Turbine debacle exposes council

Thursday 9th February 2017 4:23 pm

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Sylvia Grahamslaw, of Kings Close, Sherford, Kingsbridge, writes:

Failures, bias and arrogance led to the Frogmore wind ­turbine application being called in by the secretary of state. It might help if some further explanation was provided, as some very important principles are at stake here.

The failure by Frogmore and Sherford Parish Council to ­represent the expressed and informed views of the community, planning officers and statutory bodies resulted in the recommendation to support the application. This failure led directly to the referral of the application to South Hams Council’s development ­management committee.

The arrogance and prejudice shown by some members of the DMC – in particular farmers and members of minority ­political parties with their own narrow-minded agendas – was truly breathtaking, and with our then district councillor representing ‘the silent majority’, who apparently did not object to the application, all ultimately led to the DMC’s close vote to approve the application.

When interviewed for BBC Spotlight, DMC chairman Cllr Steer and a local farmer justified the DMC decision because of the need for green, clean, effective energy and helping our dairy farmers reduce costs. All very laudable, but they are personal views, so what about his committee’s responsibility to uphold the law?

Following the secretary of state’s decision, in regard to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a degree of humility might have been more appropriate, or indeed some form of concession that the DMC had simply got it wrong and would learn a lesson.

For many, this case has ­damaged public confidence in local government and the leader of the council should seriously consider some changes – ie improvements – to restore some confidence and objectivity. For example, councillors on the DMC from the farming community should always declare a personal interest if any application has implications for that community.

We already know that the DMC chairman, vice-chairman and other councillors are farmers, which some already regard as unhealthy in the circumstances of this case. The council leader might also like to consider replacing them on the DMC, which supported this application, as they were directly responsible for wasting many tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

Personally, and in the ­interests of both openness and providing a better record, I also believe the minutes of both parish and district council ­meetings should name who voted for or against any ­proposal and their reasons. Some of the frankly ludicrous justifications were laughable.

This judgement has implications for many future planning applications nationwide, where district councils will now have to show more respect for their legal obligations. There was no moral imperative in this case, with no justification for DMC councillors to ignore those obligations, or the views of the majority, while selectively promoting their own.

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