Withiel Parish Council met on July 3rd and covered a lot of ground in more than two hours. The focus of the new council remains to establish the Parish on a sound financial footing, but a lot remains to be sorted out, and Deputy Chairman Sue Kirkby is working hard to get our house in order. Councillors are taking as much work as they can off the Clerk’s shoulders in order to reduce our administrative costs, which have not been well overseen. Issues covered included planning matters, St Clement’s Church graveyard, wind turbines, and footpath maintenance.
The council has agreed to support two planning applications – a change of use at Blackhay, where a former farm outbuilding will become an annexe to the house, and a retrospective application at Higher Brynn for use of buildings by a company called ProLift, which provides cherry-pickers and scissor-lifts and has been operating there for some time.
Mr Andy Pearson of ProLift attended during that part of the meeting during which the public can speak and answered a number of councillors questions about his company’s use of the land. The company has 370 cherry-pickers and scissor-lifts, 98 of them in Cornwall – they also have depots at Wellington and Ringwood. On a normal day some 15 to 20 are parked at Higher Brynn, where ProLift employs six people. The machine are up to four metres tall, and while the smaller ones are stored indoors, the larger ones remain outside and can be seen from high vehicles using the A30.
In reply to Councillor Coy Mr Pearson said a palisade fence around the property would be 1.8 metres high, and there would be no night lighting of the site. Councillor Thomas asked why planning permission hadn’t been sought in advance for the change of use, and Mr Pearson put it down to his lack of experience. Councillors agreed unanimously to support the planning application.
Regarding the Blackhay application, Councillor Coy said the farm buildings were no longer in use and the intention was to convert one of them into a home for the owner’s parents. Again, the application was supported unanimously.
Councillor Thomas reported on the issues an opportunities arising from the need for a Neighbourhood Development Plan. Nationally, the planning system is in flux at the moment, with old planning guidelines having effectively been superseded by new rules which had not yet passed into law. It was important, he said, for the Parish to take control of its own destiny on planning, and to this end he was preparing a draft report which was affectively an application for the Parish Council to be designated as the body responsible for the Neighbourhood Development Plan.
Under the local provisions of the county development plan, which is at a late stage of consultation, Bodmin is surrounded by a “Community Network Area” of parishes which share its obligation to provide a certain number of affordable homes for local needs – some 200 by 2030. The old North Cornwall District Council’s plan designated a small area of Withiel for new housing, and two new houses had been built in the village following that designation. It was important, Councillor Thomas stressed, that Withiel retain control of its own planning destiny. It had been suggested that because of our small size, Withiel should join with other parishes to seek designation. However, there were difficulties here. The obvious candidates would be St Wenn and Lanivet. But St Wenn was outside Bodmin’s Community Network Area, and if we joined with the much larger Lanivet there was a risk that we would be swamped.
The council agreed that we should take on the production of our own Neighbourhood Development Plan. If the Parish Council is designated, councillors will be taking on a lot of work, but we would be eligible for some funding to help with the production of the plan. Councillor Coy pointed out that even if we joined with another parish, much of the work would have to be done anyway.
Agreeing on a Neighbourhood Development Plan will involve the entire Parish, and there will be a programme of public meetings and consultations once we are designated.
Councillor Coy reported that the graveyard is running out of room. There are only 20 grave spaces left, and while the burial rate is low at two to three a year, new land will have to be found in eight to ten years. In the past there had been no appetite in the village for the Parish Council to get involved in the running of the graveyard – the council may choose to participate, but responsibility rests with the church. If the council did take it on and helped to find new land, there would be a financial consideration.
Councillors were ambivalent about taking on the new responsibility. Councillor Malone, a former gravedigger, said in some places grave leases were granted for as little as 60 years, and 100 years was common. What was the situation at St Clement’s? Councillor Coy said graves in Withiel were leased in perpetuity and were not reused. The current graveyard has been in use for 115 years. Councillor Nott-Bower wondered whether people were aware of some of the alternatives on offer, such as forest burial. Councillor Malone said it was increasingly popular to be buried on your own land, which was possible in most places as long as you were more than 30 feet from a watercourse. Councillor Coy said cremations cost some £700, which made burial, at less than £300, an attractive option.
It was agreed that this issue should form part of the Neighbourhood Development Plan consultations for the village to decide.
