Retired automotive engineering executive Ken Lloyd (75) has lived and worked all over the world. He moved to Nunney almost 17 years ago and has been on Nunney Parish Council for the past 8 years. Since his retirement from running major corporations he has been heavily involved in Nunney community work.
Chairman of the parish council, he has also served on the Nunney Community Association and village hall committee. Ken has raised over £100,000 for the Raise the Roof campaign for Nunney Church, despite not being a regular churchgoer himself. Last year he persuaded English Heritage to spend £20,000 on a new weir in the Nunney Brook to reduce flood risk and ensure the water supply to Nunney Castle’s moat.
We met him at his home in Horn Street ahead of a regular parish council meeting. It was Ken’s decision as chairman of the parish council to allocate time that evening for members of the local community to share their opinions on plans by Barratt Homes to build new housing in the village.
“We have nothing concrete to discuss. Barratt Homes has not submitted a planning application yet,” Ken points out. “But the last time villagers wanted to discuss housing we had a lot of agro because the topic was not on the agenda.”
Can you explain first of all what Nunney Parish Council is?
“Let me start by saying who are on the parish council,” Ken says. “The parish council is a group of 11 unpaid volunteers who get together every month to discuss things that affect the village.”
“Anyone can come along to those meetings, although only council members can speak at the meeting. That is to say, unless the chairman invites members of the public to speak and that can only happen if the topic is on the agenda. We have a parish clerk to assist us with the minutes and so on. Anyone can be a parish councillor, but they must be able to attend the meetings regularly and find time to read lots of documents before meetings.”
“We don’t have many powers and we only have a tiny budget. But we are responsible for certain assets in the village. For example, Russells Field – the field that the village hall is on – is a parish council responsibility. The parish have some allotments there that we manage and a children’s play area.”
“The village hall committee is a charity set up by the parish council years ago to run the village hall. They lease the land that the village hall is on from the parish council. Because this is a charity set up by the parish council, a councillor must be on the committee. Actually, Russells Field is technically run by a charity too, of which I am a trustee.”
“The Nunney Community Association is another charity set up by the parish council a long time ago to organise community events. They organise Nunney Street Fayre, the Easter Sunday duck race and lots of other events that raise money for the playground and other facilities in the community. The parish council doesn’t have much money, so these events make a real difference to the local community in more ways than one,” he adds.
“The parish council is also responsible for the burial ground between Berry Hill and Ridgeway. Our responsibility for streets in Nunney covers things like grit bins and street signs, but if there are bigger issues we notify Mendip District Council. When it comes to traffic calming measures, we can draw it to County Highways’ attention but we are not responsible. The parish council is not responsible for the river either.”
When did Nunney Parish Council start to discuss current housing plans?
Ken shuffles through a pile of papers and produces an email from 2008. “Here it is,” he says. “The parish council did a survey in June 2008 sent round to every parishioner asking what were the most important things they wanted to see in the village; what they would like to see and what they would not like to see. As I said, we have a very limited budget and we need to know what to focus on.”
“We received 111 completed surveys back, with over 1200 comments. We had a public meeting in the village hall to collect information and we also did an exhibition outside the post office at Nunney Fayre in 2008 to share the results of the survey. The three most important things villagers wanted were:
- affordable housing for villagers, but careful control of developments
- recreational facilities for all ages, particularly a recreation ground
- control of traffic through the village and protection for pedestrians, especially children
The last two are closely related, because people living by the school didn’t feel it was safe for their children to walk all the way to the playground by the village hall. That is also one of the main reasons why the school takes children on visits to the church and castle less often than it used to. I was a governor of Nunney First School for years. We did eventually get a minibus, but that seats 14 – hardly an alternative to walking down the road with 70 children. Anyway, so we tried to find ways to create a new play area on the other side of the village.”
What is the parish council’s role in planning?
“We are the first to be consulted on any planning application,” Ken explains. “We can comment, support, object or draw attention to possible problems. But Mendip District Council can overrule us. We are not a planning authority – Mendip is. We can ask for certain conditions to be set or for modifications to proposals. We can also negotiate financial contributions to the community, for example where a development impacts on existing infrastructure.”
“One example where our local knowledge was overruled was when Pookfield Close was built. The council and local villagers warned the developer that the area was prone to flooding at certain points, but they built them there anyway.”
“We’ve got to solve flooding problems,” he adds. “The whole area around Pookfield Close and Glebelands consists of clay on top of rock. That’s why you get flooding. It’s the same at Berry Hill. At times there were two and a half inches of water on Glebelands recently. So the parish council will negotiate hard to have that resolved.”
Would any further development at the top of the village not risk splitting Nunney in two?
“I hate talk about the top and bottom end of the village,” Ken interjects. “We’re all in the same village. We have one village hall, one village shop, one church and one pub. I like to think that everyone thinks of themselves as living in Nunney.”
