Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Happy & Successful New Year to all readers

Once again, many thanks to all of you for taking the time to read my blog this past year. It has been an interesting year for me as a blogger, with an increased readership and an all-time high for hits on one day in November – the day after I was hauled before the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Standards Committee over comments made by others on the blog.

To see the story rocket around cyberspace and be re-posted on so many blogs and websites, including by Tim Montgomerie on conservativehome, and to read all the comments, emails and messages of support, meant that the minimal censure the Committee imposed became somewhat meaningless. The wider debate in the media clearly indicated that freedom of speech will not be stifled.

The wonder of Google means that many of my old blogposts still get regular hits, and the increased use of Facebook and Twitter (follow me at #paul12clear) has resulted in many more re-postings.

2011 has been a really good year for me personally, with many ups - but surprisingly few downs. Amongst other achievements, I have managed to get the new company website up and running – and, yes, it has its own blog which can be found here.

One of the year’s highlights was being re-elected to represent Howdenshire in May’s local elections. The fantastic numbers of votes I received from all the parishes (including the Gilberdyke Parish Council election) that make up Howdenshire, vindicated the stance I had taken on a number of issues. These ranged from wind farms, landfill sites, affordable housing and flood relief, to senior Council employee early retirement packages. The election saw an increase in the Conservative majority and brought some really good new councillors to County Hall. The age profile of councillors was brought a little more into line with the area demographics with the election of the youthful duo of Josh Newlove (Labour) and Bradley Birmingham (Conservative) both of whom are in their twenties.

The election result was tempered a little by the ERYC Council Leader’s decision to remove me from my previously held position as Chairman of the Goole and Howdenshire Local Action Team, and from the Council’s Planning Committee. The level of support I subsequently received from the public was very humbling and sometimes came from unexpected quarters. I’m really enjoying my role as a backbencher, but people keep reminding me of that famous quote of Arnold Schwarzenegger – “I’ll be back!” - Who knows?

If I could give an award to the community of the year it would be to Spaldington, who went into battle against not one, but two wind farm companies seeking to build giant wind turbines at each side of their village. This community raised in excess of £80,000, employed their own barrister and expert witnesses, and showed true teamwork in putting together a fantastic case at the public enquiry, with the result that one wind farm application was thrown out by the planning inspector and the other conditioned in such a way that the turbines will not be able to operate at full capacity because of noise. It has been an honour and a privilege to work with the people of Spaldington.

A close second would be Gilberdyke, where we have seen a great example of the community taking responsibility for themselves in the construction of the flood relief culvert. This, coupled with the snow clearing efforts at the end of the previous year, shows that localism is alive and kicking here and in many other East Riding villages. The Government’s Localism Act should enable more power, decision making and spending to cascade down to the local level – I for one will be pushing for this to happen in Howdenshire over the next year.

One of my most satisfying experiences was in my role as a governor at Howden Secondary School and Technology College. As a part of ‘Team Howden’ we pulled the school out of special measures in record time and the pupils achieved their best ever exam results at the end of the year. I have every confidence that the momentum will continue and that this year will be even better.

I’ve also enjoyed doing a number of fundraising activities, including the Humber Bridge Midnight Walk (dressed as Elvis!) and speaking about my ‘African Odyssey’ to a number of groups. I had received many requests to talk on this subject and this was the year I finally bit the bullet. I look forward to doing more talks next year, beginning with the W I in February.

In conclusion, I will continue to engage with the community and champion free speech via my blog and other social networking media, or by ‘Witchcraft’ (as some of my colleagues would have it), and who knows - we may see a couple of other ERYC Councillors blogging in the coming year?

It has been a pleasure to represent Howdenshire, and East Riding residents during 2011 and I will do my utmost to speak up for, and fight their causes during 2012.

I wish you all a very Happy and Successful New Year

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Democracy prevails in Gilberdyke - but at what cost?

I don't normally allow posts by others on my blog, but Gilberdyke Parish Council Chairman Nick Norris (pictured) has asked me to post the following on his behalf regarding this past week's Gilberdyke Parish Council by-election.

Congratulations to Chris Newsome on winning the Gilberdyke Parish Council by-election and I look forward to working with him in the future.

Needless to say Gilberdyke taxpayers have had to stump up some £3,000 to pay for this by-election, an election called by just 10 Council tax payers as is the minimum required. The 10 in this case were family and neighbours of Mike Whitley, the losing candidate of the two who stood for the election and someone who has form when it comes to using £1,000’s of taxpayer’s money to further his own agenda.

The Gilberdyke Parish Councillors were democratically elected in May of this year; Mr Whitley failed in his quest to be elected by a considerable margin at that election. Due to one of the Councillors having to step down on health grounds a vacancy arose, and the decision of the 10 in calling the by-election after just 7 months means the taxpayer is saddled with having to pay for two elections in the one year.

I fully agree with the democratic process and everyone’s right to call for an election, and for anyone to put their name forward and be able to lay their case before the electorate. What I do not condone is the actions of a person, whose family and friends calling an election which resulted in that person receiving so little support - namely 83 votes out of a possible 2,557* and much, much fewer then he polled in the May election. This, when Chris Newsome was prepared to be co-opted onto the Parish Council at no cost to the taxpayer before the election was called.

I also have real problems with Mr Whitley when in his by-election literature it states that those Gilberdyke Parish Councillors elected in May, had somehow prevented a fair election at that time. I am tempted to ask for this disingenuous and offensive statement to be investigated, but to what end? For him to be reprimanded or censured after a lengthy investigation, costing and ultimately wasting even more taxpayer’s money.

I take the view that this by-election result shows conclusively that the Gilberdyke electorate has seen through Mr Whitley’s wild accusations, and seen his actions in delaying the flood relief work for what they were – the pursuit of a personal agenda that has resulted in increased costs and wasted time. They have also seen through his frivolous vexatious complaints about Parish Councillors, and particularly our ward Councillor Paul Robinson to the ERYC Standards Committee, they’ve seen through his threats, his complaints to the police, his letters in the press and statements on his website.

The Parish Council now has the opportunity to move forward on many important projects, and hopefully will not have to spend time on defending itself against the constant barrage of complaint and question from Mr Whitley as it as in the past. But unfortunately he will not be totally absent from our thoughts as we have to find some £3,000 from next year’s budget to pay for this by-election, so we will not be able to do as much as we’d planned.

The only reason that I have taken the time to compose this letter is that prior to the election result even being announced, Mr Whitley while standing alongside me actually said to another person present, ‘To be honest I didn’t think I had a chance of winning’. This admittance only confirmed to me that he was well aware that every single person within the Parish of Gilberdyke would have to pay for this election however he didn’t really care about the result.

Finally I would like to thank the people of Gilberdyke for sending out a clear message to Mr Whitley that enough is enough.

*Number of Gilberdyke voters at 1st December 2010

Nick Norris

Chairman, Gilberdyke Parish Council

Friday, December 09, 2011

November sees record high for Blog readers

Many thanks to all my blog readers for achieving the 2nd highest number of hits in a single month during November, the highest ever on a single day on 10th November, plus the highest number of 1st time visitors in any given month - Why you may ask? My altercation with the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Standards Committee over allowing third party comments on here…

Many thanks once again for all your support!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Gilberdyke Flood Relief Work Restarts After Delays

After all the delays, frustrations and the waiting, construction of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council funded second and third phases of the new Gilberdyke surface water drainage system is underway and should be complete within a few weeks. This £85k to £90k investment includes a 300mm diameter culvert which will connect the previously flooded properties on Westbrook Close and Westbrook Road to the new 900mm diameter culvert, funded by Gilberdyke Parish Council as phase one of the overall scheme. This first phase was completed some months ago by the same contractors and performed as designed during the heavy rainfall experienced on August 3rd this year - which offered some peace of mind for the residents flooded in June 2007.

Once complete this new drainage scheme will take a significant amount of surface water out of the village during heavy rainfall, reducing the pressure on the Yorkshire Water system, and existing surface water systems (which have also been improved by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the Lower Ouse Internal Drainage Board and Network Rail), therefore almost all Gilberdyke and Sandholme residents will benefit from a reduced flood risk in the future.

Although the conventional wisdom is that this type of work is best not done in the winter, but the on-going delays resulting from the mischief making from a very small number of residents have left the Council and their contractors with little option but to push on regardless.

I know that the delays experienced on the first phase did cost the Gilberdyke taxpayer more financially, and has had a knock on effect - but we are very lucky that this section was up and running before the rains seen in August.

