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Meeting about the Roundhouse

Tony Gosling | 16.04.2004 21:12 | Ecology | Free Spaces | Social Struggles | Sheffield

The meeting between protesters trying to save the Brithdir Mawr eco-roundhouse and Pembrokeshire National Park Planner Cathy Milne has happened and here is a transcipt...

(This was initially posted as a comment to this article... - Sheff IMC)

Simon Fairlie (SF) at the demo in Haverfordwest on Tuesday
Simon Fairlie (SF) at the demo in Haverfordwest on Tuesday

Meeting between The Land is Ours / Chapter 7, locals and Pembrokeshire National Park Authority development control
April 13th O4

Present: TLIO/ Ch. 7, locals: Simon Fairlie, Magda Piessons, Brendon Boal
NCPNPA: Catherine Milner, Alan Hare
Police officers: Roger Hughes (superintendent and ?)
Note taker: Vicky Moller

SF: I would like clarification: My understanding from PPG 18 etc and Good Practice Advice is that you are under no obligation to enforce, enforcement is discretionary?

CM: My understanding is the same, it is discretionary

SF: And the Authority prioritises which cases to enforce by assessing how harmful they are. My experience is that nearly all local authorities choose not to enforce when it would mean evicting people from their home because enforcement is discretionary.

CM: I’m sure it is.

SF: From my observation there is a war of attrition, otherwise I am curious why you are so persistent in this particular case - for several reasons:
1. because there is an enormous movement of support, we have observed it from being here all through the week.
2. What harm is being done by this development, especially compared to the high impact tourism projects that have recently been allowed
3. Because there is a low impact policy in the pipeline

Why is enforcement being so rigidly adhered to when in a year or two the house could conform to policy.
You can leave the enforcement notice in place until this policy comes through and then assess it against the policy. You are making people angry.

CM: Not all people angry.
There is no certainty that there will be a low impact policy.
You don’t hold things just in case a policy comes along, everyone could have a swimming pool in their back garden, in the hopes that one day there would be a policy to allow this.

SF: There is a real likelihood of a low impact policy, there were 20 representations in the JUDP in favour, none against and the Welsh Assembly government is in favour, this is the direction things are going in, it doesn’t work to compare this to a policy for swimming pools in every garden for which there is no likelihood.

CM: This has been appealed twice and independent inspectors found no justification for this development twice. The authority is letting due process carry on.

SF: Not due, permissible.

CM The Authority committee has taken its decision, and Tony Wrench didn’t appeal against the enforcement. The appeal inspector allowed them 18 months to find other accommodation. In my view he balanced the human rights issues against the enforcement, in giving 18 months.

SF: They didn’t appeal, and that was a mistake I think, but no-one explains to people that there is a specialist group of enforcement officers, and an opportunity to appeal against enforcement. It took me 3 years to find out these things. You shouldn’t use this against them to justify taking it to court. On the basis of what is customary what would be the problem with leaving them?

CM: No, on the basis of planning policy and the decision of the members. They make the decisions, not me.

SF: You cant blame this on the members. Did you recommend enforcement?

CM: Yes I did. Two inspectors decided this is non-authorised development. This has nothing to do with it being a sustainable development. It is a new development in the countryside whatever it is made of, whatever it looks like. If the inspectors give no consent what are we supposed to do? If we ignore this then anyone can build anything! Now Emma has built four more and is living in three of them!

SF: Why are you advising the committee totally against this development, when there is an emerging policy that has come some way through which could allow it? It smacks of vindictiveness. Especially when this is a really popular house.

CM: It is not our job to be popular, it is our job to implement policy whether people like it or not.

SF: There is a little used rule that local authorities can do whatever they deem to be in the public interest. This development is in the public interest so there is less need to enforce against it.

CM: That doesn’t follow, how do you make that out?
§ It doesn’t cause harm
§ It meets the over-riding obligation to develop ways to live sustainably and to stop harming the planet.
§ It meets the economic and social purposes of the Park
§ It meets the drastic need for affordable local homes
§ It supports the economic need for small-scale farming and forestry activities.

