The record of South Hams District Council on planning issues and protecting the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was firmly in the spotlight when members and friends of the South Hams Society gathered for the annual general meeting on Thursday, April 27.
Prior to the formal business of voting in the new committee, retiring chairman Viv Napper addressed the meeting and explained how heartened she and the committee had been by the support received following the society’s recent recruitment drive.
The society had faced some difficult times and had nearly folded. However, as demonstrated by the attendance at the meeting, the desire of the members and friends of SHS to fight to protect the AONB was very much alive and kicking.
A recurring theme of matters referred to the society was the considered failure of the SHDC’s development management committee to enforce the protection afforded to the AONB by legislation, by approving a number of planning applications often against the recommendations of its own officers and experts and against the wishes of the local community.
Viv concluded her address to the meeting with the hope that SHS would continue to be an organisation to assist in providing advice and support to individual campaign groups in fighting unsuitable planning applications as well as the carrying on the very important task of promoting and protecting the AONB for the benefit of everyone.
The society had been and continued to be very fortunate in having members, friends and contacts that have a wealth of knowledge and experience to call upon to promote the conservation of the South Hams as a living, working environment.
The formal business of the evening saw a number of committee members swap roles, with the Society’s treasurer, Ray Long, also being voted in as chairman, to be ably assisted by Viv Napper as vice-chair and Nicola Fox as secretary. Pippa Woods, a stalwart of the Society was re-elected to the committee, alongside Martina Edmunds, Burda Gage and Paul Williams.
The Society’s response to the highly controversial Joint Local Plan was discussed at some length, with surprise being expressed at the majority decision of SHDC to ratify the plan, apparently along political party lines without any consideration for the views of its residents being taken into account.
The members of SHS were particularly disappointed at what was considered to be a lost opportunity to put in place clear new guidelines to protect the AONB rather than relying on existing legislation and old guidelines. It was suggested that SHDC should have adopted the nine step test protocol for planning established by the National Trust, as other local councils had done. Sadly SHDC’s record for interpreting the original guidelines and applying them to the individual circumstances of a specific planning application was considered highly questionable.
The meeting was treated to a presentation from David Hayward, who was part of the team of local residents that successfully campaigned against a wind turbine at Winslade that had been granted planning permission by the local authority. The theme of David’s talk was ‘what lessons had been learnt from the process?’
He explained what had led to the campaign being launched and the various steps of the long, costly but eventually successful battle to overturn the planning approval granted by the council on two separate occasions. Following the outcome of the process, David and his team had hoped to enter into constructive discussion with SHDC, with the wish that all future applications would be judged on their individual merits by applying the checks and balances contained within planning guidelines and legislation.
Based on the intransigence David and his fellow campaigners faced from SHDC since the decision of the Secretary of State, they felt it appropriate to lodge a formal complaint against the council which is now under consideration.
David’s presentation concluded with a short question and answer session where the recent approval of a planning application for a development on the iconic Burgh Island was questioned. This was another example where the application had been passed by the slimmest of majorities. The evening’s events concluded with the opportunity for the guests and members of the society to socialise and ask questions of the various campaign groups represented, including groups against proposed developments at Ringmore, Bantham, and the Crofts in Salcombe.