Over-egging the pudding

The retrospective planning application for the controversial eco-house at Glandwr, due before the planning committee next Tuesday, has attracted a good deal of comment on the Western Telegraph’s website.

Interestingly, the agenda was emailed to members at 2.30 on Tuesday afternoon so it is something of a mystery how the newspaper, which goes to press around noon, managed to get this “exclusive” in this week’s edition.

The comments are divided more or less equally between those who think the law should be upheld and those who support the applicants.

Supporters argue that this eco-house is doing no harm to anyone and that the present planning rules are too restrictive, but is worth remembering that we have to take the law as it is and not as we think it ought to be.

The correct way forward in a democracy is to campaign to have the law changed, not to break it.

Of course, nobody wants to see a young couple forced to pull down their home, but neither do most people want to see the law flouted.

What we have here is a retrospective planning application. The general principle is that, in order that those who build without planning permission are not put at a disadvantage, such retrospective applications are to be treated exactly the same as if they had been submitted prior to construction.

But, if we allow our sympathy for this young couple, or our distaste for demolition, to enter the equation, it actually puts those who build without first obtaining consent in a better position than those who follow the correct procedures. And it is difficult to see why that would be a desirable outcome.

Planning officers are recommending refusal, but they are obviously expecting some members to baulk at the prospect of demolition because no stone has been left unturned in making the case against the application.

First up is a report from the Head of Legal Services which takes the form of a pep talk reminding members of their duty to act objectively; follow the development plan; and give due consideration to the advice of their officers, etc, etc.

Then there is the report itself which goes into minute detail about the applicants’ claims to be able to sustain themselves from the produce of the holding.

One source of proposed income is from making meringues using fruit and eggs produced on site.

The officer’s report solemnly declares:

“The meringue production enterprise is reliant upon a steady supply of eggs and a ready market for the product. It is not stated what the surplus yolks are used for. The total number of chickens required to lay the eggs has not been identified.”

I particularly liked the bit about the yolks – somebody been reading their Delia Smith?
And there is page after page of this sort of stuff.
For example the applicants have not stated the yield of fruit and vegetables per sq metre.
But, to get the full flavour, you will have to read it for yourselves.

The reason for this detailed analysis is that one of the exceptions to the restrictions on building in the open countryside is something called “One Planet Earth Policy” which allows such development if it can be shown that the occupants can achieve a certain level of self-sufficiency.

Old Grumpy accepts the officer’s view that if the development doesn’t meet the required sustainability threshold it should be refused.
However, I can’t help but contrast this strict interpretation of the rules with the consent given for a herdsman’s cottage on the farm of the, then, leader Cllr John Davies way back in 2004.

Older readers will recall that a couple of weeks before the application came before the planning committee the department wrote to Cllr Davies’ agent telling him that the proposed dwelling was more than twice as big as was required to meet the functional need.

In this letter, the planning officer said: “I would suggest that a gross floorspace in the region of 115 to 140 square metres (1250 to 1500 square feet) would be more appropriate to the functional needs of the holding.”

However, the report on the 2,800 sq ft proposal which came before the committee, accompanied by a recommendation for approval, made no mention of the concerns about the dwelling’s size in relation to the functional need.

Consents for agricultural workers’ dwellings also require it to be demonstrated that there is a need for a full time worker to live on site.
In this case the need was predicated on the labour required to milk the farm’s 136-strong dairy herd.

However, what members didn’t know, and Cllr Davies neglected to tell them, was that the milking herd had already been sold when the committee met to make its decision.
Another requirement for agricultural planning consents is that the dwelling must meet a present need.

When I last checked about a year ago, despite eight years having elapsed, this much-needed dwelling still hadn’t been built, though the foundations have been laid in order to protect the planning consent.