People from all walks of life have lost confidence in the Authority. They feel that local people are being pushed out of homes and jobs in favour of tourists’ needs. I can give examples from my own experience as well as the well-known one in the county.
(e.g. of farmer wanting to convert barn for his son to help his aging parents on the farm, tried twice and refused, but same barn got permission to be tourist accommodation.)

CM: To change this you need to change the policy documents we work to. There is opportunity to do this but people don’t think about the policy until they are affected. Then they expect us to change the policy to suit their situation. It’s too late, the time to do this is when policy is out to consultation as it is now, but already at public inquiry stage.
We do a huge amount of work to involve people in the consultation, we bend over backwards to involve them, put on road-shows all over the county, but hardly any-one comes to them.
You have to get involved in the process of policy forming far before getting to this stage. At this stage we have a policy which says Thou Shalt Not Build in the Open Countryside. And that is WAG and UK policy, not just ours.

MH describes her own attempts to pursue her small-scale agriculture. How this is acceptable and normal in Holland, but here it seems committee members do not understand this kind of agriculture and horticulture. She was living on her land in a tiny towing caravan which was enough for her and her husband, but was enforced out of it. She tried to build a turf roof storage shed on her land for her business but this was also refused. At the same time a turf roof holiday cottage on White Sands Bay was allowed. Her beautifully designed shed was allowed on appeal. She asked: Why do you take the most repressive options in each case against these small-scale operations?

CM: At Whitesands they got permission because there was something there before, there were existing use rights.

MP: But local people are getting the impression that there is no provision for them and they cannot afford anywhere to live. We have low incomes here, we cannot take on mortgages of £200,000. We need housing which we can afford. Tony’s roundhouse is one example of something you can do for yourself in the countryside.
You could give it personal planning permission which only attaches to one person. You need to be creative to deal with this housing crisis for local people. I know several people who are homeless now because the tourist season has started and they have to move out of rented accommodation for tourists.

CM: The Park cannot solve the housing crisis. You have to change the policy but we are 4 years into the process, you have to start before this stage. That’s how I have to work, we do our best to involve people.

SF: To deal with the planning process you have to be a professional. It is mostly a dialogue between developers and planners and conservation bodies. The developers hire consultants with the appropriate expertise to represent them. Ordinary people cannot afford consultants. Chapter 7 cant even afford them.

CM: You don’t need to use consultants. If you do you can get planning aid to pay them. There are consultants doing planning aid in Pembs.

SF: How do people get to hear about planning aid, are you informing them? (Neither Magda or Tony Wrench knew about this)

CM: It’s not my role to inform them, I am not involved in policy development, that is Martina Dunne’s department.
SF: Are you bound to make recommendations which conform with policy with no deviation?

CM: It depends on the degree of deviation. We need permission from WAG to deviate. I cant recommend to members to deviate.

SF: It is not black and white. In 64A planning officers guidance it states that you must work with development planning policy unless there are material considerations that indicate otherwise.

CM: What material considerations?

SF: Sustainability, affordable housing..

CM: This might be relevant but not in a protected area like the Park. No other Park has approved an eco-housing development. And we don’t want to go down the route of approving retrospectively.

SF: Our planning officer rather likes retrospective, he says you know what you’ve got, you get less bogus applications, eg for a home to farm from, then selling off the land once you’ve built it.

CM: We tried to tie land to buildings but central govt. said we cant do that. We can only work with the framework we are given by central government. We tried to get a locals only housing policy for new build in the park but we were challenged by WAG and lost in the high court.

SF: According to PPG 7 you can tie buildings to land so long as you use the policy with restraint. You cant restore land to buildings once lost.
What I cant understand is why you are so rigid when 64A allows you to deviate. I have a huge admiration of the English planning system because it has this flexibility, in fact it is universally admired for this. You are pretending that you don’t have any choice when you do, and other authorities allow this.

