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January 2015 report

After a meeting when there seems little or nothing to report, one falls with glee upon the words of David Young, our District Councillor. At the end of a paragraph about how NNDC charges would increase by 2.5% – excluding carparks, market fees, beach huts and taxi licenses you’ll be relieved to hear – he slipped in a sentence about the extension of the Housing Incentive Scheme for another year. What’s that, you say? It is a scheme designed to encourage developers to get on and actually build the houses for which they have planning consent – at any one time nationally there are around 400,000 unused planning consents for house building, enough to keep them all busy for three or four years at the present rate of construction. The NNDC offer reduces the already minimal percentage that has to be devoted to ‘affordable’ housing to 20% for developments of ten or more units, and removes it completely where there only nine or less, if they use their consent and build within a year of granting.

This policy doesn’t affect Cley as no-one is allowed to build here anyway – though it could affect Blakeney. The recent development on the Langham Road was an excellent example of how the system should work and as such is probably the last of its kind. Because developments in villages tend to be small – often less than ten – this policy change could have meant no affordable new housing in rural areas for a year. There is worse to come.

Prior to the 2010 election the Tories received a number of sizeable donations from the house building industry which generosity has been repaid with interest by this government’s emasculation of the planning laws under the National Planning Policy Framework with its presumption in favour of development, undermining local needs and discretion. Now Pickles, the Minister for Communities and Local Government and a dead ringer for Humpty Dumpty’s evil twin, has slipped through a change that permanently removes the need for an ‘affordable’ element in smaller scale developments, much to the annoyance of many rural councils – many of them Conservative-controlled – that are battling to retain some sort of community in the face of a totally dysfunctional housing market.

The NPPF requires that developments be ‘sustainable’ without, so far as I can see, actually defining the word. The United Nations in Resolution 42/187 defined it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” which is wonderfully platitudinous but not particularly helpful. Any thought that it might include energy efficiency or sensitive use of materials can be swiftly dismissed. The only thing in this government’s view that is to be sustained is the developer’s profit margin – typically upwards of 20%. The big house building firms are adept at fiddling the figures to make any scheme seem unaffordable if the council persists in demanding ‘affordable’ housing, infrastructure contributions, or even a bit of green space. Councils lack the forensic skills to be able to counter these spivs.

Not that ‘affordable’ has any meaning either. For rentals the government defines it as 80% of market rate which is ludicrous as 80% of ‘far too much’ is still ‘too much’. In many of the more desirable parts of the country – like North Norfolk naturally – house prices are in the order of eleven times the local average wage. This makes it impossible for many people who were born and raised here, who work here and need to carry on living here, to afford to buy or even rent on the open market. With the ever dwindling supply of social rented property courtesy of that other Tory scam the “right to buy”, it is hard to see how communities can survive in any meaningful sense. Perhaps there will be a flurry of planning applications for servants’ quarters.

Councillor Young next touched on the wide range of new powers available under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2014. In particular Community Protection Notices which can be issued by a variety of people (he cited the NNDC Head of Environmental Services) to counter behaviour likely to frighten horses or cause maiden aunts to swoon. Infringement of these notices is an offence. The Act replaced ASBOs – often seen, at least by tabloid journalists, as the only qualification some kids were likely to get – with a slew of other potential offences. A bagful of TLAs (recursively ‘Three Letter Acronyms’) such as CPN, CPO. CPI, CBO, ETC are supposed to replace the ASBO making the whole process ‘simpler’. Another weasel word? Probably. CPNs will make it easier to deal with nuisance neighbours so may be welcomed by many, though some of the other provisions of the Act may have less positive effects on community life. I am not a lawyer – that much must be blindingly obvious – so would hope that our own Lord Macdonald, who is and who had some robust words to say on the subject in the House of Lords last year, could write a few lines in a future GVN. Please. A question arises: would poisoning mature trees in a conservation area come under the provisions of a Community Protection Notice?

After all the hassle with roads being dug up I am pleased to announce that ‘superfast’ broadband is here. Well it is if you live in the centre of Cley and have BT as your Internet Service Provider. Anybody else will have to wait another two to three months as BT Wholesale are not busting a gut to allow other ISPs into the exchange; a cunning plot worthy of Baldrick. But fast it is. My neighbour is getting 36Mbps download speeds (and 10Mbps uploads) which is a remarkable improvement. BT say we could get as much as 80-which-means-70-really if we were prepared to cough up the necessary small fortune. Cley joins the 21st century at last!

The short footpath between the George garden and ‘Riverside’ has been added to the definitive map of public rights of way. Something else for the Parish Council to look after, as is how to deal with the large step at the seaward end of the path. Chopping a lump out of it has been suggested but it is almost certainly made of reinforced concrete so that may not be so easy. Alternatively a step could be built? Any thoughts could be brought to the next meeting on Tuesday 3rd February 2015 at 7.30pm in the clubroom at the rear of the village hall.

Richard Kelham

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