SKETCH: Lake District Planning Meeting

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SURLY MOSS

To Murley Moss, then. A.k.a Murley Mess. The Joke Factory.

The drab headquarters of the Lake District National Park Authority.

From the outside, it looks like a mental health unit and on the inside, it has all the Joie de Vivre of the Dignitas departure lounge.

Architecturally, it is the most uninspiring public building in Cumbria, which tells you all you need to know about the organisation in charge of development in the Lake District. 

If planning applications were orange juice, then the man from the national park would say no.

OSTRICHES AND NODDING DOGS

No amount of self-congratulatory kazoo-blowing about World Heritage Shite Status is ever going to gloss over the fact that the national park authority is a deeply mistrusted public institution.

Few would object if Murley Moss was bulldozed and all its planning powers handed over to local councils. It is little more than a glorified planning committee and at least councillors are democratically elected and can be kicked out of office every four years.

While the park may be able to parrot statistics about the high percentage of applications it passes, whenever there’s anything vaguely challenging being proposed, its planning eunuchs recommend refusal and stick their heads back in the sand until the same issue rolls around again in another five years.

Its nodding dog committee members seemingly only too happy to back up the officers.

THE DEATH STAR

The main meeting room at Murley Moss has a strange pentagonal table arrangement with stalk microphones which glow red when one of the droids wants to speak.

Imagine the flight deck of the Death Star. 

The public is herded into dedicated seats, presumably so that park staff can keep a close eye on any insult hurlers. 

This has always been an imperious, highly-defensive organisation which hates having its authority questioned.

As I enter, another human is being wheeled out in a straitjacket – having been driven stark raving mad by it all. 

It has always operated on another planet to locally-born mortals, being a haven for highly-paid, out-of-county, strange-speaking, planning Daleks.

Aka the fleece police.

NATIONAL FARCE

Despite the park’s trendy egalitarian pretensions, the development control committee doesn’t have a single woman on it at today’s meeting.

Which in 2017 is difficult to believe.

Coniston’s Anne Hall – an affordable housing evangelist – served on the planning committee for years, representing South Lakeland District Council.

The accusation goes that Liberal Democrat-controlled SLDC, did not like the fact it was represented by a Conservative councillor on the park planning committee.

Whether there’s any truth in that is hard to prove…but sure enough, the Lib Dem-controlled SLDC voted Anne off as its representative and a male Lib Demmer took her place.

He hasn’t turned up for today’s meeting, probably having some urgent paint to watch dry.

Neither have two other members of the 10-member committee.

The chairman runs the public through the house rules.

“If there’s going to be a fire in here, it’s going to come from right behind you!” he booms at the top of his voice.

“I strongly suggest you go out that emergency exit!” he advised, pointing at another door.

It’s as if he knows something we don’t.

NATIONAL PARK-SPEAK

There are no such things as towns and villages in the Lake District any longer.

Only “designated settlements and vibrant communities”

(Pass the sick bucket.)

Once upon a time, anyone turning up from the media would be greeted by Mick Casey, the national park media officer and chief translator.

‘Slick’ Mick could help explain what the hell they were all going on about and would often point out interesting agenda items, having read the reports thoroughly and understood them. 

Not anymore!

A few years back, the word is Mick was forcibly retired. No doubt, he was regarded as  too helpful to the enemy. 

After all, why have a member of staff helping the Press examine your affairs when you can hire kids on half the salary to focus on what’s really important these days…ramping up the Likes on your Facebook page.

How we all LOLLED.

STOP THE PRESS

Today, there are five empty seats on the Press table – unaccountability in action. 

Once upon a time, the Press Table would be full. Terry Horne of the Evening Mail, Michaela Robinson-Tate of the Westmorland Gazette and Wing Commander Martin Lewes of BBC Radio Cumbria.

I’m sure mould is forming on the seat covers that haven’t been sat on for years.

But the park hierarchy has never shown much enthusiasm for explaining what it does every year with £5 million of public money. 

One of its single greatest achievements has been keeping the media at arm’s length.

UNINTERESTING DECLARATIONS!

One of the “humans” on the planning panel is a retired university professor.

On the park website, his biography says that he enjoys classical music.

Not as much as he enjoys the sound of his own voice, mind.

He rarely pauses for breath or uses any commas.  Here’s his full declaration of interest at the opening of the meeting.

