Merry Christmas, Mister George

Do you remember that film, Merry Christmas Mister Lawrence? Where David Bowie gets buried up to his neck in sand at the end? The one with the brilliant theme tune? That’s what dealing with planning applications feels like.

Although perhaps I shouldn’t be bullying the planning officers et al quite so much. As Badger reminds us in his column last week, their lack of resources from on political high is perhaps more of a problem than I give them credit for. I do, however, think that if you have a job with that kind of power, then you should probably use your powers for good. I wonder how much they have to go against personal feelings because someone higher up the food chain has instructed them to do so? And how far up does this food chain go? Who really decides what happens?

In my first piece for the Herald, I mentioned that Huw George – my local councillor – had promised in a meeting back in May that he would help me fight the dragons at the council, and assist me in my OPD quest. Again, I had been reminded of this by the same Badger piece from last week, his call to arms for people to get involved in grass roots politics and change things from the bottom up, as it’s clear from last week’s election result, there’s not much chance of changing things from the top down. If you’ve been following my column for the last few weeks, it will be pretty obvious to you that Cllr George didn’t in fact, don his cloak and/or armour and come to my rescue. But in that initial meeting he also told me of his plans to be a superhero for someone else. My friend Roger.

Roger and his good lady wife live up the road from my land in a static caravan. He is 76, she is 74. They moved onto their land in 1997 – pretty much 23 years ago. They’ve been there happily ever since. Some slight agro from the council, years ago, but largely left alone to get on with their farming and forestry life. Until a couple of years ago. Someone complained about them being there. And even though they had been there for so long, it had never been necessary for them to apply for a license under the ten rule rule that I referred to in this column last week. It had never been an issue. Now, all of a sudden, someone had complained, and it was an issue.

The council are aware of all sorts of breachers occurring in the countryside, but they turn a blind eye. That is, until someone complains. They are absolutely complaints led, and go around the place blinkered to everything else. So for 20-odd years Roger had been happily chugging along with things, unaware that as soon as someone decided to be mean for the sake of being mean, then he was going to get into trouble. The council inevitably rocked up and gave him a hard time, and then they made him apply for planning permission, which they swiftly refused. The very next day, without so much as a knock on the door, an enforcement notice appeared on his gate. He had twelve months to get out. The twelve months is up this December. Yes. Now.

Huw George, back in that meeting in May, told me that at Christmas he would be going on BBC Wales, to tell the world about the atrocity being committed by the council at throwing an elderly couple out of their home of – over two decades – at Christmas. He bombasted and buffed, and assured me that not only would he help me, that he would help Roger too. I cried, as I was so grateful to him, and shook his hand, and thanked him so much. The other people at the meeting were similarly impressed with his friendly and helpful attitude, and we all happily went home for tea.

Alas, when it came to it, Huw didn’t help me, and he didn’t go on TV for Roger and Mrs Roger. I emailed him a couple of weeks back to ask him why he hadn’t. He actually replied to that email, and didn’t ignore it like all the emails I had sent him during the summer after that meeting. In his correspondence he denied saying he would help. An email war between us followed, and it crossed my mind to publish them here as a kind of Christmas nativity mini play, about keeping your word, especially if you’re a man of God, and wondering why someone would get someone’s hopes up, knowing that they had no intention of helping, but just wanted to sound good in front of a mixed gathering.

So it’s Christmas. And where’s Huw? Not on the Tele raising awareness about an elderly couple in the parish that have been royally screwed over, that’s for sure. He’ll be in his house, as fake as the turrets on his bay window, that reveals an ever so large, classy and upmarket Christmas tree. Joy to the world?

He’ll be in his chapel in Llandissilio and perhaps elsewhere, preaching the word of God at Christmas, the charitable echoes of our Lord, worshipping He who encourages us to help those less fortunate than ourselves at this time of year. Peace and goodwill to all men. Except the slightly scruffy, old or poor ones.

He’ll be driving around in one of those nice motors that are parked on his six car driveway. A paragon of virtue, travelling around in warm comfort, spreading the good word, in a vehicle worth more second hand than Roger’s static caravan. Worth more new than Roger’s entire land probably. Homelessness? The poor? Do me a favour.