Councillor Malone said Joe Dixon had reported that preliminary work had begun on the Drake turbine, with cabling being installed. Councillor Malone was among a number of people in Withiel who had received a letter from Dan Rogerson MP saying the planning guidelines were being changed so the democratic process could not be arbitrarily over-ruled by planning inspectors, as had happened in the cases of the Piper and Drake turbines. However, this change comes too late for Withiel.
Mr Rogerson is an outspoken supporter of wind power, even among Liberal Democrats, and has been less than helpful on this issue. Three people from Withiel who met him to seek his help two years ago are now all parish councillors. Councillor Malone said that in seeking Parliamentary assistance he had been reduced to working through Chris Heaton-Harris, MP for Daventry, who had been instrumental in forcing a change of policy on wind turbine appeals.
Wind power policy is costing every household in Withiel an extra £300 a year on their power bills. Turbine owners are paid for what they generate, not what they deliver. Much of what is generated by windmills – often most of what is generated, and sometimes all of what is generated – is never used. Major losses in transmission, provision at inappropriate times, and the inability of other forms of generation to respond to the capriciousness of wind make the wind lobby’s figures little more than a fraud on the public. An analogy often used is the growing of crops that cannot for some reason be got out of the fields. The public is made to pay for them at inflated rates while the shelves remain empty. People are getting obscenely rich on wind power. In Cornwall, the latest entrants into the market are Goldman Sachs and Texas Pacific, two of the world’s most rapacious merchant banks, whose wholly-owned company Ainscough Wind Energy Services has set up in Newquay. Cornwall Council’s renewables expert Adrian Lea, who came to Withiel with Dan Rogerson and zealously promoted turbine expansion, has now left the council to join a wind power company.
On June 6th the House of Commons debated wind turbine planning issues. Dan Rogerson did not take part, but Jason McCartney MP said: “There is an increasing perception that local wishes have been overruled in favour of energy suppliers and landowners who have been pocketing the subsidies. Does the Minister agree that if such applications are to be approved, they must have the support of those local communities and they must benefit those local communities?”
Housing Minister Mark Prisk, replying for the government, said guidelines would be changed so that planning inspectors should not over-rule local communities on wind turbines. “Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location,” he said. “The policy has been clear; sadly, it has not been applied appropriately on the ground. We will amend secondary legislation to make pre-application consultation with local communities compulsory for the more significant onshore wind applications.”
Chris Heaton-Harris asked: “Will the proposed change be retrospective for schemes that have been granted planning permission against the wishes of the local communities or councils, but whose construction has not yet started? For too long, developers have ridden roughshod over the views of local communities and local councils on inappropriately sited wind turbines.”
Mr Prisk replied that it would not.
The whole debate can be read in Hansard online at: http://bit.ly/1bCFd8B
The council reviewed a number of relatively small items of expenditure and agreed to look for more cost-effective suppliers in some cases. It was agreed that councillors themselves should pay for the Code of Conduct training. While this will save the Parish only £54, it was seen as an important statement of intent.
Councillor Shearer has walked many of the rights of way in the Parish, some in company with Max Simpson, and gave a comprehensive report on their condition. Generally they are in an acceptable state, although some would benefit from improved drainage, and some need more work than could be accomplished with a bow saw. In all cases, strimming was required, especially around stiles. One stile was damaged; Councillor Thomas said this was his responsibility as it was on land used by him, and he would repair it.
Councillor Shearer asked whether the parish could not contrive to replace the bridge between Tregawne and Lawellan which had been washed out during the winter. It was said that the County Council had the replacement of the bridge in hits work programme, but there had been delays because other paths affected by the winter’s floods, particularly those along the coast, were deemed to have priority.
The statutory process of advertising for someone to maintain the footpaths has begun.
Councillor Shearer was congratulated on the work that had gone into the preparation of her report.
In his written submission PSO Lloyd Paynter reported that there has been a crime in Withiel – an assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH). No details were given. He warned that charity canvassers were going door to door in the area, and while their approaches were legal, it was advisable for everyone to keep an eye on elderly or vulnerable people who might be induced to sign direct debits for more than they would under less pressurised circumstances.
Councillor Batters is absent in hospital having his hip replaced, and the Parish Council sends him all good wishes for a speedy recovery.
In private session the council reviewed the Clerk’s contract of employment and agreed to clarify a number of issues.
The next Parish Council meeting is on Wednesday August 7th at 7:15, and all members of the public are invited.