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Council criticised over delays to One Planet Developments

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has come under fierce attack for how it handles One Planet Developments, one of the Welsh Government’s schemes to promote a greener rural economy.

WHAT IS A ONE PLANET DEVELOPMENT?

The Welsh Government defines a One Planet Development as “development that through its low impact either enhances or does not significantly diminish environmental quality. One Planet Developments should initially achieve an ecological footprint of 2.4 global hectares per person or less in terms of consumption and demonstrate clear potential to move towards 1.88 global hectares over time”.
Planning Policy Wales goes on to say that One Planet Developments “should be able to support their inhabitants in terms of income, food, energy and waste assimilation over no more than five years from the commencement of work on the site.”
The key element is that the policy allows new land-based live-and-work enterprises in the countryside provided that strict rules are followed.
The policy has received criticism from planning committee members across West Wales, particularly from those connected to farming areas or who are farmers themselves. They claim the policy is unfair to agricultural families who want to build homes for their children on their land.
As we shall see below, Pembrokeshire’s councillors also grind that particular axe.

Huw George

A READER WRITES

Tesi Delaney has made an application for a One Planet Development. She contacted us recently and told us of her problems in navigating the choppy waters and conflicting agendas of planners who are supposed to assess applications on clear statutory grounds and county councillors determined to block One Planet Developments because ‘Maenclochog’.
She writes: I remember when The Herald published its original article because I was one of the people quoted in it. I had just been refused OPD for my site in Rhosfach, in the Mynachlogddu ward of North Pembs.
My local councillor, Huw George, had been on the BBC, telling the nation that OPD was not fit for purpose.
When I made my second application, Cllr George and I had a meeting along with some other people to discuss my application. He said he would help me, and in the case of a second recommendation for refusal, would insist that the case was taken to the committee to be heard democratically.
Last Friday (November 8), I received my second recommendation for refusal. I am now waiting for a reply from Cllr George, having messaged him the same night to ask if he is still willing to support me.
Cllr George has the power to put my case in front of the planning committee, who have shown themselves largely in favour of OPD applications. This way, my application would be assessed by the committee, and not just be judged on the opinion of one delegated planning officer. In effect, then, my fate lies largely in the hands of someone who is a self-professed opponent of OPD. Tricky.
So we come to our first problem. Why is it that a decision that impacts someone’s life so completely, can be taken by one delegated member of the council planning team?
OPD is still in its infancy, and there are questions on both sides which need ironing out. It seems, however, that the planning officers do not wish to undertake such complicated matters.

Erica Thompson

A TICKING CLOCK

Which takes us to my next point. Why did it take five months to refuse me last time, and nearly seven months this time? The planning schedule is supposed to give you a decision with eight weeks.
If they fail, they are supposed to request an extension before the deadline and ask for more time. On my first application, my planning officer was extremely late asking for an extension and then went over the new deadline anyway.
The second time, I was not even asked for an extension.
Such a long wait has you phoning up in desperation, just to be number 500 in a queue. When you get through they’re “not in the office”.
So you email, and they ignore you. I was asked to not to contact my planning officer. I was expected to be left hanging for months on end, waiting for my life to begin and losing seasons. All while, I felt they put OPD applications aside and dealt with easier matters.
It’s not just me. Local businessman, Daniel Badham – a tree surgeon of high repute in the area, born and bred in Pembrokeshire – applied for OPD on his site in Reynalton last March.
That’s right. Nine months ago.
He feels he has been constantly fobbed him off, just the same as me. Excuses, delays, avoidance.
Daniel has been living away from his daughters the whole time, staying in a caravan on his dad’s farm for what he thought would be about eight weeks. He’s now heading into his second winter. His kids are growing into teens and losing interest in the whole idea; feeling, no doubt like, it’s all some big lie.
And they’d be right.
Not a lie from their dad; a lie from the council about how long they expect these things to take, and as to whether or not it might happen.
Another local, Stephen De-Waine, a fisherman of the Haven since he was a young man, sold everything he owns, including his fishing boat, and purchased a plot of land to do an OPD.
“The thing that worries me,” he said, “is that the council seem to stall OPD for as long as they can get away with it. I’m 54. I can’t waste time waiting for them to decide if it’s going to take me a year”. And he has a point. Unnecessary stress is not something welcome in his life.
And why should it be? It’s only a planning application.
We’re not asking to bring back hanging, although, from the level of vitriolic response to applications, I’m not sure some locals wouldn’t welcome such a thing.
Young people watching my progress on social media, who are thinking as they watch OPD could be of interest to them, must see the aggro and decide firmly not to bother. I know, given my time again, that I wouldn’t. And I’m nearly at the stage where I’d say to anyone, don’t do it.
It’s a nightmare. That’s hardly a good advertisement for a Welsh Assembly policy that intends to do all it can to promote greener, more self-sufficient living.

