Category Archives: Uncategorized

Can politics be brought into (any more) disrepute?

9 April 2015

The main issue in our campaign is quite simple: why have the authorities chosen to defend Torcross and Beesands from the sea, but leave Hallsands to fend for itself? The response of our MP (who still remains invisible at Hallsands) was tweeted thus: @NorthHallsands the majority would not support diverting scarce resources for coastal erosion away from prioritising Slapton Line.

So, despite the proven low cost of so doing, defence of Hallsands is unaffordable. In fact the only source of money is to steal from the fund allocated to Slapton Line. I am not paraphrasing the good doctor unfairly, am I?

But on this morning’s Today programme (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nqxbs) we hear of the constituency of Great Yarmouth where UKIP and Labour are threatening to take the seat from under government minister Brandon Lewis.

They have coastal erosion problems there too, but more serious and therefore much more expensive to counter than at Hallsands. In their case unstable cliffs are collapsing into the sea. It takes more than a few boulders to sort that out. But, nevertheless a minister’s seat is threatened, so Mr Brandon has announced that he has secured funds to pay for the necessary works.

Scarce resources‘? Not in a marginal constituency at election time. Just reach into the money tree and pick off a few fivers. Magic. Or is that the right word? Isn’t there another word, Dr Wollaston, for saying one thing and doing another? Now lets see if I can bring it to mind …

We are back

The fight has been going on even though the blogs have been thin on the ground of late.

For the Easter visitors we have decided to go back to a method of publicity that predates the web slightly – it’s called a notice. And here it is:

WP_20150331_005

 

Not much to look at perhaps, but a lot of people have been reading it. Here is what it says:

Whether you’re someone who’s known Hallsands for years, visiting for the first time, passing through on the coastal footpath, on holiday here or just spending a day at the beach make the most of your visit. Hallsands beach, the coastal footpath and the car park may not be here much longer.

The sea was kind to us this winter, but the winter of 2014 brought storms that washed away our sea defences. We expected the authorities to repair them, as they do for the other villages along Start Bay; especially so because the road that runs behind the boulders is a public highway maintained by Devon County Council.

But no. In a document called the Shoreline Management Plan (www.sdadcag.org) the bureaucrats say there is nothing here of any value, so Hallsands, unlike neighbouring Beesands and Torcross, has been given the status of No Active Intervention. The authorities need do nothing.

We pay our council tax just like the villagers of Torcross and Beesands. Public money is used to repair their sea defences. Hallsands gets nothing. Last winter our repairs were paid for and carried out by residents. The total cost was about £10,000. Compare that with the quarter of a million pounds of public money that was recently spent on trucking shingle down the coast to Torcross only for the tides to wash it away again. We are not asking for much and our repairs are more durable.

We persuaded a government minister, Oliver Letwin, to visit us last summer when he was on a tour of inspection. He gave an undertaking to establish a ‘stream of funding’ for future repairs to sea defences carried out by residents. He has not honoured that undertaking.

We hoped that we might get some support from our MP, Dr Sarah Wollaston, but she turned down our invitation to meet us. Instead she discusses Hallsands at secret meetings in Whitehall then tells us that the country can’t afford to repair our sea defences because the money is needed for repairs elsewhere.

Early in the last century the MP and war profiteer Sir John Jackson refused to listen to villagers’ pleas when they asked him to stop dredging shingle from the bay.  The result was that old Hallsands was destroyed by the sea. Nearly one hundred years later Hallsands is again under threat from the sea and again an MP refuses to listen.

Hallsands was betrayed by politicians once. They will not betray Hallsands a second time.

~~~***~~~

If you love Hallsands and agree that it is being treated unfairly please support our campaign.

~~~***~~~

Please remember that Hallsands beach is private property. Please respect it. Please don’t leave litter, please don’t leave dog mess and please don’t drive on the beach without permission.

 

Are we unfair to the SMP?

13 June 2014

N2B hears that there are people who believe that we are being unfair to the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), that we have used inflammatory language, even that we lack respect for the democratic process by which it was produced.

Rule four in the campaigners’ handbook is that they, the authorities, can say what they like when they like, change their story as often as they like and not suffer for it in any way. On the other hand if you, the campaigner, get a single fact wrong then your campaign is mortally wounded.

So, as the accusations have been levelled, N2B feels that it needs to set out the facts underpinning its argument. Facts so factual that even Mr Gradgrind would approve of them.