Credit for this should be given not just to the Parish Council and the Flood Action Group, but also the Lower Ouse Internal Drainage Board, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council Land Drainage section, the consultants Mason Clark Associates, and the contractors L & K Warkup – all of whom had to put up with so much, but prevailed.

I hope that fewer problems are experienced on the second and third phases and the work is completed as soon as possible.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

No respite for Spaldington as yet another wind farm planned

Many will be aware that the Howdenshire village of Spaldington has for this past two and a half years been fighting off two wind farm companies each wanting to construct overly large wind turbines close to the village. One application was granted consent recently at appeal but the other was dismissed....

One would have thought the residents had gone through enough and could do with a break, take time to reflect and time to recoup their financial losses.

I was therefore staggered this weekend to receive a letter from RWE npower renewables informing me that they had recently started to investigate the potential for wind farm development on land near Spaldington, and that they would be submitting a planning application to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council next week for an anemometer mast.

The letter acknowledges that the company is aware of the recent appeal decisions on the Spaldington Airfield and Spaldington Common Schemes and have studied those applications, and they are giving careful thought to how their proposals would fit with the consented wind farm. They also state that they are taking into account the reasons for refusal for the Spaldington Common wind farm to ensure they can work with the community and key stake holders to design a wind farm that is suitable for the area. They then purport to recognise the importance and sensitivity of the recent decisions…. Is this some sort of sick joke?

The community of Spaldington is still trying to recover from the imposition of one wind farm next to their village, having failed in their gallant attempt to fend off two wind farm developers at the same time, despite the village funding their own team of expert witnesses and a barrister at the recent Public Inquiry. So before the dust has settled, before those residents have the chance to reflect on what has been a difficult and costly year for them, we have another wind farm company putting forward plans for an alternative site next to their village.

My message to RWE npower renewables is simple, this may well turn out to be a wind farm in the right place, but where is the sensitivity you talk about in your letter, could you not wait until the residents of Spaldington had been given the time to reflect on their difficult year over the Christmas period? Your actions are akin to fighting over a dead man’s estate before the funeral has been held – you should be ashamed!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Am I a victim of 'Double Standards'?

Regular readers of this Blog will be aware of my most recent run-in with the Standards Board - the body who believe in principled local politics, which was set up at your expense to champion and promote high standards of conduct amongst our local politicians - but when is a politician a politician?

After a lengthy and protracted investigation by a highly paid consultant- for which you the taxpayer have to pick up the tab, I was cleared of all of the plethora of spurious and salacious allegations made by the complainant, Mr Mike Whitley, apart from one point for which I received the most insignificant sanction possible, a ‘censure’.

The points at issue appear to be that my blog is somehow considered an ‘official blog’ (as detailed in the Committee’s determination) and through it I conduct ‘the business of the council’ - and whether the Councillors code of conduct can be applied to those of you who comment on posts that I publish. It is clear and obvious that the answer is no in each case with some serious implications for free speech and the rule of law arising from the judgement.

You might have thought that the decision would be the end of it, but no. The details of the case have to be published in a local newspaper. So yesterday, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Monitoring Officer published a notice detailing the findings. This included all the discredited allegations made against me.

In making his complaints Mr Whitley attempted to hide behind anonymity but was not allowed to do so – given that ruling, it is inconsistent that the complainant’s name was withheld from the notice. This means that the details of the unfounded accusations are laid bare for everyone to see but not the name of the person making them.

In many situations this would be perfectly acceptable but one of the reasons Mr Whitley was not allowed to hide his involvement is his habitual use of the Standards Board. He has made two other unsubstantiated and thoroughly discredited allegations against me and many separate complaints against other members of Gilberdyke Parish Council – all of which had to be investigated at taxpayer’s cost before being thrown out. He also made complaints about me to the Police which were without foundation and also dismissed. Not forgetting a complaint to the Police against the contractors installing the new culvert in Gilberdyke - they were accused of fly tipping the excavated soil at the side of the dyke! The motives for all this I cannot comment on.

Readers will be aware that Mr Whitley is a failed political opponent of mine, and the complaint was made in the run up to the May 2011 elections. Are these the actions of a concerned citizen or a political campaign using the taxpayer to fund a cynical attempt to gain some sort of electoral advantage? It’s not for me to decide.

These facts could not be tested as a part of my defence. Political exchanges between Councillors are considered to be ‘Rough and Tumble’- all part of the process. However this does not apply to candidates who are treated as any other member of the public. There are no standards applied to those would-be politicians seeking office.

So in a nutshell I cannot allow you as my blog readers to express your moderate opinions - but an unelected candidate can make wild, unsubstantiated accusations against me, and my fellow Parish Councillors including such things as embezzlement, misappropriation of funds, hiding money and siphoning off money, and make so many vexatious complaints to the Standards Committee and the Police. All of which are time consuming and costly to investigate – but when these accusations are found to be untrue the complainants name is kept out of the public domain – DOUBLE STANDARDS perhaps?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pubs, Punters and Price Fixing

I heard someone say recently, "Pubs are like churches - not used all the time but there when you need them and both sadly suffering from falling rolls".

Often we hear about the ‘drinking culture’ in this country – true perhaps, but we shouldn’t necessarily be ashamed of that. This week, I had the great pleasure of listening to Lee Le Clerq from the Beer and Pub Association, who got me thinking about this.

I, for one, think alcohol is OK. Pubs and drink bring enormous enjoyment and benefits to individuals, communities and society as a whole.

What is not OK is the bad behaviour that too frequently accompanies alcohol consumption, serving alcohol to children or drinking to the extent that it causes physical or mental damage.

Alcohol has a dark side and its impact on individual health, family stability and our streets are all too apparent. However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that around 90% of the adult population drinks alcohol and most of us do know how to behave ourselves. Most licensees don’t sell alcohol to kids and thankfully most of us will not be burdened by alcohol-related illness.

The decline of the Local Pub

The government’s 1989 Beer Orders were introduced to reduce the apparent monopoly big brewing companies exercised in the pub sector. Today, the largest pub companies own many more pubs than the biggest national brewery estates back in 1990 – so large monopolies have in fact been replaced with larger ones.

The vast majority of these premises are tenanted or leased so while the pub company will own the freehold, the licensee is often committed to certain supply agreements in return for a low cost entry to the trade; the pub is run as an independent small business with the licensee responsible for its operation.

We then saw the introduction of the smoking ban in pubs, something I have serious issues with. I would have much preferred air quality legislation to force pubs to install appropriate extraction and filtration to maintain acceptable standards.

In addition, I don’t think a year has passed since the Licensing Act came in when we have not seen yet more laws, and dozens of regulations and restrictions primarily aimed at the pub trade. So much legislation in fact, that the government has found it necessary to run three separate series of road shows touring the country to explain the powers within the legislation.

Would minimum pricing help the pub industry?

The issue of minimum pricing is something largely driven by the public health lobby. A modelling study, carried out by Sheffield University in 2008, claimed that a 50p per unit minimum price would bring about a 6.9% reduction in overall alcohol consumption. This would, they predicted, lead to 97,700 less hospital admissions per year and the saving of around 3000 lives.

Since 2008, overall alcohol consumption (without minimum pricing) has dropped by more than 6.9%. As a nation we are now drinking 13% less than the peak in 2004 and yet – according to the health lobby - we are not seeing any such savings in lives or hospital admissions. On the contrary, these continue to rise. Of course there is a link between price and consumption but the link between national consumption levels and health is not as simple and clear cut as the Sheffield model suggested. They are currently revisiting their studies at the request of the Scottish Parliament and it will be interesting to see what they have to say this time around.

So, would a 50p unit price suddenly make the pub a significantly more attractive option than drinking at home? I suggest not.

Let’s consider 80p a unit, favoured by some members of the Scottish Labour Party. A pint of beer in packaged form in a supermarket would cost £1.60, still considerably cheaper than the same quantity in a pub. However, the cheapest bottle of spirit on a supermarket shelf would be priced at £24. The implication here is that at this price why anyone would buy blended whisky, when for very little more one could buy a 10 or 15 year old single malt? This would almost certainly signal the end of the Scotch whisky industry as it exists today, as the ‘wee dram’ became an elite beverage, only for the wealthy.

We’re told that sensible, moderate drinkers would be unaffected by minimum pricing but the evidence does not appear to support this. Would this reduce the consumption by heavy or dependent drinkers? Perhaps they would just spend a greater proportion of their income on drink, and as for deterring under-age drinkers a great many rarely pay for the alcohol they consume anyway.

Indeed, minimum pricing could be counter-productive by leading to an increase in the production and consumption of ‘moonshine’. Illegally produced alcohol is incredibly dangerous, sometimes containing levels of methanol high enough to cause instant blindness. What will be the cost to the NHS when those who want to drink turn to illegally produced alcohol, because they do not have the means to buy it legally, either in pubs or from shops?