“When the Flowerfield Estate was built in the Fifties it almost doubled the size of the village. People said it would split the village and bring in too many newcomers. Now we have examples of people who have lived on the estate for 50 years and in some cases for four generations. They are very much part of Nunney.”
Will it be any different if Barratt Homes does get permission to build new houses?
“Yes, it will be. Social housing used to go to those most in need. They didn’t have to be from Nunney, but could live anywhere,” he explains. “So most of the new social housing added in Nunney since the Fifties was built for Mendip’s needs, not for what Nunney needed. As a result there were lots of newcomers.”
“The difference now is that the law has changed. This time priority must be given to villagers and anyone with a clear link to Nunney. They will be contacted and asked to apply first. It’s the law, as was confirmed to me by Mendip’s Housing Development Officer,” Ken emphasises.
“And I’d like to go back to what villagers said in the original survey. They wanted affordable housing for local people, but with careful control over other developments.”
“The parish council did a proper survey specifically on housing needs as a follow-up. We knocked on all the doors and found seven families in total who were prepared to write in to ask for affordable housing.”
“They also insisted that any future developments outside the towns had to be in viable communities; that means that you have to have a shop, a pub, a school, a bus service, a post office etc. The reason for that is that people who live in social housing are often less likely to use a car to get to such facilities elsewhere, for example because they are elderly or disabled. So you want to build where those facilities still exist locally.”
He produces another piece of paper, this time with a map of the village.
“This is from Mendip’s 2011 plan for future housing,” Ken says. “It shows what Mendip had established at the time were the options for any further housing development in the village. The only two realistic options were to the East of Catch Road, past the school on the left as you go towards Nunney Catch. Any housing there would stick out into the countryside, however, and was therefore less likely to get planning permission. The only other option was the site between Green Pits Lane, Glebelands and the Nunney Catch transport café.”
“Actually, there was a third option right at the top of Castle Hill, with the field on the other side of the road from South West Marquees. It is similar in the sense that it is enclosed by roads on all sides. But that is right outside the village although officially still within the Nunney boundaries.”
“Mendip’s planning people are very keen that any development fits within what it calls ‘the village envelope’ – that it doesn’t stick out. The site at Green Pits Lane is enclosed by existing roads and more of a natural extension of the existing housing development. So that’s been earmarked for development by Mendip since 2011.”
How come many say they had no idea of plans to build more houses?
Ken Lloyd scratches his head and says, “Traditionally, people take no notice of Nunney Parish Council unless it affects them personally. It’s human nature. I think the reason why people don’t remember getting any of these surveys is because they didn’t need social housing or a play area themselves at the time.”
He goes through his papers again and produces several sheets of papers this time. “Look,” he says. “These are the minutes of the Annual Parish Council Meetings of 2012 and 2013.”
The Annual Parish Council Meeting is a special meeting held every year to which all villagers are invited by a note through their door. It is an opportunity for the parish council to tell villagers about its activities. Although all parish council meetings are open to the public, these meetings are informal opportunities to interact with local residents.
“You see the same themes over and over,” Ken points out. “In 2012 the parish council focused on monitoring traffic at Glebelands. We were also negotiating ways to keep the village post office open. That doesn’t come out of the blue; we knew that villagers wanted us to do something about traffic speeding through the village, because they had told us. We also knew that Mendip was less likely to approve new social housing if we didn’t have a post office. It’s all related.”
Why were the people who live on Glebelands not consulted?
He frowns. “Consulted about what?” he says. “The parish council has talked about social housing since 2008. Mendip – not us – earmarked the field opposite Glebelands for future development in 2011. We talked about plans for new housing in the annual meetings as well as in the regular monthly parish council meetings that are open to the public.”
“The parish council has been very proactive on the new housing issue. Deputy chairman Jeremy Gaunt and I attended meetings with the diocese on possible new housing development in Nunney as soon as plans to build became more serious. That was in January last year. Talk then was of 54 possible new homes in Nunney. The diocese manages the land on behalf of the church, which owns the fields we’re talking about.”
“Mendip then came up with 54 houses, more than we wanted. That came as a surprise, but they were responding to their needs and not just to those of Nunney villagers. Clearly 54 houses including 30% affordable homes is still less than the figure of up to 100 new homes Barratt Homes proposes. The parish council only wanted seven new affordable homes, based on the seven local families who came forward when we did our survey. Based on the 30% rule that would mean no more than 23 or 24 houses in total.”
“As soon as we learned about Mendip’s plans for 54 homes, I wrote a piece in a newsletter that was put through every door in the village about plans to build new houses. Quite a few people turned up at the next parish council meeting wanting to discuss the plans. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on the parish council agenda for that particular meeting and so we couldn’t discuss it. The law says that the parish council can only discuss things if they are on the agenda, which must be published at least seven days in advance. But people were given time before the meeting to discuss new housing with parish council members.”
But now we’re talking about almost double the number of potential new homes?