I’ll help you. He said. Empty words. Jesus would have helped us, Huw.

But one great thing about all this, is when the wheel comes full circle, and Badger, our wonderful, literary Banksy of Pembrokeshire, encourages us to become councillors, then why not? Do it people. I’m learning all about it, and I’ll let you know what I find.

In the meantime, I’ve already decided to stand against Huw in 2022. It’s a long way away yet, but that gives me time, and I do enjoy an interesting journey.

Merry Christmas, Mister George…..

The Moor Murderers

This morning I got to my land and there was a National Parks truck parked at the top of the track. Ten minutes later, while I was feeding the goats, he came down with another truck which was towing a flail. Turns out, they’re here to flail the moor.

Thing is, I had a wonderful arrangement with National Parks, and with the hill grazers, that my horses would graze that moor. We put them on the moor and within weeks they had found dry paths, made walkways, trodden down all the bracken; the moor was for the first time since I’ve known it, passable, walk-able and useable. Unfortunately, this didn’t suit some people. They complained and complained to the grazers, to the National Parks, until eventually, reluctantly, they asked me to move my horses. I did, and over the summer, everything grew back.

Their grazing had been useful though, for those couple of months. There was loads more devil’s bit scabious growing there by late summer, which was the whole point of grazing the horses there. Devils bit scabious is the main food source for the marsh fritilary butterfly, and great steps are being taken to preserve it. The moor is national parks land, who have a policy to graze their land wherever possible, to maintain the ground in as natural way as possible. Now they’re down there with a flail, at the insistence of someone who insisted the horses were removed. And the cheek of it, their plan is to use the dry track that my horses discovered, and which was invisible before. I spoke to the nice guy in the van, poor bloke in the middle, confronted by me before 9am, and I told him if the flail goes to work today, then they’ll be in the paper this friday. He’s gone off to speak to someone in charge. We will see. And look. They’ve gone. Little victory.

This was written last week, and today I met with Geraint Harries from the National Parks. We spoke at length, but it seems an arrangement for a big victory in this situation is not to be.

His main concerns, he told me, are recreation and conservation. Let’s look at them separately. We’ve touched on conservation. By using grazing ponies the whole moor is maintained. By cutting a path instead, then one path sized area gets flailed and the rest is left to return to a state of being overrun with bracken, which stops the light hitting the ground, and makes the growth of wildflowers and the improvement of biodiversity impossible. Trees can’t regenerate, because they need light to grow. Seeds hit the ground, they start to grow in the spring, and then the vegetation takes over and they die. There was hardly any scabious there before. Now there’s loads. It seems that it will be allowed to die out again.

Geraint seemed to think that my point was, that I wanted to put my horses back there. I don’t, because they kept being let out onto the mountain, and then it would get reported that they were out. Funny that. They weren’t safe. I’ve moved them to pastures new, and wouldn’t put them back on the moor if they paid me. So now, even though Geraint told me it would be great to have ponies grazing the moor, they’re extremely unlikely to find anyone else with hardcore enough horses to do it, and so they’ve lost that opportunity. The thing is, as it’s common land, it’s not supposed to be fenced in, so by rights, it should be open, and the horses that graze the mountain would be able to just come in and graze this bit too. So why is it illegally fenced? And all the fuss about putting a bridle path to a gate which, once you go through it, you can’t really get any further. Even on foot it’s tricky, because it’s so boggy. So where are these phantom pony riders going to go? Across the moor and back again?

The reasoning for evicting my horses, was that I didn’t have grazing rights, but I was verbally given grazing rights by Dyfed Davies, who is the custodian of the land in question. Of course, once he started getting earache from complainers, he sort of had no choice but to get the parks to evict the ponios. Even though he also admitted it was good for the land. He used to graze his sheep there, but if they escaped over the bridge, people would complain, and so he stopped using the land. It’s been unused ever since, and is a wild tangled mass of bracken and not much else. The horses made wonderful tracks in all directions, carefully finding the driest passages, and the moor was accessible for the first time since I’ve known it.