The EU may have something to say if the Scottish Parliament tries to bring in minimum pricing, as there are indications that it would be illegal under UK legislation, namely the 1998 Competition Act, and these are laws that are not devolved to Scotland for them to amend at will.

What would the Office of Fair Trading do as the body responsible for monitoring price fixing in the UK? Will it take action against the Scottish Parliament if it embarks on such a scheme, or would it ignore it? There is no minimum pricing on anything anywhere in the EU so why start with alcohol?

I have often voiced my concerns regarding the ‘Tescofication of the high street’ and some of the large supermarket pricing policies are cynical, and have a detrimental effect on the suppliers, particularly farmers. The Government has recently announced the ‘below cost’ minimum pricing option which simply takes into account excise duty plus VAT which should ensure that supermarkets cannot sell alcohol below this price. This is, I think a positive step and goes a long way to address the issue of alcohol being a ‘Loss Leader’ for the supermarkets - so perhaps a little good news for pubs here.

The dilemma ....

We’re all consumers and the overwhelming majority of us use supermarkets. Do we really want the government artificially increasing prices to protect us from ourselves when the overwhelming majority of ‘ourselves’ need no such protection? If an argument is made for minimum pricing, why should it stop with alcohol? The NHS spends three times as much on combating obesity as it does on dealing with alcohol abuse. Would the next target be McDonalds? How dare they sell a calorie laden burger for only £1.99! Then there’s the inestimable environmental damage caused by global aviation. What if those advocating minimum pricing decide that we should no longer allow hard-working families to holiday abroad at ridiculously affordable fares?

The industry knows that it is necessary for sale of alcohol to be licensed, regulated and monitored. Pubs understand their responsibilities. It’s important that everyone who retails alcohol understands the regulations and complies with them, and the vast majority of our pubs do so. There should be no state interference in fixing prices – especially when the consequences cause more harm than good.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thanks for all your support

I would just like to thank all of those who have offered me their support this week and continue to do so – friends, colleagues and those from across the political spectrum and around the world. I thank all of you that have blogged or reposted the story, including those through facebook (or that “form of witchcraft” according to some of my fellow East Riding Tory Councillors…).

The update 2 at the end of the previous blog post shows exactly what for I have been censured for.

Having read the post I realised that I made a startling omission - When making the complaint to the Standards Committee, Mr Whitley attempted to do so under the cloak of anonymity. His request was certainly at odds with his numerous critical letters referring to me in the Goole Times, the Goole Courier and the East Riding Mail, as well as his own Lib Dem site (closed since he deserted the Lib Dems for Labour) - clearly not the actions of a man looking to keep his name out of the public domain. Attempting to anonymously place a complaint to the Standards Committee in the run up to an election, where he was planning to stand against me, is in my opinion nothing short of cynical.

I am at least grateful that this request was not granted by the Standards Committee.

Some of those blogs/sites are carrying this story are:

Conservativehome blog

Taxpayers Alliance website

Carl Minns Blog - A View from Hull

HU12Online - The Hedon blog

John in Gilberdyke blog

and the great reporting by the East Riding Mail at here and especially here

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A sad day for bloggers, a sad day for freedom of speech, and a sad day for democracy

Today I had to appear before the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Standards Committee to answer charges that in response to a posting on this blog, I had allowed two specific comments written by others to be published. I was found to have breached the Code of Councillors and received a written censure.

The complaint was brought by Mike Whitley of Gilberdyke, who stood against me as a Labour candidate at the May 2011 East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Gilberdyke Parish Council elections - he failed to be elected to either.

Although disappointed, I certainly feel that the Standards Committee was put in a very difficult position today because of the evidence and recommendation provided by the Council’s Monitoring Officer, and in only censuring me I appreciate that they gave me the absolute minimum punishment they could.

I am particularly disappointed that the evidence provided was as narrow as it was and resulted in the decision being made on a very technical point. Some of the evidence was subjective and some clearly wrong, and both the Monitoring Officer and Investigating Officer have some serious questions they need to answer, and I will be buying them both an English Dictionary for Christmas.

I have been censured not for anything I have said or done but for failing to censor the free speech of Howdenshire residents, who understandably feel strongly about the continued actions of an individual that has put their homes and livelihoods at risk.

I understood we have free speech in this country and unless a comment is defamatory or untrue I will continue to allow free speech and debate on my blog. I did not then and still do not, believe the key comment was defamatory and it is certainly true that Mark Twain did include such events in his novels. I accept that this is subjective and accept that the Committee did not share my understanding of the strength of feeling locally.

The Standards Regime is supposed to deal with wrongdoing in the public interest not give a voice to Political candidates to score points against their opponents. The committee was not allowed to look at the wider context of the repeated and unfounded complaints – (8 times this individual has referred me or Gilberdyke Parish Councillors to the Standards Board and every one cleared) and also reporting me to the Police which was also deemed to be unfounded. Conversely the Investigating Officer was free to attempt to mislead the committee and to raise other matters unrelated to the narrow accusation.

The Political context of the repeated complaints, and the totally untrue comments and accusations the complainant put into the public domain was also not considered.

In short the public has just paid for a failed political stunt.

Councillors who break the law should face the full force of the law - everything else is a matter for the electorate. If a Councillor does not reach the standards expected of them they will not be re-elected. I am at a loss to know what this process has achieved. A censure is meaningless but has cost an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money. A retired officer brought back at who knows what rates to undertake extensive investigations. How much has this cost and what services to our residents do we cut to pay for this?

If ever there was an example of why the Government is right to abolish this expensive and misused system, this is it. Absolutely nothing has been achieved and no difference has been made apart from the taxpayers get the bill for someone to pursue a personal, vexatious Political agenda.

I will continue blogging!

The East Riding News coverage of the story can be found here

Update - The paper copy of the newspaper article in addition carries an interesting quote from an unnamed fellow ERYC Conservative Councillor at County Hall:

"Many in our group believe facebook and Twitter are akin to witchcraft"

Oh dear, we really do need to drag ourselves into the 21st Century.....

Update 2
- The comment (not written by me) but which I allowed on my blog was, ‘In Mark Twain’s classic literature perpetrators of anti-social activity were stripped, tarred and feathered then ridden out of town on a rail. Not that I would suggest such a thing mind’

“Guidance published by Standards for England about blogging” – because there was other part of the guidance included in the Investigators report I can only assume this is what he used to base his decision and subsequent recommendation – This guidance quite clearly states that a comment has to be defamatory or obscene to be in contravention.

If one looks in the English Dictionary it says that, “defamatory remarks are not true and make people have a bad opinion of someone” (so logically any remarks have to be untrue before they can be defamatory)

The dictionary also states that obscene remarks are, “indecent, disgusting or likely to deprave or corrupt”

I’m still at a loss, because the advice I was given supported my thinking that there is nothing that could be considered UNTRUE, INDECENT, DISCUSTING or LIKELY TO DEPRAVE OR CORRUPT in the comment.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Roadworks the American Way - Lessons to be learnt?

Having spent some time in America this past couple of weeks, one thing that I was able to look into was roadworks, as this is somewhat topical around Howdenshire at the moment, and whilst driving in Alabama and Mississippi took the opportunity to investigate further as to how significant repairs and road construction are able to be carried out with seemingly minimum disruption to road users, and residents.

The first thing to notice was the lack of the 1,000’s of cones we see when roadworks are carried out locally, with the works are carried out at night when the roads are less busy, they appear to avoid peak traffic periods, and relatively short sections are started and completed before moving on to the next. There also seems to be fewer workmen and the road construction is somewhat simpler, without kerbs for the most part and constructed slightly higher than the verge to aid drainage.

The speed enforcement signage is also quite interesting, there are no fixed or variable speed cameras, to ‘trap the motorist’ along the whole section of the repair all of the time, instead there is a limit and double fines only when ‘workmen are in the road’ - not when they’re not, this is clearly signed and enforced by a combination of gun-toting State Troopers, Sheriffs and Local Enforcement Officers.

On talking to one of the construction teams working near the State border, they were a little surprised on seeing a ‘foreigner’ in those parts when I stopped to talk about roadworks, but quite amused when I described the way roads are repaired in England. It was clear that they looked at what could be done in a day (or night) and broke the whole job down into daily segments where they could plane the road surface, remove the scalpings and lay the new tarmac, before moving on to the next section the following day. The traffic is normally controlled by flags, stop/go boards and sometimes traffic lights, and diversions as a last resort.

Interestingly they described how the scalpings are recycled, remixed with tar and re-used as a base.

