Saturday, 21st August 2004
Where Barbara has cleared out the poppy seedheads to plant autumn-flowering pansies, a pair of dunnocks hop around and around, thoroughly probing the freshly exposed soil.
On the patio behind a pot of flowers a wood mouse pauses, showing white underparts, its large eyes and prominent ears (ears aren't so prominent in voles). Those white underparts make it look as if it's wearing sports gear and trainers, as well it might because it scoots off at a fast pace to explore vegetation at the corner of the patio.
Hell or High Water
I've written dozens of letters of objection over the past ten or fifteen years about this short stretch of footpath at the entrance to Coxley Valley. My latest, sent a couple of days ago, gets a prompt and fair reply from The Planning Inspectorate. My point was that the developer's interpretation of levels seems to have been taken as the ultimate authority in deciding whether a footpath diversion should, or should not, go ahead.
I know what you're going to say: who else is going to have a set of levels? But, as I see it, a lot depends on accurate levels when there's a flood risk.
'With regard to the footpath appeal,' the Inspectorate's Quality Assurance Unit informs me, 'the Inspector determined it in good faith on the evidence presented . . . In view of your concern I have sent a copy of your letter to . . . (the) Government Office for Yorkshire and the Humber'.
Outline planning permission for 18 houses on the adjoining meadow was
given as the result of a public enquiry in December 1999. Since then we've
had the floods of November 2000 but there doesn't seem to be a way of
reviewing the Planning Inspector's decision in the light of these new
floods. Previous episodes of flooding were considered in 1999 but I think
it took the 2000 floods to underline just how serious they can be. Detailed
site levels, accurate or otherwise, weren't available when reserved matters
for the site were approved by Wakefield Council in the spring of 2001.
'Yes' means 'Yes', 'No' means 'Perhaps Later'
Out of 4 public enquiries (organised by the Planning Inspectorate) connected with this development, 3 have rejected the developer's proposals but the rule seems to be that if a decision goes against a developer that decision stands for just as long as it takes the developer to get back with fresh plans but if a decision is made in favour of development that decision remains true come hell or high water.
In addition to the high waters there have been some devilishly strange goings on. The decision was made at a troubled time for the council: the leader of the council had been questioned by the police during the preceding months and, although in the end he didn't resign and no charges were ever brought against him, the news made it hard for me to know who to trust at the time.
In an unrelated enquiry, detectives, so the then head of planning told
me, thoroughly investigated the file on this particular planning application.
There were evidently some questions hanging over it but no action was
taken and there was absolutely no evidence of anything illegal going on.
Meadow, Grove and Stream
Wakefield's planning department promised me that they'd look into the disappearance from their files of a 24 page report, illustrated with watercolours, photographs and diagrams, that I had compiled but when I rang a month or two later to see what progress they'd made the planning officer investigating its loss said he'd been busy with more important matters. Heck, that was my report - what could be more important?!
The developer saw the report though, a long time before it disappeared; when I met him on the bridge over Coxley Beck one day and introduced myself he immediately knew who I was, which surprised me, and he told me that a pal of his had showed him my report with this comment: 'Here, look at this Neil; this is pretty isn't it?' I thought he was bluffing. I certainly didn't believe any planning officer would speak in such cynically mocking terms about my report!
Hmmm, but then I had started the report with a quote from Wordsworth:
You could see that sort of thing wouldn't go down too well with a hard bitten planning officer! If indeed the developer ever really had such a pal.
So What Next?
As I understand it, staff, including the planning officer in charge of the original application and the head of planning at that time have now moved on and it might be wise to reconsider this decision, particularly in relation to the flooding four years ago which wasn't taken into account at the enquiry five years ago.
I still think that quote from Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood sums up exactly what this sorry saga means to me. I've known the place since childhood and, although I accept there's nothing illegal about the way I've been treated - the odd lost document, the legal threats made against me, the assessment of my natural history records as 'unbelievable' - none of that is actually illegal, it all comes under the rubric 'a full and careful consideration of all the issues'. And that's what the planning process is all about, isn't it?
I do feel Wordsworth's intimations of lost innocence when I think 'the glory and the freshness of a dream' that this beautiful entrance to Coxley Valley once had for me. Today the legal process of the 'Coxley Dell' development haunts me as a stale and tawdry nightmare.
Richard Bell, firstname.lastname@example.org