“Yes, but I see that as Barratt Homes taking advantage of the opportunity,” Ken says. “The parish council wanted 23 new homes and Mendip said 54. That suggestion in Mendip’s Local Plan was rejected by the government as falling far short of the number of houses needed in the region. Because Mendip has not yet adopted a new Local Plan, under the National Plan any new development can only be rejected if it would clearly be detrimental to the village.”
“The number of up to 100 new homes is purely a theoretical number based on Mendip’s lowest housing density of 30 houses per hectare. The field is 3.5 hectares. That doesn’t mean that Barratt’s will actually apply to build 100 new homes. The infrastructure may not support that many. It’s expensive to submit a detailed planning application and they won’t want to risk getting it rejected,” he suggests.
“Let’s be clear: no planning application has been submitted and therefore the parish council has no concrete proposals to discuss. But we have always said that the village only needs around 24 new houses, including social housing. Mendip came up with double that figure. A planning application for up to 100 houses is four times what the parish council survey indicated that the village needed. Even 54 houses would give us more social housing than we need.”
“In meetings with the diocese, Mendip’s Housing Development Officer and others we discussed how we could get new social housing for villagers. Last summer the diocese started talks with five developers based on those talks. Three developers decided to take part in the tender process. The tender is the bidding for the option to build, but doesn’t include a specific number of houses a developer plans to build. Nunney Parish Council was not involved in the tender process. The first I heard that the diocese had decided on a suitable developer was when I had a call on Christmas Eve.”
“I was told between Christmas and the New Year that the diocese had given Barratt Homes the option to build, subject to planning permission. That was the first time their name had been mentioned to anyone on the parish council. I immediately started putting in lots of calls and emails to Barratt’s to get more information.”
“We expected Glebelands residents to be the most interested, because any new development would be right on their doorstep. So as soon as the parish council got notice that someone was actually planning to build we asked Barratt’s to come and tell us and local residents about their plans in a special parish council meeting.”
“Such an extraordinary meeting can only be held if we give all members of the parish council at least seven days notice in writing. We then have to establish that at least the minimum number of parish councillors legally required can attend – the so-called ‘quorum’. Once we knew that we could hold a meeting, we immediately started putting invitations through doors around the proposed building site. There is no legal requirement for the parish council to hold such a meeting, but we felt it was the right thing to do.”
“We also advised Barratt’s to do an exhibition in church of their proposals, open till late for people coming home from work. We didn’t have time to leaflet the whole village, but Barratt’s paid for people to distribute invitations. We had no control over that, but whenever parish council members do it ourselves we always make very sure not to miss any houses.”
Is there anything the parish council can do to improve communications with the village?
“Well, perhaps,” Ken says with a sigh. “Maybe the parish council needs to spend money on a monthly or quarterly newsletter to be put through everyone’s door. It would be expensive and we have a small budget. But it’s important.”
“We even discussed taking over the church newsletter, Postlebury News, but that goes to other villages as well. The parish council can’t spend money on people who don’t live here.”
“I find it striking that people in some parts of the village simply don’t seem to talk to each other,” he adds. “Aside from only taking notice if something affects them personally, I find it staggering that people can live here for years and still be surprised we have a parish council, don’t know what the community association does or wonder if we ever do a panto in the village.”
“The parish council and the community association knock on doors, but sometimes people are out or they don’t want to talk to us. We put information through the door, but people say they never received it. Not everyone gets the parish newsletter or Frome Standard, and not everyone knows the parish council has a number of notice boards with minutes, agendas and contact details. Perhaps we need more or bigger boards.”
“We do use Facebook and the internet quite a lot these days. As well as on Visit Nunney anything to do with the parish council is available to anyone on Nunney.org, the official website run by the parish council. But not everyone is on the internet. Let’s say that the parish council is open to any suggestions.”
Doesn’t the parish council get money if the development goes ahead?
“Under Section 106 benefits to the local community must be negotiated between the developer and the parish council. This includes mitigating the impact of any new development on the existing infrastructure of the village – the school, drains, sewers, village hall, church and such.”
“Normally, the parish council cannot negotiate these things with the developer until a planning application has been submitted. But Barratt’s could volunteer to start negotations so that these things are sorted out before the application goes in. Mendip could even make it a condition to negotiate any payments under Section 106 first.”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
He takes time to consider before adding, “The villagers on Nunney Parish Council don’t put in all the hours for their own good. They do it because they feel it’s their civic duty. The parish council only has a tiny budget and hardly any power. But we can influence what happens in the village a bit.”
“I like to think that Nunney Parish Council has done well for the village over the years. Without the parish council there would be no village hall, no Nunney Community Association and thus no Nunney Street Fayre.”
“Without the houses that were built in the Fifties and Sixties, Nunney First School would have closed. Pubs, shops, schools and post offices are closing or have already closed everywhere else. Once you lose it, you can’t get it back. Mendip will only allow new houses to be build where there is a school, for example.”
“Nunney is a great village, but we need young people to stay here or to move into the village. Without that, the village we all know and love would face a slow and lingering death. I hope we can all work together as a community to try and avoid that.”