CM: No other National Park Authority has allowed eco-housing.

MP: What courses or training do NPA officers receive in order to learn about permaculture design systems, ecological and low impact development?

CM: We have to learn to be experts without training courses when a case comes up. For example I had to become a small expert in wind-farms and in LNG as well as permaculture recently. We don’t have formal training but I have to learn fast to report to the committee. We also choose the appointees on the committee for their varied expertises.
I have a question for Magda; No-one has ever used the exceptions policy in Pembrokeshire, but it is provided to enable people to apply a home outside development limits. What more do you want this authority to do?

SF: It is sad that it has not been used but you should be asking yourself why?
Also I understood from PPG 6 that the exceptions policy only allows development on the outskirts of a settlement, is only for local people and one-off buildings have never been acceptable under it. It depends on a housing need survey.

CM: Yes, you have to prove the need.

BB: I think from listening to what has been said that you would probably turn an application for the developments cited today down if they came in under exceptions policy.

CM: We are working with people in the Newport area to get an exceptions land release for housing. Do you know Cara Wilson and To Gwyrdd? The Authority and this group are working together to achieve this.

SF: I tried to get housing under this policy but was shot down essentially because I was not a housing association.

BB:The process for changing policy is quite obscure. Otherwise why is it that we got 150 people trying to change things to join us, but you don’t get people to come to the consultations when they should be able to change things.

AH: There may be other tricks we have to learn.
MP: There is a growing gap between the Authority and local people, a lack of trust, don’t you find this?

CM: No, I don’t agree. We go out to talk to people whenever they invite us. We have an annual gathering of town and community councillors where we talk to them.

SF: You say you have a problem getting people to road shows. Might this be because of this lack of trust? We had 80 people out there, half of them local and you wouldn’t come and talk to us.

AH: I went out and I was bawled at. If we are asked to come to a meeting we go, we cant be haphazard about it, we have an organisation and planning cycle to run.

SF: Can we agree on a public meeting to discuss these queries and concerns? There is a difference between a ‘home’ and ‘away’ situation, in terms of who will come.

Police: I suggest that you send a letter to these officers with an agenda. I think that people should talk to each other, I say that from the heart.

MP: I agree so much with this, a public meeting would be extremely helpful.

AH: I will request it of the committee.

Police Chief superintendent: There is a need to get round the table again. There should be no need to go through this sort of action ever again. Could we agree here on the issues for the future and allow people to get around the table again?

SF: Is part of the mistrust because of the perception that there are back-handers which is why some people get permission and others do not, there seem to be some bloody strange exceptions to policy. This at least is what we hear from everyone round here. Do you know not one person objected to what we were doing, we didn’t get any ‘Go home hippies’ response.

RH Police officer: ‘I told you we’re nice people round here’

CM: Thirty years ago there used to be back-handers, but not any more.

BB: Why is it that the Park Authority is so unpopular?

MP: I used to be very positive about Park, It is extremely beautiful and I really want to keep it that way. I want to work with you, but I didn’t get the feeling that you want to work with me. Maybe we should talk about that. I still believe that together we can put a positive message out to people about what the Park is and can be.

CM: Yes but the roundhouse has gone through so many stages that the Authority can't change its view now.

SF: But most authorities wouldn’t do anything. Why don’t you choose this option?

CM: What message does that send about the Authority?

AH: Well this has been a very useful meeting and you have made some useful points which we can take back with us. We will take your message about a public meeting to the committee next week. Can you put in writing what you would like to discuss, we need an agenda, then we can ask the committee 0845 458 4074.

nb. a request for a public meeting with a specific low impact/affordable housing agenda will be put to the members of the park committee at a meeting (open to the public) being held at the Park's new Pembroke Dock HQ next Wednesday 28th April 2004.

Pembrokeshire National PArk Authority - Llanion Park, Pembroke Dock, SA72 6DY, Tel 0845 345 7275; Fax 01646 689076.

Tony Gosling
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