 

CRISIS, WHAT CRISIS?

Back in May PCC declared a climate emergency. Since then, they’ve been doing everything in their power to make the greenest policy they have as impossible as they can make it.
I still have no idea why I’ve been recommended for refusal, as my planning officer has made a decision, but hasn’t done the report yet. And I don’t get this information sent to me personally; it’s posted online for me to read in public along with all my objectors.
This is my third point. To apply for OPD you have to present a 50-100 page document, outlining every single detail of your plans, your life, your outgoings, everything – some of it very personal information. This information is then published online. If the council ask you a question and you answer it, they also publish that; which resulted in the council plastering my mental health issues all over the internet.
A quick gander at some of the objections to OPDs and you begin to realise the level of prejudice we’re up against. Everyone panics.
“We’ve got hippies!” They cry.
I used to be a lecturer at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, but they see muddy boots and recycled items and they think the brew crew have moved in.
Applicants Rose and Mike Quirk, who own a site in Llangolman, have stated how alien it is for them to be perceived as such ne’er do wells. “We’ve always been respected before!” said Rose, who has degrees in both nursing and psychology. Mike is a traditional timber builder. Their application is currently at the five-month mark. Again, not even close to eight weeks.
So why the lies about the timescale?
Why not admit that they don’t have the resources and tell you you’re looking at around six months, minimum for a decision?
And that’s the fourth point. Lies.
I was told by my planning officer that I wasn’t allowed to see my objections. I have since found this not to be the case. In the end, a friend put in a freedom of information request and got them for me.
Why did that have to happen?
I should have been able to see the objections. How come the objectors get such privacy when my life is laid bare for all to see?
Objectors are usually people who have seemingly wonderful lives, but who somehow have nothing better to do than to constantly complain about everything and anything. They’re the same people who used to phone up DVLA when your tax disc was a day out.

 

THE COST TO THE COUNCIL

So what happens now? Well, I go to appeal; a very expensive undertaking for the council, and risky for them, as most OPDs are granted permission at appeal, making the whole exercise a waste of everyone’s time and money.
An appeal will take 6- 8 months. If I win, the council have to pay all my costs. They say the applications are taking so long because they’re under-resourced, yet they can suddenly rustle up twenty grand to defend their shortcomings.
And then, are they’re going to take Rose to Appeal? And Dan? And Steve? How many of us are they going to make an example of before they just accept that this is an Assembly initiative which local council politics and nimbyism should have no part in?
OPD is capable of answering legitimate housing and working need for many people in this county, where jobs and affordable homes are few. Farmers are having to diversify. Why shouldn’t they raise a few quid for their retirement by selling a few acres to a couple of young ‘uns, or not so young ‘uns, to create a life for themselves, to provide themselves with jobs, a roof over their head, and be a burden to nobody, doing their bit for climate change?
There’s nothing stopping farming families taking advantage of the policy, enabling them to split farms between family members, and each has their start and chance.
When I first bought my land I tried to find a house to rent locally. So many empty houses, not one for rent. All the little croft cottages are now holiday cottages. So where are we supposed to live?
OPD isn’t for everyone. It’s not an easy life. All the more reason why the people attempting it should be supported in their attempts to create a less consumerist world, planting trees and plants for pollinating insects, growing food and being as self-sufficient as possible, on natural land, that is balanced, cared for and not smothered in pesticides. Soon it may be a lifestyle that everyone has to undertake. That’s worth thinking about.
Even if you get your OPD over the line, it doesn’t stop there. You need to do yearly monitoring reports. If you’re not complying or succeeding as much as they want you to, planners can make you take down everything you’ve worked for, and you’ve got five years to do it all – build a home, a business, and prove your worth. So much for “getting away with it”.