All in all a very different carry on to what we see in England, and some of their traffic management arrangements we could learn certainly learn from – BUT then there is that small issue of Health and Safety legislation which we would perhaps find difficult to get over.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Are Fairtrade Products in conflict with 'Buying Local' ?

There is currently a rush to promote Fairtrade products in order to support farmers in poorer parts of the World, but is everything what it appears and should Local Authorities be promoting these at the expense of local products?

Buying local products supports the local economy, reduces food miles, and contributes to a feeling of involvement between local businesses, suppliers and the customer. Promoting local products is not necessarily in conflict with promoting Fairtrade products; they can exist together - JUST!

As well as supporting East Yorkshire farmers and producers, there is no doubt that buying locally grown produce reduces our carbon footprint through reduced fuel mileage, and this has to be a consideration, but this tends to swing the balance away from Fairtrade produce, especially when there is a choice.

The ‘Tescofication’ of the high street, and their massive advertising budgets, continues to have an adverse effect on local producers and farmers, many have described the appalling practices employed by the giant superstores - hardly what could be termed FAIR TRADE. This is why, wherever possible, I support local farmers and producers, but again this swings the balance away from Fairtrade produce.

Buying local has many benefits, one only has to visit a local farmers market to buy fresh, high quality local produce, and also ‘meet the farmer’ to find out more about what you are buying. There is a genuine desire to ‘buy local’ driven in part by quality but also trust, there is also a belief that we are doing our bit for the environment by reducing fuel mileage - the products are grown or reared more naturally – and this is further enhanced by the generally lower amounts of packaging used.

My local pig farmer in Howdenshire wants to pay a fair price for feed and energy, and in return she wants a good price for her produce - but she also wants to see small coffee, cocoa and tea farmers in developing countries receive a fair price for their products too.

Many of us drink coffee and tea, and some people really love chocolate - but where does coffee, tea and cocoa grow? Certainly very little, if any, grows in Yorkshire. The majority is grown in developing countries where the climate is more suitable. So to ship over and transport Fairtrade goods alongside non Fairtrade goods makes sense.

As someone who has spent many years as a development worker in West Africa, perhaps I have a good insight into how the world’s poor can be supported through trade. Interestingly there are instances where the growers of Fairtrade crops can contribute to offsetting the carbon footprint for transportation; achieving this indirectly through local economy boosting agricultural sector job creation and directly by helping people in being able to grow and buy local food rather than importing. This is especially relevant when Aid Agency funding is provided for basic tools to enable the growing of local vegetables. Linking Fairtrade production to helping the World’s poorest would appear to be a positive step.

But alas this is not the whole story, the Fairtrade Foundation demands these poor farmers sign up to or ‘join the scheme’ and insisting that only ‘environmentally sound’ agricultural methods be used – this can mean backbreaking work for farmers and their families, without any mechanisation, chemicals or fertilisers, in return for them receiving a few cents more for their products. The liberal elitist champions of Fairtrade would have us believe that this is about “freeing the poorest producers from the exploitive effects of the market” when in fact it can have the completely opposite effect, through preventing farmers developing or growing their businesses from this basic level. In a ‘nutshell’ – the negative impacts of what the Fairtrade Foundation deems to be the ‘right way’ of farming or harvesting.

My message is that where possible we should be supporting our local producers by purchasing their products - and certainly not encouraging the purchase of those same products from afar. But for those products that are NOT grown or produced locally then to look at Fairtrade products is an option worth pursuing – but remember Fairtrade does not always deliver what it says on the tin.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wind Farm Imposed on Howdenshire Village of Spaldington by Government Planning Inspector (but it could have been worse)

The Government’s Planning Inspector has published his decision on the appeals for the two wind farm proposals, one at each side of the small village of Spaldington. His decision is to allow the 5 turbine Spaldington Airfield application to the west of the village but to throw out the 7 turbine Spaldington Common application to the east.

I have worked very closely with the Spaldington residents and the STOP team since the ERYC Planning Committee’s decision to refuse these applications, knowing that the developers would certainly appeal the decisions. I know the residents team well, and having spoken to some of them today I realise just how deflated and devastated they feel, but this is tempered by winning one of them.

It is common for a community to stand up to fight the imposition of one large wind farm next to their village, but very unusual for them to have to fight two at the same time. In many ways this is a hollow victory and many Spaldington residents will be fearful of the future as their properties are overshadowed by some of the highest onshore wind turbines in the country within 750m. Much, much closer than we see at the only constructed similar size wind farm at Lisset.

It is ironic that within a handful of miles of Spaldington, turbines could be constructed far enough away from properties so as not to have a negative impact on them. This is mainly a result of those land owners not being willing to sell to the wind farm companies. What is perfectly clear is that more effort has to be made by developers and particularly the East Riding of Yorkshire Council to make sure appropriate sites are selected and not on the basis that a landowner is willing.

The Council’s Planning Committee come out of this very well in the way they made their decisions to refuse both applications, unfortunately the same cannot be said of the Council’s Planning Department, who had recommended approval on both applications and the flawed evidence put forward by the Council’s team as detailed in the inspectors findings. I really hope the Council’s Planning Department Officers now take a very close look at the inspector’s decision, particularly regarding proximity and specifically when he says, “In relation to the Common scheme, I have found that the proposal would result in unacceptable harm to the living conditions of nearby residents through being dominant and overbearing and noise disturbance”. For far too long I have been saying that a line has to be drawn in the sand when it comes to the proximity of large wind turbines to houses, and to read a Planning Inspector agree in many ways vindicates my position.

The Inspector also makes reference to the Council’s Interim Planning Document (IPD) on Renewable Energy when he says, “Although the IPD has been the subject of public consultation, given the absence of an adopted Development Plan Document and the apparent conflict with national guidance, I attach limited weight to the IPD”. Again this was something I raised in my motion to the ERYC Full Council on 13th October 2010 - but very little has subsequently been done, again I feel somewhat vindicated by the Planning Inspector’s comments.

In addition the Planning Inspector rightly criticises the key photographic evidence, drawings and measurements provided as evidence by the Council when he says “Whilst not all of the criticisms made by the appellants were accepted the Local Planning Authority (the Council) did acknowledge that, as submitted, all of the viewing distances and angles of view quoted were incorrect”. This is something that really should not happen.

On a positive note, we now have the line drawn in the sand regarding proximity distances from residences; we now know what is acceptable and what is not. It is important that this is built into a revised policy on renewable energy which I called for last year and is now needed following the Inspectors remarks.

This may be too late for some villages in the East Riding of Yorkshire, but will no doubt benefit many in the future, and developers will now have to consider this when submitting wind farm applications. I would like to recognise the STOP team of residents, expert witnesses and their Barrister – without which I am absolutely convinced the Spaldington Common wind farm would not have been thrown out. The work they have done will benefit the wider East Riding, and for that I am very proud.

The inspector’s conclusions are as follows:

In relation to the Airfield scheme, I have concluded that the proposal would not have an unacceptable impact on living conditions, landscape character, public visual amenity, ecology and the operation of Breighton Aerodrome. Whilst there would be some harm to the setting of Howden Minster, I consider that harm is outweighed by the significant weight to be attached to the need for renewable energy and benefits of the scheme. Accordingly, I conclude that, subject to the imposition of appropriate planning conditions and the relevant provisions of the S106 UU, this proposal would not conflict with the objectives of development plan and national policy. Accordingly, I allow the appeal.

In relation to the Common scheme, I have found that the proposal would result in unacceptable harm to the living conditions of nearby residents through being dominant and overbearing and noise disturbance and some harm to the setting of Howden Minster. Notwithstanding my positive conclusions in relation to landscape character, public visual amenity, ecology and aviation matters, I consider the harm is not outweighed by the benefits of the scheme or the need to meet regional targets for the provision of renewable energy. Moreover, this harm would not be acceptably mitigated by imposing planning conditions. Accordingly, I conclude that this proposal would conflict with the objectives of development plan and national policy. Accordingly, I dismiss the appeal.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Road Grates Replaced on Gilberdyke to Howden Road

Sometimes there is a perception that the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s highway maintenance is not as responsive as it might be, mainly because of a history of reduced government funding. But a good example of how the highways maintenance team works really well is highlighted in the work replacing some 40 gully tops/grates on the B1230 at each side of Balkholme flyover between Gilberdyke and Howden.

Many would have seen the numerous times one or more of the grates were laid on the tarmac or wedged in the frame at an odd angle after being ‘bounced out’ of the frames by the action of being run over by a vehicle.