First the two major errors in the SMP:

  1. The SMP says that the sea defences were placed there by private initiative. Not true – N2B has a copy of a photograph that proves that the county council installed them and the county council has admitted so in response to a Freedom of Information request.
  1. In appendix H the SMP says that from Beesands South to Start Point: SMP policy is economically viable as there are few assets at risk (note that the existence of Hallsands is not even admitted here). Not true – there is a village called Hallsands on this stretch of coast and in it, immediately behind the sea defences, are residential properties worth, at a conservative estimate, £3m. These were built a few years before the SMP was published and it is disgraceful that they have been written out of the SMP. To the £3m you can add a further substantial amount attributable to established properties that would become inaccessible if the sea defences and therefore the road were to be eroded.

If the SMP is so wrong about Hallsands what faith can we have in the rest of it?

 

Now to address the ‘consultation’ process:

  • N2B has failed to identify any residents who heard of the development of the SMP , still less its potential implications;
  • N2B has an e-mail from a planning officer who deals with applications for our village in which he says he was unaware of the SMP until a few months ago. Are lay persons expected to be more aware of planning matters than planners?
  • Even if residents had known of the ‘consultation’ process and, not knowing that the ‘non-statutory’ document would be treated as chapter and verse at a later date, chosen not to take part they still had the right to expect that those who drew up the plan would exercise due diligence;
              • Even if residents had known of the process and (N2B is guessing here) the publication of a draft plan for comment:

a)      The SMP is an opaque, multi-sectioned document that is extremely difficult for a lay citizen to follow, let alone understand*;

b)      It is not the responsibility of the lay citizen to ensure the accuracy of abstruse technical documents produced by highly-paid experts; and

c)       Now that N2B knows of the plan and its implications it has taken an unreasonable amount of effort to establish the facts. It is extremely unlikely that such information would have been revealed in time for correction of the draft plan.

*Here is just one example of opacity:  As this review is not a full economic assessment, a formal benefit-cost assessment using benefit-cost ratios (BCR) has not been undertaken. However a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) has been included to help clarify and review the ‘robustness’ of the preferred plan. What does this mean in English?

In the light of the above N2B considers that it has been remarkably restrained in the language that it has used to describe the SMP and the alleged consultation process.

Another sunny day in Hallsands another TV interview

10 June 2014

As you will see from the picture perhaps sunny day, funny interview:

DSCF0589OK, that was a bit of an out-take (Dale starring and Johnny doing the key grip, or whatever its called, role) and don’t worry, Dale looked at the camera when he had to. The BBC were kind enough to ask us about the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) and we told them what rubbish it is.

The SMP sprang from nowhere, no one concerned was consulted, on one affected was told, it is obscure, it is convoluted, it is incomprehensible and it is completely wrong where it says there is nothing here of any economic value. Apart from that it is worth every one of the many, many pennies that taxpayers paid Halcrow, the consultants who wrote it.

Unfortunately it has become the shield of choice for bureaucrats. We say that it is flawed, we are patted on the head and told not to worry because it is ‘non statutory’. We push the county council for answers as to why they will not pay to repair the sea defences that they installed in the first place and they say ‘sorry that’s what the Shoreline Management Plan says we have to do, i.e. nothing’.

Someone (Karl Marx? Chairman Mao? – answers on a postcard please) said history repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce. 1917 was the tragedy for Hallsands when the original village was washed into the sea. One hundred years later is the farce, but the bureaucrats of Devon County Council don’t yet understand that they are the ones with their trousers around their ankles. Don’t worry, they soon will; the spotlight is relentlessly moving towards them.

 

Devon CC – you couldn’t make it up

7 June 2014

In his masterpiece Little Dorrit Charles Dickens introduces us to the Circumlocution Office, an arm of government ‘one of the principles of [which was] never, on any account whatever to give a straightforward answer’. A penchant of Dickens was to give his characters names that were both fantastical and appropriate. I particularly like that of Mr Tite Barnacle a high official of the office; especially as sea creatures are not unconnected with the subject of this blog site.

You might think that the Circumlocution Office was a chilling joke that could not possibly exist in our free and transparent democracy. I have bad news for you. The Circumlocution Office has moved out of fictional Whitehall and is now based in reality at the headquarters of Devon County Council.