 

COUNCIL’S PLANNERS AT ODDS WITH OWN POLICY

You can’t incite a revolution if you’re not prepared to fight, as they say. So some of us have to be the ones to get through these early processes. Perhaps don’t have the energy of the guys at Lammas, or Charlie and Meg at the Roundhouse, or Tony Wrench. That’s yet to be seen.
But ultimately, it’s still my land. I have options. But it’s pretty crazy to disallow me to make a home and living for me and my son. The real stinger is that my first refusal said that I hadn’t done enough to start my business. So I’ve been doing loads, setting up stuff, only to be told now that they’re going to refuse me. Not only that, they intend to pretty much immediately enforce my workshop that doubles as somewhere to keep baby goats when it freezes and is where my cats and dogs live.
Pretty soon, all homes will have to be eco homes. The council said this themselves at a meeting in May. The next LDP will contain such policies as all new builds being eco builds. That includes those of Mr George’s farmers he says think developments like mine are unfair to them.
I’ve planted hundreds of trees on my site. I’ve planted hundreds of trees in pots. They’re growing happily on a site the council say can’t grow trees.
My business plan is for a tree nursery, with trees grown with local seed and cuttings, and not imported.
All we see is that governments are encouraging tree planting. As ash die-back decimates our county, the council see fit to refuse an application for a tree nursery. Do you understand? Because I don’t.

COUNCIL SAYS OPD TOO COMPLICATED

Cllr Huw George did not respond to our request for answers to criticisms of him made in this article.
Pembrokeshire County Council told us that OPDs should be regarded as special cases.
“There are significant demands on the local planning authority in terms of resources (time, cost, expertise) not only in assessing applications for One Planet Development but also through monitoring and enforcement.
“The level of detailed evaluation that OPD applications require and the need for clarification or the submission of additional information can lead to applications taking longer than the standard determination period of 8 weeks.
“Retrospective applications can be used as a way of retrofitting unauthorised residential development in the open countryside to One Planet Development policy as a way of obtaining planning permission rather than a genuine desire and commitment to One Planet Development and a low impact lifestyle.”
That got short shrift from Dr Erica Thompson, Chair of the One Planet Council.
“It is disappointing that some applications do take a very long time to reach a decision. We recognise that One Planet Development applications are complex and that there are other planning considerations beyond the “One Planet” nature of the development – and indeed the incredible strain at the moment on council services including planning.
“However, the One Planet Development Practice Guidance published by the Welsh Government assesses whether or not an application conforms to the requirements relatively simple once an officer is familiar with the requirements. The One Planet Council can offer professional training to planning officers by request.
“In approving one recent application, Carmarthenshire Council’s planning committee mentioned their declaration of a Climate Emergency and their commitment to taking commensurate action. Promoting and enabling One Planet Development, though not the whole solution, is one way that councils can take action towards the challenges that the climate crisis presents for us in Wales.
“Pembrokeshire has been leading the way in One Planet Development and we hope that the council will continue to assess applications as fast as is reasonably possible, with fairness against the criteria, so that those who want to take up this opportunity can do so without having to put their lives and businesses on hold.”

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Simon’s Hart to Hart with Pembroke constituent

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SIMON HART has got into a heated doorstep discussion with a Pembroke pensioner whilst canvasing for next week’s general election.

Michael Hart, 70, who is no relation to Simon Hart, contacted The Herald at lunchtime today (5 December) to say that he had been in a heated discussion with the Tory incumbent, who was out door-knocking on his street.

The argument was sparked by the swastika saga – as exclusively reported in last week’s Herald – in which Simon Hart REFUSES to account for the appearance of offensive Nazi graffiti on one of his election placards, two years after it was taken down from public display.

Simon Hart photographed the placard in question in 2017 – at which point the only evidence of graffiti it bore was written text. But he posted a new photograph of the same placard to kickstart his re-election campaign last month, in which two swastikas are visible where none appeared before.

The MP is still refusing to give any public explanation, and has threatened legal action against those speculating over what he says is “demonstrably untrue.”
Since being reported by his favourite local weekly, Michael Hart tells us that he noticed how Simon Hart was still keeping quiet on the swastikas’ appearance – despite being approached by journalists reporting on the matter for the Independent, Daily Mirror, iNews and Western Mail titles.

Earlier this week WalesOnline reported that, when approached, Simon Hart failed to offer “an explanation as to how the swastika signs ended up on the election board, or who might be responsible”, but he told them: “Any suggestion that I had anything to do with this is malicious, false and defamatory and lawyers have been instructed”.

Michael Hart tells the Herald that he became aware Simon Hart was out campaigning on Kingsbridge Drive at lunchtime, when the candidate’s poster landed on his doormat.

The retiree says that the swastika issue led to the disagreement – in which words were exchanged and threats of legal action were inferred made towards him by the government minister.