I had received a number of calls and messages from residents and road users regarding this, and actually found myself stopping on numerous occasions to put the grates back into their frames, and on mentioning this was surprised to find that Anna Longthorp owner of local business ‘Anna’s Happy Trotters’ had also been stopping to replace grates in their frames. It got to the stage where Anna would send me a facebook message telling me that she had ‘replaced another one’…. (pictured with Anna Longthorp)

The Council acted very quickly when I raised this as a safety concern, they inspected the gully grates, and ordered in the new iron tops and frames when the originals were found to be badly corroded around the hinges and unsafe.

The most pleasing aspect of this work carried out by the Council’s own team, was not just the quality and speed of which it was accomplished, but with the minimum disruption to road users. A good example of a job well done before anyone was seriously hurt.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Howden School and Technology College out of Special Measures

I thought the highlights of a school Governor was being the Chair of the Governing body at Gilberdyke Primary School when we achieved the status of an ‘Outstanding School’, it was something we had built up to year on year, the management of the school and the systems were excellent, the kids were well behaved, and the parents, teachers and staff were very proud of ‘their’ school. It was great to appear alongside long-standing Head Martin Alger before the Council's Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee and answer the question posed by the Chair on the day, “Now Cllr Robinson will tell us how to achieve an outstanding report from OFSTED”.

I still remain a member of the Governing Body at Gilberdyke, but in addition was asked to become a Local Authority appointed Governor at Howden School and Technology College (my old school) when it was plunged into special measures last year. This was certainly going to be a challenge.

Recently the school achieved its best GSCE results its history with 55% achieving grades A* – C in five subjects including maths and English, and acknowledged as being the most improved School in the East Riding of Yorkshire, so we knew we were on the right track.

I must say that previous highlight has most certainly been matched this week, as on Tuesday and Wednesday, 20th and 21st September, Mr Bernard Campbell HMI and his team came to Howden School to carry out their third monitoring visit. They were so pleased with what they saw they decided on Tuesday night to turn the monitoring visit into a full Section 5 Inspection (The basic Ofsted inspection that all schools get).

The outcome of the Section 5 Inspection was that the school is now a ‘satisfactory’, school and therefore does not require ‘special measures’. This means that from today (Thursday) officially the School is out of special measures.

I know just how much work has gone into picking up the pieces and rebuilding the school, and I’m immensely proud of my fellow Governors, the Executive Head Dave McCreedy, and Acting Head Gary Garghan (both ‘loaned’ to us by Wolfreton School), the teachers and staff, parents and carers, and the officers of the Local Authority – but most of all the students who have worked so hard to get the label of ‘special measures lifted.

I understand it is almost unprecedented for a school to rid themselves of the ‘special measures’ tag after just 3 monitoring visits, so this is an amazing outcome. This is truly the result of what can happen when all stakeholders: students, parents / carers, staff, governors, community partners come together in a common cause – this is has become known as ‘Team Howden’ and I’m proud to have been part of that team.

Acting Head Gary Garghan best summed it up when he said, “So we have now exchanged the miserable category ‘special measures’ for one that says we are ‘ok’. Not good enough for ‘Team Howden!’ The mission to move towards being an outstanding school starts today!!!!!!” – I could not agree more.....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Walking With Elvis for Marie Curie Cancer Care

Many will remember that last year I took part in the ‘Humber Bridge Midnight Walk’ in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care. This past weekend my daughter Katy and I again took part in this year’s event, but this time I was persuaded by the organisers (who knew I possess the requisite attire) to appear and walk as Elvis. In the absence of the Lord Mayor of Hull (who let the organisers down) I was asked to step in as the walk starter and gave the following in my very best Elvis accent:

“IT’S MIDNIGHT” and can I just say “HOW GREAT THOU ART”, for joining me, a hunk of “BURNING LOVE”, and my “GOOD LUCK CHARM”, my “LITTLE DARLIN”, my daughter Katy…, but most importantly it’s the “WONDER OF YOU” for being here for just “ONE NIGHT” to stride out with “A FOOL SUCH AS I” in “MY BLUE SUEDE SHOES”, to walk “DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE”, raising money for that “HARD HEADED WOMAN” ….. MARIE CURIE.

Well I’m “ALL SHOOK UP” seeing you all here tonight and “I JUST CAN’T HELP BELIEVING” that we will all enjoy the walk over this “BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER”.

I know that I’m “ITCHING LIKE A MAN ON A FUZZY TREE” to get started, and there’s going to be a “WHOLE LOT OF SHAKIN GOIN ON”, I’m sure y’all “HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT” on this “LONG LONELY HIGHWAY”, although as we finish the walk I may “NEED SOMEBODY TO LEAN ON”


SO…. It’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready now go cats, go!!!

... and on the stroke of midnight on a very cold night about a hundred of us set off over the bridge.

About half way across, in the teeth of an appalling headwind, a rather nice lady of a certain age that I was alongside, dressed in green surgical robes, mask and hairnet answered her mobile phone and said, “You’ll never believe this but I’m walking across the Humber Bridge with Elvis Presley" and asked me to speak to her caller – I don’t think the person on the other end believed us for some reason!

Anyway it was nice to walk to Lincolnshire, but even better to walk back to Yorkshire!

Katy and I have so far managed to raise well over £200 for this very worthwhile cause – if anyone would like to donate or sponsor us please let me know!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Best ever GCSE results for Howden School and Technology College


Students at Howden School and Technology College achieved the schools best ever GCSE exam results today.

55% of students gained the prestigious ‘gold standard’ benchmark of 5 A* - C GCSE’s (Including English and Mathematics) whilst 70% achieved 5 A* - C GCSE grades and 97% got 5 A* - G grades.

Garry Garghan, Acting Headteacher, commented:

‘We are thrilled with these results – a 10% improvement on the gold standard results this time last year.

These results are a testament to all of the hard work put in by everyone connected with ‘Team Howden’ as we regard ourselves. Students, staff, parents / carers, governors, community partners and the LA have all worked together to move the school forward.

These results, the best in the history of the school demonstrate that we are well on course to cast off the ‘special measures’ label during this coming academic year.’

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Gilberdyke's Community Funded Drainage Culvert Worked During Heavy Rainfall

Although Gilberdyke didn’t get anywhere near as much rainfall as Goole yesterday it was great to see the new community funded culvert taking all the water. I’m reliably informed that some 25mm of rain fell in the village and although some water levels did rise on some of the roads and at least one garden saw some localised flooding, I’m not aware of any flooding in people’s houses.

The water entered the culvert at the western end without obstruction and flowed out into the large dyke known as Far Drain at the eastern end. The head of the water forced its way out of the culvert and into the dyke even though the level in Far Drain was above the level of the culvert during the peak flow.

Needless to say the culvert did exactly what it was supposed to do, we would not have seen the water move so quickly through this section prior to the work taking place, as the narrowness of the former dyke and capacity of the previously potted sections with their ‘protective grills’ would have created the pinch points and impeded the flow, as highlighted in the survey conducted by Mason Clark after the 2007 floods. The report from this survey subsequently led to the culvert being installed.

All in all it was rewarding to see the system work, and I look forward to the remainder of the work being completed in the near future enabling the culvert to be extended to drain surface water from those at risk properties in Westbrook Road. This of course puts less pressure on the existing surface water and foul water systems in the village meaning that the flood risk to the whole village is reduced.

Many thanks to Gilberdyke Parish Council and the Flood Action Group, the Lower Ouse Internal Drainage Board, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council Drainage Engineers, and the community for their support, a great result of what can be achieved by working together.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Gilberdyke's Leatherdog Lane Tip Liaison Group Established

As part of the planning consent to increase the life by one year of the Leatherdog Lane Tip located between Gilberdyke and Newport, there was a requirement by the tip owner to establish a Liaison Group consisting of community representatives, and also those from the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) and the Environment Agency, as well as the tip operators.

A meeting to set up this Liaison Group was held last Thursday 28th July 2011 in Newport. Both Gilberdyke and Newport Parish Councils had put forward their two respective Chairmen, Nick Norris and Roy Hunt to sit on the group, as well as myself as the ERYC Howdenshire Ward Councillor.

It was suggested and agreed that I chair the Liaison Group which is envisaged to meet every six weeks.

It was established that the best way for the community to be represented on the group was through the Parish Councils, and the respective chairmen would give updates and take questions and ideas from residents at open forums as part of the regular Parish Council meetings, they could then take these to the Liaison Group.

It was felt essential that the two main regulatory agencies, namely the ERYC and the Environment Agency be represented and the liaison group would be a forum for both to sit around the same table, to hear first-hand the communities concerns and for joint action to be taken if deemed necessary.