So, recreation. Geraint’s other big point. You could walk for miles. Walkers began to use it. But one local couple, when taking their kids down for a wander to see the the hut on the moor which the father of the little family actually helped to build, he was told by the owner of the adjacent house that it was private property and they weren’t allowed to walk there. So much for recreational access. Again, the same people who are insisting that this flailing takes place, and who wanted the horses gone.

Are you seeing this theme emerging of complain, complain, complain?

The role of the National Parks is both conservation and recreation. I get that. But by flailing a bridle path, when the path was perfectly fine while there were grazing ponies there, is frankly, ridiculous. Geraint told me they’re extremely limited in resources. Yet this is their priority?

I asked Dyfed for the last word on why he withdrew the grazing rights. He hasn’t replied yet. But I bet you a crisp pound note, it was because of complaining. I looked into it, and the legalities are that really, he doesn’t have to allow it. He was doing me a favour essentially, and doing the land a favour too. Such a shame. And I feel bad that he was caught in the middle.

Ultimately. I tried. I tried to stop it. I tried real hard. But it’s not to be. They won’t do it before christmas, apparently, so the hibernating lizards won’t get crushed in their beds until the new year. I’ve got my work cut out, getting down there and trying to warn everyone to move. Thing is, it doesn’t all turn out nice like the Fantastic Mister Fox. The lizards will get their heads squished, the devils bit will die out, the marsh fritilary butterfly will fall in numbers again. The wildflowers will no longer grow, and the bit that the horse riders don’t require for their middle class pastimes will be completely ignored, becoming a desert of bracken once more. Another perfect example of Policy over logic, of rules over common sense.

I could see in Geraint’s heart he knew I was right. But he’s got a job to do. This is the problem. Everyone is so besmirched in the world of having a job to do, that they ignore the climate emergency like it’s not happening, and waste their limited resources on flailing land unnecessarily. The horses had done their job for them perfectly. They’d left a choice of paths to take. Now we have to make do with one, fake path, built on the blood of frogs and newts. And that my friends, it what your local National Parks are doing for you.

There was an OPD that was passed recently, not far from here, where the applicants went through hell because there was devil’s bit scabious on their land. It held up their application by months, caused them loads of stress, until eventually, common sense prevailed and they came to an arrangement with NRW to be guardians of the land, and preserve the character and the flora. If a farmer had bought that land, it would have just been ploughed, and no one would have noticed. Thing is, all that fuss made about the devil’s bit scabious on that bit of land, but here, barely half a mile away as the marsh fritilary butterfly flies, they’re quite happy to allow their habitat to disappear. Amazing. Climate emergency?

Carry on up the Council

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been learning all about the planning appeals process. It’s wonderfully fun.

My planning application for a One Planet Development was recently refused for the second time, and so it was time to appeal. This is not as easy as filling in a form. Of course not. It was bound to be as tedious and unnecessarily long winded as the application itself. The council made many points on their refusal, and so for an appeal I have had to answer every single one of these.

On going through the refusal, point by point, it became increasingly apparent that the planning officer had missed large chunks of my application, which is a polite way of saying they hadn’t properly read it, and most of the appeal process was therefore pointing out the pages and paragraphs in the original application that gave the information which they stated was missing.

Other points were things that were subjective assumptions, like trees can’t grow on my land, even though there is a natural woodland right next door to me and all around my land in areas that haven’t been heavily grazed for years, regenerating all by itself, with old willows and birches – the pioneer species – giving way to climax species such as oak and holly. I’m not entirely sure why the council assume that trees will point blank refuse to grow on my bit, barely feet away. I’ve also largely disproved their theory in that I’ve planted around 1500 trees and shrubs on my land and they’re all growing bang tidy. They say my land is poor. I say I’ll improve it with manure and compost. They say I can’t bring compost onto the land. I say I’ll use horse poo. They say the horses need to have a stone tablet with their grazing arrangements for all eternity written in hoof dust mixed with the blood of an eagle. I say that’s too difficult. “Ha.. gotcha..!” they say. Tick. Refusal.