I wanted straightforward answers to straightforward questions about the Council’s responsibilities for the road and sea defences on the foreshore at Hallsands so I e-mailed Dr Phil Norrey, the chief executive (salary a miserly £149,995 per annum). He responded immediately promising that he would provide swift and straightforward answers. Almost three weeks later I had seen nothing (we really should pay him that £5 shortfall so he could afford a calendar) so I sent a reminder.

A response (a copy of which can be seen at DCC loses the plot) arrived written on behalf of Dr Norrey by a Mr David Whitton, head of Highways, Capital Development and Waste Management. Mr Whitton, incidentally, works for Ms Heather Barnes (salary a distinctly modest £129,995 – but also not worth that extra fiver, it seems) whose designation, and I am not making this up, is Strategic Director Place. A job title that leads me to conclude that either those in the higher reaches of management at County Hall are immune to mockery or they speak a different version of the English language to the rest of us.

Anyway, to return to circumlocution. At the end of winter we’d been told by our MP Dr Sarah Wollaston no less, that the council would abandon the road to its fate if there was further storm damage, so it was a surprise when Mr Whitton assured me that the council’s policy is now to maintain it for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, given the opportunity to state under what circumstances the road might be abandoned, he declined to name any.

Straight answers that contradict previous statements don’t qualify as full-blown circumlocution; that came with Mr Whitton’s statement about the council’s commitment to maintain the sea defences (rock armour in the jargon).

Because the council’s road runs close to the sea it needs protection from storms, so several years ago the Council put the rock armour in place. Not just protect but support as was demonstrated when this year’s winter storms washed away the rocks and large chunks of the road went with them. Sorry to keep pushing on this point, but, as you will see, it is not obvious to everyone that without the rock armour the road would wash away in heavy rain, let alone with a high spring tide and an easterly gale.

And the person to whom it is not obvious is, of course, Mr Whitton for he held that the rock armour was no longer the council’s responsibility and it could wash away for all he cared (he didn’t actually say the bit about caring, but he might as well have done). Mr Tite Barnacle himself couldn’t have come up with a better circumlocution: DCC will maintain the road for the foreseeable future, but not the structure that holds it up.

Of course I could be misjudging our modern-day Tite Barnacle. Can it be possible that he has magical powers and can maintain a road in full working order when the land beneath it has been washed away? If so, that’s good news for all of us suffering from potholes.

There was more and undoubtedly the plum was the excuse offered by Mr Whitton in response to a question about a recent planning application at Hallsands.

Five or six years ago a planning application was submitted for five new houses to replace the old Hallsands hotel. The site is on the foreshore and only the width of the road and the sea defence separates it from the beach. Another application covered two conversions further along. These were not so close to the water, but, like the five new builds, were served by the road.

It was obvious to anyone that without the sea defences the road and the houses wouldn’t be around for too long. Anyone except our modern Tite Barnacle that is, for when given the opportunity to comment on the applications, he said nothing about abandoning the sea defences and nothing about the consequent vulnerability of the access road. In fact there is a very strong argument for saying that by not commenting DCC gave rise to a reasonable expectation that it would continue to maintain the road AND the rock armour that supported it.

But when asked why the Council said nothing what did Mr Tite Barnacle reply?  ‘At the time of the planning Application when DCC were consulted, there was no reason to suggest that the carriageway serving the properties was under threat’. Hats off to Mr Tite Barnacle! This one deserves to be written in poker-work and displayed in the Museum of World-class Circumlocutions. How can anyone argue with its drivelling inanity?

You really couldn’t make it up.

The boats are back

18 May 2014

Thanks to Tim, Graham and Tommy we now have somewhere to put the boats. They have shifted tons of shingle and filled in the big hole in front of the winch.

Before they did this there was no way that that fishing boats would be operating from the beach this summer and the sticky clay would not have been very attractive to holiday makers.

It is interesting that local politicians are keen to drone on about promoting the local economy. This does not, of course, mean that they will do anything. The local economy of Hallsands is not something that would trouble economists calculating the country’s GDP, but there is fishing in the summer and the beach attracts visitors who appreciate peace and quiet.

What have local authorities done to help? Well, a few years ago South Hams District Council failed to replace the public lavatories, after the storms Devon County Council refused to replace the rock armour and grudgingly offered money to fill the holes in the road with hardcore – no money to be squandered on tarmac of course. And no help from either with repairing the beach.