It was agreed by the operator that the tip would be filled within the recently granted year’s extension period, and that no further extension to the life of the tip would be required.

“It is about how the Liaison Group can work with the operator to ensure that the tip is filled and capped off within the timeframe agreed as part of the planning application, and within the regulations and conditions imposed, not only by the planning consent - but also the licence given by the Environment Agency. I personally feel the operator has to tell us how many HGV movements are required to complete the tip, and how these movements can be managed to minimise the negative impacts on residents – particularly those living down Newport’s Thimblehall Lane. There are also on-going issues around smell and the tip height that must be addressed”.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Long awaited roadworks between Wressle and Breighton

Roadworks on the road between the Howdenshire villages of Wressle and Breighton are due to shortly commence on Monday 22nd August and are expected to last two weeks (Weather permitting).

(Pictured with my fellow Howdenshire ERYC Councillor Nick Evans)

This is something that I have been pushing for since before the Bubwith bridge closure, and certainly afterwards as the road became damaged with the diverted vehicles using the road as a detour.

The carriageway between Breighton Road & Lund Lane is due to be resurfaced as part of the Council’s road improvement programme 2011 - 2012. The work will consist of recycling the existing carriageway to a depth of 220mm, further strengthening of carriageway approaching ‘Wressle Clough', and a new macadam road surface course.

To undertake the work safely it will be necessary to close Breighton Road & Lund Lane at the junction with Main Street in Wressle and at the junction with Ferry Lane in Breighton for the duration of the works. Although access will be maintained for residents, refuse collections, postal services and emergency services.

Traffic will be diverted during the works and letter is to be delivered to resident/farms disrupted by the work (along with surrounding areas) in due course.

The work will be carried out by Wright Civil Engineering Ltd on the behalf of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Great news for Bubwith, HOSM and Foggathorpe as numbers of HGVs through the villages is to be reduced

The 7.5 tonne weight limit through Sutton on Derwent and Elvington is to be removed which will reduce the amount of HGVs coming through HOSM, Bubwith and Foggathorpe. Today the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Environment and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee voted to lift the weight limit as was recommended by the ERYC officers in their report to the Committee.

Prior to the weight limit being imposed the HGV movements from Breighton Airfield Industrial Estate went either north through Sutton on Derwent, or either east through Holme on Spalding Moor or west through Bubwith. This had meant that the HGV movements were somewhat shared between all the communities - alas since the weight limit the villages of HOSM, Foggathorpe and Bubwith particularly, had borne the brunt of these lorry movements, so now the burden of HGV movements is once again to be shared by all communities rather than just a small number.

I would like to pay tribute to HOSM, Bubwith and Foggathorpe Parish Councils and residents who had been very proactive in pushing the case forward. Bubwith being insistent that the ERYC assessed both the bridge on the A163 and the Sutton Bridge, as both bridges are about the same age and both awkward to cross, and subject to traffic light controls to ensure single file traffic. The result was that both bridges were deemed capable of taking 44 tonne HGVs, the signs indicating a weak bridge had been removed from the Highfields crossroads in Bubwith, but the bridge still had a 7.5 tonne environment weight limit signed upon it.

I had spoken at length to the Council’s Director of Service; he confirmed that there had been a large number of responses from the public, both in favour of keeping the weight limit and also asking for its removal. The views of the parish councils and residents were taken into consideration and were be included within the report to the Committee, which contained the recommendation for the weight limit to be lifted.

The re-routing of HGVs through rural villages such as Bubwith, Holme on Spalding Moor, Foggathorpe and Harlthorpe had not only passed the problem from one community onto others, but also has a detrimental effect on both the businesses that had to foot the extra fuel costs and increased travelling times, and the wider community with the increased emissions associated with lorries travelling the extra distances. I did not think this fitted with the ERYC policy of reducing emissions through reduced journeys.

Once again many thanks to all those who worked hard to get this weight limit lifted

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Phase 1 of Gilberdyke Flood Relief Scheme Approaches Completion

Gilberdyke Parish Council is pleased to confirm that the much anticipated phase 1 redevelopment of the critical drainage system in the village will soon be completed, and work will then continue onto phases 2 and 3 on Station Road, Westbrook Road and Bellasize Park.

During the public session of the recent Parish Council meeting held on Tuesday 12th July 2011, the individual who has fought the Parish Council ‘tooth and nail’ for month after month delivered what is hoped was his final inaccurate salvo, when he stated that in his opinion the new system will not work. It was pointed out that the system had been designed by Mason Clark Associates in conjunction with the East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s drainage engineers and the Lower Ouse Internal Drainage Board, and the likelihood of all the professional people involved in designing and putting the project together, and the contractors, all getting it wrong was slim. It was also pointed out that all his concerns had been previously addressed by Eddy Allen, the Clerk to the Drainage Board.

It was further explained in considerable detail how the system within the village dovetails with further works planned to lower and widen the dykes down to the river at Blacktoft, where a new large pumping station is to be installed. This larger project will benefit the much wider area than just Gilberdyke, and will also prevent the tidal effects we see in Far Drain as the water rises and falls at the outlet to Phase 1.

As the work on phase 1 reaches its conclusion the Parish Council has to consider the future of this important section of the redeveloped drainage system. It has been established that the strip of land above the run of the new culvert (that was the original dyke) is still in the ownership of the developer.

The Parish Council is very concerned and disappointed to learn that even before the first phase is completed some residents of Scalby Lane and Chestnut Drive properties are attempting to ‘land grab’ sections of this strip of land as theirs - even though it is owned by another party. This ‘land grabbing’ has to cease and it has to be realised that such actions compromise the future maintenance of this critical drainage system for the whole of the village and surrounding area.

It was agreed by the Parish Council that the next important step was to ensure the future safety and secure maintenance of the new system, and would approach the actual owner of the strip of land above the run of the drain, with a view to the Council taking on the responsibility for and to ensure control of this section. A meeting has been arranged for early August.

“I was disappointed that even after the work has been almost completed the Parish Council is still subject to accusations from the same individual, who has been lightening quick in attempting to claim part of the land above the run of the new culvert for himself. I have visited a number of the properties affected by the work and spoken to many residents, most of which seem very impressed by the standard of work and the way the site has been left, as with projects of this size there are always some very minor issues around replanting of shrubs and landscaping that require addressing – but which I’m confident will be cleared up as soon as possible. More importantly the affected residents I have spoken to are very happy with how their gardens have been left, and I hope this serves as a reassurance to those residents who will be affected by the further two phases which are to be carried out shortly”.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Spaldington Wind Farms Appeal Public Inquiry Presentation

The following is the presentation I gave to Spaldington Wind Farm Appeal Public Inquiry today. I'm not sure how it played with the inspector - but I think it totally wrong-footed the two barristers acting for the two windfarm companies. - in so much has they couldn't find it in themselves to ask me a single question at the end.

1. Introduction

If one was to ask, “How do I get to Spaldington?” Imagine if one or both of these wind farms were approved the answer would be “follow the road to the wind turbines - that’s Spaldington”.

This is not about the proximity of a wind farms to a village - it is simply about Spaldington being at the centre of a wind farm, with residents living between the turbines. It’s akin to separating the Lissett wind farm and dropping Spaldington right in the middle. If the applications are considered separately then either one is far too close to properties, we have not seen anything like the numbers of residences being so close to these large generation turbines anywhere else in the East Riding.

Visualising cumulative impact is very difficult when the number of wind farms that have been consented have yet to be built. This is why it is important to consider not only the 14 wind turbines already built within 20km of Spaldington but also the 78 consented, giving a total of 92 within 20km.

2. Howdenshire

When entering the East Riding of Yorkshire from the west one sees Drax Power Station, followed by the Rusholme Windfarm on the left, on the right you see Goole’s Capital Park with its massive buildings including the glassworks, pelleting factory, and large distribution centre. In the background we see the iconic salt and pepper pot towers, the church spire and the cranes on the Goole docks.

Continuing over the Ouse Bridge into Howdenshire we see the port of Howdendyke and the two large distribution centres on the right, and when one looks to the left a large expanse of rurality then opens up before you – in the foreground we see trees, woods and hedges planted by farmers who over the generations have invested to shape the area.

Howdenshire then stretches almost uninterrupted to the Vale of York to the north, the foothills of the Wolds to the northeast and towards the distant views of the Humber Bridge and City of Hull to the east. It is this tranquil, intimate, rurality dominated only by the tower and green roof of the historic Howden Minster that makes Howdenshire special.