The last type of refusal points were such, that a simple phone call could have clarified each tiny point, but as the council planning officers are allergic to phones and emails, this didn’t happen. Instead, the tiny reasons were added to the subjective reasons and they were added to the reasons that the planning officer forgot to read on the original management plan and application, and they all added up to a fortune for your old mate, the Pembrokeshire tax payer, who now has to foot the bill to send me to appeal.

Anyhoo. I did the appeal. I submitted. It was done. And it was good. Next day, along comes our old chum the enforcement officer, and bangs an enforcement on my workshop and goat keeping facilities. Oh and the polytunnel, where the veg lives. Oh, and the bicycle, my green runaround. Oh.. and the canoe, wot I collect the island eggs with in summer. They’ve also enforced agricultural items. Like the goat house. Goats are agricultural. Who the hell enforces goats? My workshop was designed and built to house bats, who have been spending the last few months taking full advantage of my hospitality. Now the enforcement officer says it will have to be repalced by a bat house. But they have a house. Yes, she said. They have to have a different house.

Just to be clear, it’s absolutely unheard of for a local planning authority to put an enforcement on an application when there’s an appeal in process. One has to wonder why I’m being beaten with a such a big stick.

Ok, so now we appeal the enforcement, and this is even stupider than the appeal for the decision itself. It’s basically more of me saying lots of stuff that I’ve already said in the decision appeal. If I win the decision appeal, then the enforcement falls away automatically. So what exactly is the point in enforcing me? All it does is slow down the process. Decision appeals take 21 weeks. Enforcement appeals take 40 weeks. As they have to run concurrently, I’m looking at at least June, which really plays in my favour, if I’m honest, ‘cos the place always looks blimmin’ lush at that time of year. The site visit should therefore go pretty well.

The grounds for appealing the enforcement, are that the planning should have actually been granted in the first place. Councils have fallen down many times with this and OPDs. They usually lose. The expert eyes that have gone over my application, my refusal, my appeal, and my enforcement, have all given the opinion that I’ll win. So what’s going on? Are the politics in county hall so entrenched in picking on hippies that the climate emergency which they declared in May is being ignored? When I see a row of beautifully mature beech trees cut down to make room for a new executive home in Clunderwen, and then I get told my application isn’t eco enough, frankly, that kind of p***es me off.

As usual, and as has been well documented over the years, all is not well at PCC. Corruption is rife. Every local has heard at least one back-hander story. It seems that if your face fits, or if you’re willing to perform certain tricks, you can build all manner of concrete atrocities on agricultural land, or in the open countryside. Even retrospectively. And then the council say they don’t have the means to enforce retrospective developments. They do if they were put up by poor people. But basic planning advice that’s given to to rich businessmen, by planning officers, yes, the same people who are giving me this agro, is build it, and they won’t have the resources to fight it. I know.

The good thing about this appeal, is that it will be a public hearing, so my objectors will have to come and face me. More to the point, they’ll have to face my mum. Think Peggy Mitchell after a stressful extended Christmas episode that centred around some drama at the Queen Vic. That’s about how upset, angry and dangerous my mum is right now.

So what do we do? It’s too late for me to play the following games, but you can. And I know you all want to do what I’m trying to do, because you all keep telling me. So here’s the way to do it.

There’s a thing called the four year rule. If you can get hold a of a bit of land, build a place, and live there for four years, you can then apply for a license to make it legit, and you basically have planning. The idea is that if you’re low impact enough to get away with being somewhere unnoticed for four years (ten for a non permanent structure, like a caravan) then you may as well be allowed to stay there. A lot of people round here have done that. More than you’ll ever know. So if you’re struggling with the housing crisis, and you don’t mind roughing it a bit, find some land, and go for it. One rule. Make sure you have no neighbours.

