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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FIRST PUBLISHED ON JULY 11 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Bannerman

Shrewsbury

My reply was printed on Monday 11 July 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Tremellen

Highley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPPF CARTOON

The Local Context.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The victim becomes the perpetrator.

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

“Not in the public interest.”

Planners have a blind spot for irony!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, the “NPPF”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through a series of reforms, Pickles claimed that:

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

Specious beyond belief!

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

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

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

Giving with strings attached.

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

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

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

Keep the buggers guessing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bewilderment Rules, OK.

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

So what about it?

Indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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