Here I would take the advocate for the Common wind farm back to early in the inquiry when he mentioned the view in some way could be impeded by the crash barrier at the nearside of the M62. I hope since making that statement he has taken the time to join the 18,000 vehicles crossing over the Ouse Bridge daily from the west, and has driven in each of the three lanes of the motorway and seen for himself the unimpeded view of the Minster, and witnessed the potential impact that 12 moving 126m high turbines will have behind and above the roof and tower.

3. The East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) Planning Committee

It is important to state that during the period from May 2007 to May 2011 I was a member of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council Planning Committee, although I am not representing the committee, these are my views. I have been involved in the decision making process regarding all the renewable energy applications brought before the committee during this period, including both Spaldington applications. I am not a policy maker nor qualified to defend any of the Council’s planning policies, I consider my role is to give overview, interpretation and weighting to those policies when making decisions. I would say that I have always voted to grant consent unless there was a clear reason not to.

The Planning Committee can only make a decision on what is in front of them, which can at times be very frustrating with some applications. I have always been open to arguments from all sides when it comes to wind farms and have voted both for and against, depending on the individual application.

Prior to 2007 the Planning Committee approved the wind farm at Lisset and the turbines at Loftsome Bridge. From 2007 the Committee has approved commercial wind farm applications at Twin Rivers, Goole Fields, Sancton, Burton Pidsea, and recently at Carnaby.

I have voted to support each one of these applications, and actually moved approval on many. I therefore take great exception to the advocate for the Airfield scheme previously alluding to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council being somehow against wind turbines. What I would say is that wind turbines or wind farms, along with other renewable energy applications have been approved when they have been of an appropriate size and scale for the landscape, have been in the right place, and have not had a negative cumulative impact on a locality or residences.

The problem is that Inspectors at Sober Hill, Routh, Sixpennywood, Tedder Hill, Roos and Withernwick have said that we have got the balance wrong. It is true that those Inspectors may not have got it right themselves, and it is important to recognise that ERYC got it right at Monkwith.

An interesting example of the Planning Committee’s decision making was at the meeting held on 8th October 2009 where two wind farm applications were considered.

The first application for the 3-turbine Monkwith wind farm on the East coast was difficult for members; I struggled with the site and the cumulative impact of 3 wind farms surrounding a village and the harm to the coastal landscape, which I felt had not been adequately considered, all members supported a my motion for a deferment, which led to the eventual refusal, and which was subsequently upheld at appeal.

Conversely the second application for the 16-turbine Goole Fields wind farm was considered to be very well sited, being remote, windy, and a considerable distance away from residences, an excellent application for a large wind farm in an appropriate location. It was clear the applicant had worked very closely with the communities neighbouring the site, there were very few objections but not a significant number of supporters either. This application was fully supported by the Committee.

This was exactly the same with the nearby Twin Rivers application determined at a previous meeting, which I had also supported.

I find that when making decisions on wind farm applications it is always a question of balance. It may well be quite clear that a proposal is just plainly of such a size and scale to be unable to be incorporated within the surrounding landscape within the locality, but it can also be more subtle, the wind turbines may have a negative impact on the setting of a town such as we see here with Howden. More often it is that the location may not be quite right with the turbines being better located a couple of fields further away from residences to reduce the impact, or to take advantage of natural screening wherever possible, or in the case of the Airfield application being too close to Breighton aerodrome.
All this can be very difficult when the industry is being led by speculative developers who cannot always persuade the owners of the land most suitable for locating wind turbines to become involved.

4. Increasing numbers of wind turbines getting closer to residences

If one looks at the consented wind farms in the East Riding it is clear that the physical size of the turbines is generally increasing, but worryingly we are seeing more turbines planned to be built ever closer to properties. I would take you to four applications.

The Goole Fields application saw no properties within 750m and only 3 properties within 1,000m.

Withernwick then saw 5 properties within 1,000m and none within 750m, and 100m to tip turbines.

The Sixpennywood application then saw 5 properties within 1,000m but of which 2 properties were within 750m.

Then at Monkwith 12 properties within 1,000m, of which one was within 750m.
Of all the wind farm applications the Planning Committee has considered – I can’t recall any where we’ve seen so many properties so close to 126m high turbines as the Spaldington applications. In the case of the Airfield application 30 residences are within 1,000m and alarmingly 7 (if one includes Mount Pleasant) are within 750m - which is beyond what is reasonable. In the case of the Common application we see 19 within 1,000m and 16 within 750m and the closest being around 450m must on the face of it be unacceptable. Also the centre of the village is less than 1,200 away from the nearest turbines on each application.

Considering the two Spaldington applications together we see 49 properties within 1,000m of which 24 are within 750m, with the closest being within 450m. Quite simply this is too many properties, too close to some of the largest wind turbines in the country.

At some point a line in the sand has to be drawn when it comes to how close 126m turbines can be built to unaffected properties – for me both these applications have crossed over that line.

5. Motion to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Recalling the evidence of Miss Bolger, I do think the Council’s Interim Planning Document leaves a lot to be desired and that is why in my motion to the Full Council on 13th October 2010. I asked that the Council “undertake a review of its ’Interim Planning Document on Renewable Energy’, which could include minimum distance criteria between wind turbines and sensitive land uses such as residential dwellings, rights of way and roads”.

As part of the same motion I requested that the Council asked the Secretary of State to give urgent consideration to reviewing the government’s planning guidance on renewable energy as clarification is needed on national minimum distances between wind turbines and affected residences taking into account the size of the turbine.”

In his reply the Minister of State at the department of Energy and Climate Change, Charles Hendry MP says:

“There are no plans for the government to introduce a proximity rule. The assessment of an application to develop a wind farm already includes, amongst other things, an analysis of visual and landscape impacts to ascertain whether the location and height of the wind farm is acceptable”.

The minister also added;

“The Government considers that these impacts are best assessed on a case by case basis so that local factors can be taken fully into account, regardless of whether applications are dealt with at a national or local level. Where applications are dealt with at the local level, we believe that councils should have the opportunity to decide these matters on behalf of their local community”.

6. Miss Bolger’s Evidence

The Councils Interim Planning Document ‘Planning for renewable Development’ states in its Landscape Character Assessment type 5 - “there may be a greater capacity in this landscape character type to accommodate small scale wind farm development if appropriately located” – Clearly neither of these applications are small scale and are certainly not appropriately located. This is the real problem - there are much better sites within 4 miles that are infinitely preferable for smaller developments - being more remote from residences. In my opinion there is no reason whatsoever to locate 12 x 126m turbines within just 750m of domestic dwellings. I feel this does not fit within the Policies EN19 or EN73 in any way shape or form.

I share Miss Bolger’s concerns regarding the landscape character assessment being used in the Council’s Interim Planning Document, which of course was based on the much smaller generation wind turbines being considered at the time of publication.

Miss Bolger raised a very good example of the landscape around the Goole Fields and Twin Rivers wind farm sites which are clearly conducive to Windfarm developments - although in the Council’s assessment this area has landscape sensitivity more in keeping with that of a National Park, and less suitable than the area around Spaldington – clearly this isn’t the case. One is very open with few hedgerows or trees; the other has smaller fields with hedgerows, trees and associated wildlife. The former is able to accommodate the larger size and scale of a modern wind farm development; the latter is not.

This was my thinking when I was able to support the Goole Fields and Twin Rivers applications but not the ones here at Spaldington. What could be a clearer indication that the Council’s Planning Committee is not anti-wind farm, but rather more competent in understanding the local issues, and more reasonable in our decision-making then some would give us credit for?

7. Local support for and opposition to the Airfield and Common applications

There have been questions raised about levels of support for the wind farm applications.

As an elected ward Councillor representing Spaldington and the surrounding villages, I have had the opportunity to probably listen to more than most when it comes to resident’s attitude to these applications.

Whilst I acknowledge that local opposition in itself is not a good reason for refusing a scheme, I don’t ever recall receiving so many letters and emails asking me to reject a planning application, and we have all the surrounding Parish and Town Councils representing 13,755 local residents all objecting to these applications.

The ERYC Planning Committee had 395 letters of objection and 431 letters of support of the Airfield - but in the application for the Spaldington Common site we see 370 letters of objection but only 56 letters of support. Why is this? I wonder if it is anything to do with the agents for the Airfield applicants being more proactive in gathering letters of support from passers-by on the streets of places as far away Goole and beyond – One of the applicants was so proactive in Holme on Spalding Moor, that the Parish Council Clerk raised concerns about their aggressive actions in the village in an email to the Council as detailed in the STOP objection file appendix 15.