As Jean-Paul Sarte once said “Hell is other people…”

Homeless in Pembrokeshire

I had reason recently to be in touch with the homeless unit at Pembrokeshire County Council. A nice lady, and they can help me. As I’m responsible for my son, we can be accommodated at the hostel in Pembroke. Thing is, I used to work at the Prince’s Trust, with kids that lived at the hostel, and there is no way on earth I’m taking my kid there. Not happening. And Pembroke? A forty-five minute drive from my land where I have to visit twice to day to tend my livestock. Given that one of the reasons for refusal of my OPD planning permission was too much driving, then that’s a solution that seems absurd, to say the least. So now what? Luckily, having procured a gig here at your favourite local rag, I’ve got a few more resources available. So, let’s have a look shall we?

Looking around at the prices of properties available to rent can leave one feeling pretty bereft. What I want to know, is how does anyone afford these rents? The cheapest two bedroom I can find close to my land is in Clunderwen. It looks fabulous in the pictures, but I know it’s rough, because someone I know used to live there. It’s a pretty little place, with a good amount of space, but the garden is shared – which isn’t mentioned in the particulars of course – and there are usually snails in the front room. The fridge has to live in a cupboard under the stairs because the kitchen isn’t big enough, and there’s a washing machine, but it doesn’t work. My point is, anything close to affordable is slightly sketchy.

It’s weird when you’re renting, and you lie there in bed, looking up at someone else’s peeling paint on the ceiling, unable to do anything about it because they don’t want you to, and you’re not really inclined to, being that your contract is at most a year long. And who in Pembs is in a position to buy? Really? Are there any first time buyers left? And what do they buy? There’s not much on the market locally for under 100k. How do people raise mortgages? Some people have to rely on parents or suchlike, but some don’t have that kind of help. And there are no council houses, because they all got sold. I remember my grandad refusing to buy his council house. “They’re social houses for people in need” he used to say. The next people to live there bought it. Now it’s a private let, with a rent as high as any other three bed in that particular town.

I’ve put my name down on the council house register, because the council are basically not giving me a lot of choice. It’s daft the I own and work on land that I have to leave at night times. I’m there all day. What’s the big deal about where you actually sleep? Why does that constitute home? What is home? I can’t be homeless, when I’ve got more of a potential home than someone who is actually proper homeless, but they’re telling me I’m homeless. Define homelessness.

When I bough my land I tried to rent a house nearby. Even though there are loads of empty dilapidated properties, none are available for use. I put a shout out on the local facebook page and got not one reply. A week or so later, someone put a post on the same page, asking for a holiday let for their family to use at Christmas. About thirty people replied, with photos of lovely little houses, that looked small enough to be affordable to a local family to rent. But they’re all holiday homes. Every single one. It’s no secret that many villages in our county are made up almost entirely of holiday lets and second homes. Our prices are inflating all then time, especially when bright sparks at the Daily Mail publish articles on how you can get a house in Pembs for half the price of Cornwall, so why not move to Pembs, and buy up all the housing stock? It wouldn’t be so bad if the housing stock got replaced, but every time someone puts a planning application in for affordable homes, or even any homes, the vigilantes come out, insisting on keeping as big a radius as possible around them, even though they’re usually people that moved here to retire, and all they’re really worried about is their property prices and the feeling that any new builds will spoil their postcard. It’s an endless circular mess, and to be honest, who of you, reading this, would rather take your kid to the hostel than move onto your land illegally and face court? If that’s the choice, I know what I’ll be doing.

I’m lucky in that my son’s dad is letting me, as well as the kid, crash at his place while I look for somewhere, or get planning at appeal, whichever comes first. So ultimately, if you don’t have an ex that’s a brilliant dad and not only takes responsibility for the kid, but for me too, and steps in to help in this way, what do you do? If you don’t have friends offering you places to stay like I’ve had, you have the hostel as an option, and that’s it.

How can there be, as reported recently, so many homeless people wandering around Tenby that the chippy are giving out free meals? How did that happen? When did that happen? There was no homelessness back in my school days in Tenby. If there was one homeless person they were almost a curio, like that guy who used to wander around Whitland and tragically, and almost unnoticeably, died in that fire. Now we have so many homeless that they’re noticeably cold and alone in a place like “Fair and Fashionable” Tenby, relying on the kindness of the chip shop? According to the council’s reasoning, I’m eligible for free chips. Perhaps I’ll gather up everyone down there and let them live on the field. Always an option….

