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