Michael Hart, a retired teacher and mechanical engineer, said that he tackled Simon Hart to explain how the swastikas came about. He says his prodding produced what he calls a “tentative explanation” from the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire incumbent, which he finds “hard to believe”.

“I opened my door and went out to the drive, and politely said I did not want the poster. A few moments later, Simon Hart came up the road and onto my drive.

“I complained to him about two things – the Conservatives’ illegal proroguing of Parliament, and all that I’ve read about his publishing of the photo on his Facebook page of his defaced election board with the swastikas on.

“When I asked him about the signs, he got agitated, angry, and threatened me with legal action, and said he would pursue anybody who made out that he had anything to do with it”.

“On pushing him further, he told me how he thinks they got there. He says when his signs were in storage in a shed, that the shed was broken into, and a large number of placards including the swastika placard were ‘damaged or defaced’ for a second time!

“It really is quite some theory – and if it is true now, then it was true last week when the issue was first exposed. So why didn’t he mention this before now, when the Herald and other papers started asking him questions, or why didn’t he contact the police?

“Why was it when he put the poster on Facebook did he not then explain how the swastikas got there?

“I’m not sure why but he was recording our conversation on his phone. At the end of the visit no one from Mr Hart’s party would accept the poster back – so I threw it in the road and then it was picked up.”

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Jeremy Corbyn 100% confirmed to visit Pembrokeshire this weekend

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LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn will be visiting Pembrokeshire this weekend to shore up support for Labour candidates in the area.

Although the exact itinerary has not yet been confirmed, Labour HQ in Cardiff has confirmed to The Pembrokeshire Herald that Mr Corbyn will definitely be in attendance.

Mr Corbyn will be keen to rally votes for Philippa Thompson, who is standing in the Preseli Pembrokeshire seat – the second most marginal in the UK.

At the 2017 election she lost to Stephen Crabb by just 314 votes.

An email sent out to Labour members states: “Jeremy Corbyn will be in Haverfordwest to talk about how we win a better society, and we hope you can join him.

“This election is a once in a generation chance for us. Together we can reverse a decade of austerity. Take power from the billionaires, the bad bosses and the big polluters and give it to workers, young people, communities and everyone the Tories have failed for so long.

“We’re coming together to make our voices heard in Haverfordwest this weekend. This is about getting together, being inspired, and making a difference in the final week.”

The exact location will be sent out to those who register to attend, the email ads. The indoor rally is expected to start at 5.30pm.

Corbyn’s supporters said they hope that their leader will also attend an outdoor rally taking place in Haverfordwest town centre, at a location to be confirmed, the same afternoon.

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Haverfordwest boy caught taking drugs by officers thirty miles away

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A TEENAGE boy was arrested in Haverfordwest last week, after he was caught smoking cannabis on CCTV cameras which are monitored in Carmarthen (on Nov 28).

As part of the ongoing effort to crack down on anti-social behaviour in the town centre, known as Operation Spitfire, Haverfordwest Inspector, Reuben Palin, was at police headquarters, where the cameras are monitored, when he spotted the boy on-screen.

He saw a group of teenagers known to police, and the camera operator was able to zoom in for a closer look at their activities. After a call to local officers, they quickly arrived at the scene. The group was searched and one of the youths was arrested for possessing the class B drug.

Insp. Palin said: “We’re doing all we can to address community concerns about anti-social behaviour in Haverfordwest, and this includes putting the town’s new CCTV system to best use.

“Seeing the capability of the cameras in live-time has shown that CCTV is not just useful when an incident has occurred, but can also help us monitor what’s happening in town, and will hopefully deter bad behaviour.

“Obviously this can’t replace good old fashioned foot patrols, and we have a plan that sees CCTV complementing a visible police presence.”

The teenage boy arrested on suspicion of possessing the small amount of cannabis admitted the offence, and will be dealt with by the Youth Offending Team to ensure he gets support for his drug use.

He continued: “We are also working with other agencies, in particular the council, which has recently opened a drop-in centre for young people at No 2 Old Bridge, with the aim of offering a wide range of activities and opportunities that reflect their interests.

“While we have a strategy to minimise anti-social behaviour in this area, we would like to remind parents that the actions of their children are not the responsibility of the police. We urge you to be aware of what your children are doing, and where they are spending their time.

“No one should have to put up with anti-social behaviour and I would encourage the community to contact Haverfordwest Police to report any issues or concerns.”

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