The April PC meeting, the last in this four year term, kicked off with a record number of 8 planning applications to consider, and these were almost uncannily representative of the issues and challenges facing the village.
Three were for house extensions, unexceptional in themselves, and each neutrally supported by us because none of them would affect their neighbours or be in any way controversial, but collectively they represent a worrying trend. Since January 2014 there have been 39 house enlargements, adding on average a bedroom apiece, all (with one exception) have been approved. During the same period, there have been 10 barn conversions, of which only two offered smaller or rented houses, and no new homes at all except for the flat above the workshop on the old coal yard. The result of this trend is that as houses are gradually becoming bigger and less affordable, the availability of small houses is shrinking all the time.
Another application was for one sixth of a large new agricultural building on the ridge between Bailey’s and Lower Huntham Farms. The reason that applications for these buildings come in piecemeal is that there is a threshold of ground area above which the cost of putting in an application rises sharply. Because of this quirk in the planning process farmers habitually divide every application into as many parts as will stay below the threshold, and submit them separately. This seems daft, confuses the issue and causes more work for everyone —applicant, PC and, presumably Planning itself— but it is one of many ways in which the planning process is far less than perfect. The application was approved on a majority vote, with a request that the building be screened with trees and preferably lowered.
Another application was a reapplication of an earlier plan to convert the Malt Barn at Meare Green Farm into a wedding ceremony venue, with a separate access across the field which was a response to Highways objections to the earlier application. This was a very difficult one to unpick. There was major public opposition to the original application because reference had been made to the option of holding large wedding receptions in marquees, alongside the ceremonies in the barn which seats only about 50. Although the current application makes no reference to marquees (which would not in themselves require planning permission), the suspicion lingered that this remained the underlying intention, and that approving the change of use would have the knock-on effect of opening the door to frequent noisy gatherings. By a majority vote the PC agreed to oppose the application.
Probably the most significant application was for a change of use for the Village Stores. The PC approved this unanimously, with the comment: We fully support this application because while the village will miss the shop, which the applicants have run in a very dedicated manner since 2011, we understand that it has proved impossible to sell it as a going concern, and we see the best interests of the village as being served by a community shop in a different building.
It is a disappointment that there were insufficient candidates to trigger an election for the new PC. All of the current members except for Glynn are remaining, but no new names came forward. This means that we will be looking to fill one vacancy, which we will advertise after the May meeting. If you would like to help breathe fresh life into the new parish council, please step forward.
From May onwards we will also have a new Parish Clerk. We are extremely grateful to Becky, who steps down at the end of April, having done an excellent job for the last seven years. There were three very good candidates to replace Becky and we appreciate the trouble taken by all of them, but from the beginning of May we look forward to working with our new parish clerk, Kelly de Silva. (The clerk email address will remain the same.)
While there will be no PC election, there will still be District Council elections on 2nd May, and all four candidates for our ward will be speaking at the Annual Parish Meeting on April 16. Please join us to hear what they have to say, as well as hearing about the state of play of all the major village organisations and ongoing issues. The drinks and nibbles afterwards are on us.
There was an incident on the Athelney level crossing on 22 March, where several cars followed a tractor and trailer over the crossing, then had to stop when the tractor met another coming the other way. At that point the gates came down and the rearmost car had to take evasive action to avoid a train. Of course the tractor traffic in Curload and Stanmoor Rd was uncomfortably high at that time, but the real moral of this spine-chilling incident is that you should never enter a level crossing until your exit is clear.
You may have noticed that the beautiful new Huntham signpost opposite Meare Green Farm has already been broken off. The intention was for this to be fitted in such a way that if would turn rather than break when hit, but for whatever reason, that appears not to have worked. The replacement cost will run to a couple of hundred pounds, and it would be really nice if whoever inadvertently hit the sign could let us know, rather than leave the parish to foot the bill.
This is likely to be the last monthly PC report I ever write, so, if you have been, thanks for reading!