8. Impacts on Spaldington

Mr Stewart said the wider benefits outweigh any local environmental effects which have been identified. I take this with a very large pinch of salt, just like I did with his statement that golfers use wind turbines to gauge the wind direction, are we assuming from this that your amateur golfer will be able to gauge the wind direction and wind speed on a golf course using a turbine over a 1km away, at some 100m above the ground, and allow for any feathering into or out of the wind, or more importantly the wind speed at that height….. Perhaps not?

I would also like to pick up on Mr Stevenson’s comments regarding the residents of Spaldington being selfish when it comes to not wanting these wind turbines close to their village, and I for one found his comments a little repulsive, and statements such as ‘the residents are throwing the kitchen sink at this appeal’ are hardly helpful. I very much admire the residents for doing what they’ve done, it is to be commended not ridiculed, and if that’s perceived as throwing the kitchen sink at it then so be it – but it is nothing when compared to what either of the applicants have thrown at these applications.

9. Visual Impact

All the photomontages can show is a static picture when in reality we should be looking at a succession of movie clips, nothing is static (not including those many days that wind turbine blades don’t turn) what will the views be like if you walk through the village, or travel into the East Riding.

I also take issue with some of the viewpoints chosen by the applicants for the photomontages. What is perhaps more telling is that neither Mr Stevenson nor Mr Ingham has tried to produce photomontages from just outside residential properties that are known to be affected. E.g. The swallows, The lodge (even though Mr Stevenson suggested a planting scheme for this property), Fir Tree Stud, Cottage Farm etc.

Then we saw photomontages showing turbines behind trees when if taken a few meters to the left or right would have shown a true picture, or alternatively a stacking effect. I would certainly consider a 126m wind turbine within 450m of Avian Pastures to be somewhat of a ‘Holy Moley’ or a ‘show stopper’ and certainly in the ‘Red Zone’ as referred to by the Airfield advocate – I wonder why a photomontage was not produced from the viewpoint through the windows of this property.

10. Detrimental impact on Breighton Aerodrome

I have listened to almost all the evidence regarding the impact the Airfield application may have on Breighton Aerodrome, and I am somewhat surprised in the vast differences of opinion between the expert witnesses, and the fact that Mr Spaven seems to be very much at odds with the others.

It is abundantly clear that the Airfield Wind Farm presents an unacceptable threat to the safety of flights to and from Breighton Aerodrome. I am very concerned about inexperienced pilots being able to safely use the aerodrome from what I have heard and I am very concerned about pilots being able to safely fly vintage aircraft from there too.

Nothing that has been said by the developer’s representatives gives any assurance that the legitimate and serious safety concerns can be adequately mitigated. Tony Smith, who is vastly experienced in operating the aerodrome and in flying its vintage aircraft, said in his evidence that if the wind farm is built, it becomes a matter of when a serious or fatal accident occurs and not if.

It would be a serious loss to the area if Breighton Aerodrome, with its museum and its general aviation facilities were forced to close by the presence of the wind farm, whether as a result of the real safety issues or of reduced numbers of visiting aircraft, kept away by the perceived difficulty of operating so close to the turbines.

In his evidence Mr Spaven appeared to say that a 3 degree approach angle is not the norm and was ‘misleading’ and cited the example of Fife Aerodrome where the approach angle was 7 degrees, with this being a much more normal approach angle. This appears to be contradicted by Mr Spaven’s report he wrote in opposition to the Westfield Wind Farm, near Fife planning application*, where he clearly accepts the 3 degree approach calculations when clearing the turbine blade tips by only 200 feet.

Reading the content of Mr Spaven’s report, it would appear to be so contradictory to the evidence he provided to this inquiry so as cast serious doubts on its reliability and his credibility. (this is fully explained in the attached letter from Mr James Dalgliesh).

We have a saying up here in Yorkshire “you can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds” – I suspect Mr Spaven might just have been trying to do both.

11. Targets

During this appeal we have heard a great deal about targets, we could argue about the interpretation of the wording and the thrust in the Regional Spatial Strategy when it comes to approved or installed capacity for renewable energy. It is my opinion that the East Riding is already carrying more than its fair share of the region’s renewable energy targets in those applications that have been approved.

It is clear that the area has met the 2010 target and its 2021 target but having said that the capacity to accept more wind farms is not in question – it just comes down to size, scale and location. What is also clear is that particular areas could become saturated with the cumulative impact of the many turbines when all those already approved are built, creating in effect wind farm landscapes.

The Monkwith scheme being so close to the consented turbines at Roos, Burton Pidsea and Tedder Hill, would have crowded that part of Holderness with turbines if it had been allowed to proceed. Here in lies the problem that many of us have to grapple with - many wind farms have planning consent, but apart from Lisset and Out Newton none are yet built.

12. Noise

The starting point for noise impact is the 1997 ETSU Guidance, which is based on average background noise levels at residences likely to be affected by wind turbines. This is open to abuse by wind farm developers as it based on average background noise levels, which can be affected by a number of factors. These were clearly identified in the evidence provided by Mr Stigwood. It is acknowledged by many, including myself and alluded to by David Davis MP that this 1997 government guidance is out-dated and flawed.

It would appear that the Common site is going to have issues resulting in the wind farm not being able to operate at its full rated capacity because of noise, as well as restrictions as a result of shadow flicker.

I listened with interest to Mr Bennett and as a layman found serious issues with his credibility. When one considers both applications the Airfield application was preceded by that for a large anemometer mast which is still in situ.

The Common application did not and resulted in a very temporary mast, that was not as high as recommended, it was supposedly struck by lightning, had a rain gauge that was working but Mr Bennett was unsure as to what it was actually measuring, and a wind vane that became frozen and only recorded wind in one direction, then a wiring fault that appeared to repair itself, we heard evidence about Mr Bennett not explaining to residents why equipment was being installed or the criteria being used, locations chosen near sources of higher background noise, like a domestic sewage treatment plant. There is also anecdotal evidence that so called farming activities had taken place around the noise measuring equipment during the period of measurement – including constantly working the land in the vicinity of the noise measuring equipment – all this giving a higher than normal reading. He then intimated that residents tampered with the equipment.

Early in his evidence he quite clearly said, “When the wind is blowing from the east the village will hear the turbines from the Common and when the wind is blowing from the west the village will hear the turbines from the Airfield”.

He also stated that his wind vane evidence “leaves a lot to be desired”.

When it comes to the Common site, I have serious doubts regarding the validity of this noise evidence, from what I have heard I believe it is reasonable to conclude that the protection of residents from noise is reliant on faulty equipment and it’s positioning, which has led to inadequate or invalid results.

13. Summary

This appeal is not about wind power as a concept, it’s not about national policy, it’s not about targets - it is simply that these are not small wind farms “Can two wind farms of such size and scale with their out of character vertical structures fit into the existing landscape without a significant adverse effect, on this part of the countryside and those residents who choose to live in it?”

If either of these applications is approved it will result in the greatest number, of the largest turbines, built as close to any property not connected with an application, in the whole of the East Riding of Yorkshire. This is in my view a step too far. Wind farms yes, but of an appropriate size and scale and far enough away from communities and residences so as not to leave them swamped with the inescapable and repressive impacts of wind turbines.

The decision making has to be about what is reasonable and what is not. No resident is entitled to a view nor entitled to silence, but they are entitled to reasonableness and I hope you sir will share my opinion that neither of these wind farms, either singularly or cumulatively satisfy the test as to what is reasonable for significant numbers of Spaldington residents.

There will be no relief from wind turbines for Spaldington residents - whichever way they look they will see them, whichever way the wind blows they will hear them. Whichever way they drive into the village they will be there – an inescapable presence.

14. Finally….

I would like to draw the inspector to a phase we have heard a few times during this inquiry that of an inescapable impact on individual properties and the village in general if either of these applications are approved. This starts when people enter the East Riding from the south or the west as they are returning home, they will see the 68 already consented turbines in the south west quadrant of the 20km radius of Spaldington.

Imagine when all the wind turbines within that 20km of Spaldington are constructed and a resident is travelling back home by road, let’s say they’ve been away on holiday and they’re travelling back from any of the airports at Doncaster, Leeds Bradford, Manchester or East Midlands. They journey north along the M18 or east along the M62 and the first sign of approaching the East Riding is the beginning of what will be a wind farm landscape, the turbines showing the way home and drawing them in. Getting nearer they rise over the Ouse Bridge and see the turbines that surround their houses viewed over the minster, continuing past Howden towards Spaldington village the turbines loom larger and larger before turning at the water tower to drive through the Common wind farm with the Airfield wind farm in front of them… they return home to the overpowering inescapability of living far too close to any of the two wind farms.

I hope that you Sir will draw the same conclusions, and dismiss both of these wind farm applications.

Cllr Paul Robinson