It is typical of the pious, holier-than-thouness, that thrives at the Lake District National Park Authority.

“I have two interests to declare, in relation to item number two the applicant is Keswick Town Council I frequently attend meetings of Keswick Town Council as an area member

“I haven’t discussed this particular item with them so I don’t find my position compromised in any way

“I’d also point out a member of Keswick Town Council has also recently become a member of this authority

“The second one is in relation to item number one and I’m sorry if this turns out to be the longest declaration of interest in history, but I think you need to be thorough

“I want to say four things the first thing is I have a registrable interest in that I am a member of the Friends of the Lake District, which has made a representation of objection to item number one

“I’m just an ordinary member I have nothing to do with discussing or developing their response, so I don’t think there’s any difficulty there

“The second is I am a member of Above Derwent Parish Council which has made representations also about item number one and I was also present at the meeting where they made that decision I took no part in the discussion or vote

“I am here today with my Lake District National Park hat on and am in no way obliged to take the same view on the application as the parish council

“The third thing is that I know, in a professional capacity, councillor Davis-Johnston who is down to speak in support of the application today he frequently attends our parish council meetings because the ward of which he is a member consists of Borrowdale parish and our own parish of Derwent

“I have never discussed this matter with him in any way 

“The fourth item, as you can see from the planning history, there was a planning application for a seasonal car park without any engineering works in 2012 on this site that was considered at the development control committee on March 6th, 2013

“At that time I was not a member of this authority but I was a member of Above Derwent Parish Council and I came to the development control committee in order to represent the views of the parish council which was in support of that application

“Indeed I shared the five minutes of speaking with the applicant, who was, and is, the applicant in this matter

“I have had no communications with him since February 2013 with one slight exception which was on July 17th this year he sent me some email mentioning car park and asking me to telephone him

“I did not telephone him, I emailed him to say that as I was a member of this committee it was inappropriate of me to discuss any kind of planning application with him and I asked him not to contact me again about the matter

“He did in fact reply by email but only to apologise for having contacted me in the first place, saying that he had not realised my position

“I copied that correspondence to the authority’s solicitor

“I think that the application before us today is significantly different from the 2012 application and I feel my position is no different to that of any member of this committee who discussed that application and voted one way or another at that meeting in 2013

“I think there are three such people, obviously, I am not one of them, who are here today, so I intend to take full part in this particular application and I have discussed this with the authority’s solicitor before taking that decision….

SPEAKING IN TONGUES

During the meeting, it transpires that the applicant should have submitted a traffic management scheme with the application. 

Or should they?

It’s not clear whether that was the job of the applicant…the county council or the park itself.

A puzzled panel member prodded one of the park Planning Spocks to explain it to them.

Spock chloroforms the panel members with Park-speak.

“The expression traffic management scheme comes directly from development plan policy both from the Core Strategy and previously in the 1998 local plan where it was referred to as a traffic management plan.

“Neither policy was specific about what a strategic traffic management scheme might be and it wasn’t specific about who must carry that out.

“Our view is that it could, essentially, be carried out by anybody, but it’s more likely that should be carried out by a strategic body, like the local highways authority, or us, and it’s primarily a strategic view.

“It’s not set out who it should be carried out by but it’s our view it should be carried out by a strategic body, but theoretically it could be possible for anybody to carry it out, providing it was strategic in nature.”

“We have to determine the application we have in front of us, guided by the development plan.

“The fact there is no such traffic plan published is not a reason not to take a decision. 

“There is no requirement for anyone to produce such a plan. 

“At the pre-application stage we gave advice on that point and the applicant had the opportunity to marshall whatever information or proposals in terms of traffic management to meet the terms of the policy.

“We present to you information they have chosen to submit. That’s not to say that other measures or others proposals will not come forward in future. Or to refuse it on that point.

“This applicant has had the opportunity to produce whatever information and proposals they wish to bring forward.

“The absence of such a plan doesn’t mean that the application must be refused because there is no plan, it means that we must take into account what other information we have got….

Spock carried on talking but by then I had stopped listening and had started to eat my own fingers.

The meeting finished several hours later. The plan for a car park at Catbells was turned down. 

The applicant went away highly frustrated decrying the farce of it all.

We will probably all be back here again in another five years to go through the same motions.

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