Monthly Archives: June 2014

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.