Strange that back in March or thereabouts a local councillor was heard to say that his main concern was the fishermen. Glad he was concerned, but did he do anything? I don’t think so.

Questions that need answers

In an open democracy (if only!) it is not unreasonable to expect a local authority to answer some simple questions. The following have been put to Devon County Council, but answers there have been none:

  1. Does the County Council intend to honour its obligations to maintain the public highway on the foreshore at Hallsands for the foreseeable future?
  2. If not:
    1. what nature of events would prompt abandonment?
    2. what processes would be followed in the course of such an abandonment?
    3. where would the public highway then end?
  3. Does the County Council resile from its responsibility for maintaining the sea defences that underpin the public highway?
  4. Why did it take six weeks or more for the County Council to fence off the dangerous craters in the said public highway?

By keeping silent about its intentions, or rather lack of them, for the road and sea defences when planning applications were made the County Council’s behaviour was tantamount to chicanery.

  1. If the County Council has it in mind to abandon either road or sea defences, then why did it not mention this when consulted in the planning process for the development of five new houses and conversion of two others, or, considering the impact of such abandonment on visitors, in the planning process for the café on the beach?
  2. Will the County Council give an undertaking that in future when consulted on planning applications and when the circumstances are similar to those at Hallsands, i.e. that the Council has it in mind to withdraw support, maintenance or services for vital infrastructure, the County Council will inform applicants accordingly?

It would be nice to get these answers in a civilised manner, but if necessary we will use the press and/or the Freedom of Information Act. Get a move on DCC. Do your bit to keep up the pretence that we live in an open democracy.

Costs at Beesands

27 March 2014

FOIA answers are trickling in.

The latest is about SHDC spend at Beesands (posted under that name) and is somewhat enlightening. To summarise:

Total spend since 2006: £125,729 (the vast majority of which since 2012)

 Predicted spend for the remainder of this year £70,000 (now the question asked for spend in financial years so they will have to go some to spend £70,000 before April, but who knows where local authorities are concerned)

It is worth repeating our comments in the post of the FOIA:

This question is about how much has been/is being/will be spent by South Hams District Council (SHDC) at Beesands, which is just up the coast from Hallsands. Most of Beesands is protected by a concrete seawall built by the National Rivers Authority (the predecessor of the Environment Agency) in 1993 and extended about five years ago. The efforts and spending of SHDC have gone into maintaining the rock armour sea (boulders) defences to the north of the sea wall which protect the village green and an access road to five dwellings at Beesands Cellars.

The storm caused the rock armour at Beesands to slide down below the high tide level and so now there is little protection for the village green. Although SHDC is planning to spend a further £70,000 this is not for recovery of the rock armour, it is for some plastic sausages filled with shingle, or some such. Admittedly there was a longer stretch of rock armour at Beesands than at Hallsands, but it only took Tim five days to recover the lot. Meanwhile the machines at Beesands, hired at council-tax payers’ expense, stood idle, and at the time of writing are still idle.

A reminder: recovery and replacement of the rock armour at Hallsands cost £10,000.

We are not going away

26 March 2014

A few of us went to the Parish Council meeting last Friday and asked some questions. Answers came there few.

We started by saying that for the local authorities (South Hams District Council, Devon County Council and the Environment Agency) between them to approve new building knowing that in the near future DCC would abandon its sea defences and access road is nothing less than chicanery. Happy to take the council tax until the houses become worthless by virtue of being inaccessible or falling into the sea no doubt.

We asked the Parish Council to do the following:

1. To note and enter into its minutes the response to a freedom of information request which sets out responsibilities for the sea defences and the road.

 2. To congratulate the highways authority for its prompt action in fencing off the dangerous craters in the road in not much less than six weeks.

3. To congratulate residents of Hallsands for acting when the local authorities failed to live up to their responsibilities.

Yes there is an element of sarcasm in the second request, but why not?

We also asked the local authorities to support us in asking for the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) to be corrected with regard to Hallsands. Given that the local authorities use the designation for Hallsands in the SMP as ‘No Active Intervention’ as their excuse for inaction  this is a somewhat pious hope.

Our final request was that DCC should be asked to set out their policy with regard to the road and sea defences in writing and that the authorities give an undertaking to inform all future applicants for planning consent of this policy. Given that obfuscation and bluster has served the authorities well to date, this is again asking rather a lot.