It’s that most ? time of the year…

And so this is Christmas, and what have we done? Well, for a start we’ve voted Boris in. Apart from that, we haven’t done much, at least, not anything Christmassy. Have you done anything for Christmas? I haven’t. It occurred to me earlier, looking at the frost on the ground, and it looking all festive, that it is, actually, next week, and up until now I haven’t really even noticed, and judging by my facebook and twitter feeds, neither has anyone else.

It’s odd. But it’s also, I think, actually quite nice. For years Christmas has been becoming this ogre-like spectacle that rules our lives from around October onwards. As soon as the Halloween stuff is out of the way, and sometimes even before, BOOM.. tinsel everywhere.

Now it could be that I’m not seeing it because I don’t watch tele or listen to music radio and I don’t go shopping and I tend not to really engage with everyday life on the whole, But Christmas usually even infiltrates my hermity life. It’s impossible to ignore. But the only indications this year that it’s close are the stalwart decorators who have festooned their places in light. This year, having spent a year arguing with the council over carbon footprints, I can’t help thinking that the lights should be less, even though when I see them I really like them. It’s a moral dilemma.

There seems to be a general air of depression over everything since the election. There seems to be quite a lot of legitimate mental distress associated with the disappointment of five years of the Boris. Love or hate Corbyn, you can’t deny that a whole heap of people engaged with this election and with politics in general since he came along. As they’re in the main quite young., they haven’t yet learned how to be cynical. Well.. they hadn’t. They have now. They had real hope. They felt like someone had come to save them. The parallels people drew between the Christmas JC and the election JC were evident, and not just from the young ‘uns, but from the generation X-ers like me. We saw the fall coming more than the young ones. But we’re no less disappointed. We saw Utopia for a little while, and it was nice, even if it was an illusion.

I know that people have similar hopes and faith in Boris, and I really hope he comes through for them, although my main sadness is that it’ll probably be a long time before we see him on Have I Got News For You, which was a job that suited him a little better than this one I feel. I hope he will surprise us all. And I hope that somehow, we’ll all manage to start thinking about the jolly season.

Maybe, though, the greatest gift the election gave us, was the realisation that Christmas doesn’t have to be a three month hectic-fest. You don’t have to run around for weeks obsessing over puddings and tablecloths. So many people have nothing this Christmas, no home, no food, no gifts, that to go full on consumer in a panic just because there are only a few shopping days left, seems at the very least, hollow, and at the very most, selfish. How can we look at ourselves and our excesses and not see them? Who really wants to max out their credit card every year and spend the rest of the year paying it back? We’ve all done it. To provide a perpetual stress, the constant reminder of which is the toys you end up clearing away all the time or that no one plays with.

Perhaps, as an eighties child, I have that nostalgic feel for Christmas that all eighties kids have. Where it was all Top of the Pops and Christmas number one and all the best Christmas songs came out. Older people seem to remember their tangerines and nuts, younger people tend to remember which console they got which year and how many days in a row they stayed on Zelda. But us eighties lot. We had it the best. We got Walkmans. Now though, we can’t even re-live the nostalgic with Top of the Pops2 anymore, because all the old presenters are in jail. Christmas, as we knew it, is long gone.

So let’s make a new one. A Christmas where it’s less about presents and more about friends, company, support, compassion, and thinking of others less fortunate. The fact that we’ve had a bit of a rest from it this year may have been just enough to break that consumer cycle. Thank you, weird winter election. You distracted us, and you started off the hope thing. And hope is for life. Not just for Christmas.

The First Post. Not the Last…

Politics and stuff. With fluff.

Parental Advisory Lyrics…

I started this blog when I was trying to get planning permission. I didn’t get planning permission. Life changes, so I’ve carried on. I don’t have the heart to dump it now. My opinions may have changed over the years, but there we are… that’s what happens. 🙂

This is Jodrell, and she’s a bit pissed off. Probably.

You can buy my books by yur. Click the pics x