my humble opinion, setting a target date to achieve carbon neutrality, whether 2030 or 2040 misses the point that ANY target is going to be arbitrary because, despite everyone’s best efforts, subject to the whims of, well, Nature. That’s the nature of the beast.

I’ve been involved in the “climate change debate” for about 40 years, ever since I first did an Open University course in the early 1980’s and started subscribing to New Scientist. Back then, what worried everybody was something known as ‘peak oil’, the point at which known reserves of oil would start to diminish after reaching a peak of production. In the opinion of the then Labour government delaying peak oil took precedence over the future of the planet and so the disastrous policy of promoting the development of “more efficient” (= greater mpg figures) diesel engines was begun; until then diesel engines were primarily found in tractors and HGVs. New Scientist predicted a catastrophic rise in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

No one listened.

I despaired.

At the time the science relating to climate change (although then, as now, the tendency was to talk about “global warming”, which to me is too general a term to communicate the full extent of change) was known but was still being openly challenged – not that it isn’t challenged now, but back then the science supporting the argument about the PACE of change was still shaky.

All science needs to establish the soundness of the research underlying a theory. Which is where James Lovelock starts to feature in the story. Lovelock’s theories (brilliantly expressed in his seminal book ‘The Revenge of Gaia’ – read it, it is brilliantly accessible to the lay reader) got a hell of a kicking off the formidable climate change sceptic Richard Dawkins.

Lovelock is a man I am in awe of, not least because he went beyond mere peer review and willingly sought-out critical analysis of his early hypothesis and tested his findings, tentative conclusions, and assumptions against the opposing conclusions, and assumptions of his critics (of which there were many) until he had argued both himself AND his critics to a standstill. At that point his hypothesis (‘a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation’) became the theory that formed the bedrock of modern earth sciences. That the Supreme Arch Sceptic Richard Dawkins came around to endorsing Lovelock’s work, for me says it all.

So the science is sound, rock solid, despite the ignorant insistence of at least two councillors during Thursday’s debate that the science was “still arguable”. The word ‘obdurate’ sprang immediately to my mind!

Which brings us to the question of whether and how we do something meaningful (as against symbolic) about it – beyond bringing a vast chunk of London to a grinding halt and getting arrested in the process – which inevitably gets us involved in a level of forecasting which no-one but a psychic medium would dare claim proficiency in, hence the ridiculous situation of a local authority being expected to decide – in an uncertain financial and political climate – to “be” carbon neutral on a date so far in advance that no one in their right mind would even attempt it.

But then, who said Shropshire Council was in its right mind?

It all got very political, which isn’t just unfortunate it’s damned stupid because the issue is too important for the kind of grandstanding that went on during that debate with local politicians queuing up to establish their climate credentials, in effect laying the ground for their election campaigns in the 2021 Shropshire local elections.

It was all very cynical if you knew where to look, who to look for, and how to listen.

As for me? Well, I voted for 2030. Why not? I had no problem with anyone talking about a “climate emergency” because it’s in my nature that, whenever someone shouts “emergency” I just let them get on with it and meanwhile find a quiet corner out of everybody’s way and start figuring out what’s best to do.

It’s what the British have always done best.

One other book I would recommend without hesitation is Prof. David Mackay’s ‘Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air’, which is freely available as a download, just google the title! It contains all the data you will EVER need to sustain an argument against the sceptics – on both sides of the fence, but try and find the errata and print it all out because a combination of typos and emerging data can throw some of the calculations out. And yes, David Mackay does know about that.

https://www.withouthotair.com/download.html

POSTSCRIPT…

And the ‘discussion paper’ that radically changed my thinking on biomass (to the extent that within hours of reading this paper we had resolved to take out our three-year-old wood burner and replace it with a gas fire) was this one, brought to my attention during my ‘tenure’ on the Green Building Forum (since abruptly ended without notice in a fit of angst-driven picque by the forum’s proprietor). The subsequent forum debate on the GBF is still its longest running feature.

Biomass – a burning issue