Sunday, 2 March 2014

Jim and Sandra move to the countryside. A story of planning policy.

Jim was fed up. Fifty hours a week running the print and design business, endless repairs to a house he didn't really like and Sandra moaning on and on about her job and how she wants more time with the horse.

For the bloke looking in at them, thought Jim, it looks a great life. Big four-bed detached, Range Rover and enough cash to have a couple of decent holidays every year as well as eating out regularly and the occasional weekend break.

But Jim was fed up. Tired. And ready for a change.

That chance came when the two guys with the web design business called and offered silly money for the business. A few sums, a chat with the accountant and it looked like a deal. The buyers want to keep on Steve, he's three years from retirement so he's probably sorted. Looks like best part of a million quid once the value of the old mill building he'd bought for a song thirty years ago is factored in. The buyers probably want to convert it to trendy loft apartments.

What to do thought Jim as he headed to the King's Arms for a pint and a ponder.

In the pub there's the usual crowd and Jim parks himself on a stool in the main bar. Propped up at one end is a copy of the Sunday Telegraph and Jim has a quick flick through, not really reading much just absorbing the headlines. As he's doing this one headline leaps from the page:

MPs fight to save the National Parks from suburbanisation 

This strikes a chord for Jim. Not the politics but the idea of moving to the country. I'll look into that he says to himself. Maybe find an old barn or farmhouse to do up - would be a project and at the end a great place to live.

Once he's home Jim tells Sandra about his thoughts. She's thrilled, full of ideas and excited at the prospect (and a second horse). Jim does some research and finds out that the government is relaxing the rules on converting farm buildings by removing the need to get planning permission so long as certain conditions are met such as keeping the same footprint, height, design and materials as well as complying with rules on flooding, highways and so forth.

Jim sets to with looking for an opportunity - he's got two possible places in mind. One's a smallholding on Dartmoor where the farmer has finally had enough of 80 hour weeks, no holidays and an income less than the minimum wage. Getting half-a-million for the farm means he can retire - nice bungalow in Torquay and enough cash to provide an OK pension. The other's a ramshackle set of farm buildings near Honiton, not as nice a location (and a nicer price), where there's already a planning permission for a barn conversion.

Jim and Sandra want the Dartmoor place. It's the sort of place they like, they're not bothered about the isolation and it's not so far into Plymouth by car. With the new relaxed rules they can use the farmhouse (perhaps with a little extension to give another bedroom although this would still need planning permission) and build three good houses on the footprint of the barns, two to sell which should recoup much of the cost of buying the farm and a third for the kids when they visit.

Looks like a deal, thought Jim, we'll drive down on Saturday and make a good offer. But first it's a pint at the King's Arms.

Down the pub Jim is telling Clive the landlord about his plans, he'd be sorry to leave but no point in waiting too long - "I'd be too old then" jokes Jim.

Clive frowns, picks up the newspaper. "Looking at a national park are you? Maybe you should read this then."

Jim reads the piece Clive points to:

As reported in the Daily Telegraph, the Government is planning to exempt National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) from measures that would allow landowners to convert barns into up to three houses, without having to get planning permission.

Jim read it several times. The deal was off. No way was he taking the risk of buying the farm now, not if he might not get the permission to do what he wanted. Bad news for Joe, the farmer, who'll have to stay there longer or else take a lot less money. Joe won't get to retire, move to Torquay and live his life out in modest comfort.

Apparently having him (and a couple of other families) living up there isn't as sustainable as Joe staying on his uneconomic farm struggling to make a living. And him converting the place would 'change the character of the area irreversibly'. What nonsense thought Jim, what nonsense.

Still Dartmoor's loss is somewhere else in Devon's gain. The National Park has won its point, Joe, the farmer, is still struggling on trying (and mostly failing) to make a living and Jim with Sandra and the horse are spending their wealth in Honiton. And Dartmoor remains a place where only the rich can buy the few houses that come on the market, not the old farms needing conversion but the little cottages and already converted farms. The place is trapped in an environmental timewarp condemned to an unviable, unsustainable economic base because the advocates of viability and sustainability are plain stupid.


1 comment:

asquith said...

Not that it stops there, of course. Joe doesn't have any money because farming won't be making him any profit, in spite of all the subsidies he receives for farming land that produces little. And presumably these restrictions were brought in for environmental reasons, but those who've followed that rewilding "debate" will know to query the environmental value of Joe's farm.

Jim is used to hard work, he might enjoy the thought of planting and running a forest as a total change from his desk-bound activities. (let's go wild and imagine he gets some kind of subsidy as a reward for his stewardship of the land, at or somewhat less than what Joe was getting). And he might have been able to hire- even house- some Dartmoor youth who likes the thought of working with his hands, can't get a farm or a farm labourer's job, and for a series of obvious reasons doesn't want to be on the dole or leave the place he knows and loves.

But as you observe, none of this would be allowed to happen.