I think that most people know by now that John Chalmers, our Chair until March 2015 died in early December. The aims of the South Hams Society were most dear to him, supporting the principles of good planning, public consultation, good quality housing, jobs and decent affordable homes for local people and a respect, enhancement and protection of the food, agricultural and fishing industry. John felt that these principles were being steadily eroded as District Councils the country over were being starved of funding whilst having evermore demands made by central government. It seems these things have gone downhill since the reorganisation in 1972 when Urban District Councils were answerable to their locality not to a political party (see Pippa Woods’ tribute, below).
John planned to put his sharp intellect to work helping (or nudging) the District Council to get the Local Plan up and running using aims and objectives that resulted from genuine local opinion and which form the basis of legal protection against ill considered planning and the bullying tactics of corporate builders.
Sadly John suffered from a series of minor ills before being diagnosed with a fast growing tumour on his spine and he died shortly afterwards. As can happen when any group has a very capable leader who seems to do everything, people do not come forward to volunteer their skills and time ’till it is too late, or nearly too late. We have reached that position.
The Society has a small functioning committee which conforms to statutory requirements, but we have no active committee members to take the Society forward. I accepted the Chair for a year hoping to reverse that situation, but as John’s partner found instead that my time was taken up with all the requirements of the last months of his life.
I do apologise for the long gap between bulletins. John was editing the November edition when he died. Unfortunately he must have changed the password to his computer. I have not been able to open it, so if there are any articles that people have contributed that are not included please don’t be offended but forward them for the next time.
I had hoped during my year as Chair to put much more focus on local food, farming and fishing. With wonderful agricultural land and surrounded by sea, why are we importing around 46% of our food? We know our animal welfare standards are some of the highest in the world, and the majority of cattle are out to pasture for the best part of the year. Our arable land is productive, and there are wonderful initiatives to farm in ways that increases biodiversity. Of course we need imports. Who would be without oranges, bananas, pineapples? But do we need to import yoghurt, meat, large quantities of cereal? Future bulletin editions will celebrate local family farms, the crabbing industry, and the ways these lovely foods reach the shops and our tables. And all without a high carbon footprint.
I realise this is a fairly upbeat Chair’s message, but the fact is, without new active members joining the committee, this Society may have to fold. I am due to step down at the AGM on 25th of this month. It grieves us to admit defeat, especially as all the work John had done is beginning to pay off. We have much better relations with the District Council, (see the notes on meeting with Steve Jorden, Chief Executive of SHDC on our website), more people are aware that they can influence decisions and contact the Society for help and advice. But we just do not have the resources to handlethisortomoveforwardininfluencingand strengthening the necessary legislation that would give Localism some meaning.
I hope members realize how lucky we were when John Chalmers agreed to take the chair, and also to virtually run, the South Hams Society. We have many functions and activities in our attempt to keep the South Hams a happy place in which to live. Perhaps the most critical factor is the development planning – we do our very best to see that this is done sensibly – sometimes a very difficult task.
Planning has just got more and more complicated. Governments, of whatever party, keep saying that they want local populations to be involved, to take part in the planning process. While at the same time they make it ever more complicated.
Back in “the good old days” before local government reorganization, Devon County Council planned the County. We, here in the heart of the South Hams, were in Kingsbridge Rural District Council. We had a Planning Officer who was an architect and all planning applications went first to him. On a Wednesday once a month, I would trot along to the Manor House in Kingsbridge (now bulldozed) and listen to an intelligent discussion, by the whole council, of the month’s planning applications.
As the area covered was relatively small, nearly all present, councillors and officials, usually knew the place being discussed. After a yes or no vote, the result was passed to the Divisional Planning Officer in Plympton. If we, the South Hams Society, were not happy with the decision we could contact this official, who was friendly, and further debate could take place if he agreed with us that the decision was not sound.
In those days the County Development Plan, organised by the County Planning Officer, was the guidance by which decisions were usually made.
It was a fairly simple, but inclusive, document, whose creation was well publicized and well debated. It was reasonably well adhered to.
However all is now changed. A much larger District Council controls planning, according to diktats from Central government. Acronyms proliferate, as, indeed, do policies. Timetables for public participation are laid out. Targets for growth are set. Can anyone name the person who sets them? (The Devon County Planning Officer was a local public figure, known to all who were interested in planning.)
Procedures for public consultation, for various stages, are set up, and it may indeed take place, but as meetings often relate to the next twenty years, and seem theoretical, there is often very little public interest. The Councils responsible appear to have no sense of urgency and there may be no reporting of what discussions take place or conclusions result.
Enter John Chalmers into this apparent chaos. He took it on, found out how it all worked – or didn’t work – struggled manfully to remember the meaning of all the acronyms, talked to planners, attended meetings and reported it all back to the committee.
I think he deserves a medal – I hope all members agree.
Over the last decade or two, many people have become quite rightly, more concerned about the origins of the food they feed to themselves and their families. I think this is in part a response to the increasingly opaque and un-traceable food system and most certainly further fuelled by the occasional terrifying food scandal, whether it be horses in your lasagne, E coli in your bean sprouts or melamine in your milk.
Alongside health worries, there are legitimate ethical and environmental concerns with the food we put on our plates and a consequent rise of “certification” stamps that attempt to allay fears and inform choices.
Some of these accreditations are largely meaningless- the little red tractor, for instance, says little more than “no laws were broken making this food”. Others, like Fair trade, Organic or Pasture-fed have more weight to them for their particular issues of concern but, as a food producer (and consumer), I believe these labels should only be the starting point in how we make our food purchasing decisions.
There are good organic farmers and there are bad organic farmers just as there are good and bad conventional farmers. The only way to be sure what you are buying is to the standards you personally demand is to make it your business to know the farm yourself. To this end, it is up to us farmers to be more accessible to the people who buy our food. The days of hiding away behind thick hedgebanks, getting on with our own business in blessed privacy should be constrained to the past if we wish to take part in building a traceable and accountable food system.
The label of “local” demands particular scrutiny. Within a twenty mile radius of your house there is probably a shining light in the future of ethical, quality food production but there is just as likely to be a farming or food business on the brink of prosecution. The point is that being “local” in itself
is not a stamp of approval.
The beauty of a local producer or retailer is that they are close enough for you to pay a visit, have a look and ask some pertinent questions. Any farmer, fisherman, butcher, baker, brewer, pie- maker, cheese maker, restaurateur or chef that isn’t willing to answer your questions and address your concerns is probably someone you should be wary of buying from.
Here in the South Hams we are fortunate that there are many different producers to choose from and between them they can cater for all our food needs (and most of our wants!). The important thing is that we make our choices to encourage the type of producer we wish to see more of.
As someone very wise once said, “Eating is an agricultural act”. Whether you are a food retailer or just someone who eats food, the purchasing choices you make dictate how the land and sea around you is managed. Choose wisely.
Tim Green, Village Farm
Rebecca and Tim farm organic mutton at East Portlemouth. You can contact them at thevillagefarm.co.uk
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THOMAS COBLEY
Regular readers of the Bulletin may remember an earlier article, in August 2012, about one Thomas Cobley who was born in the parish of Dodbrooke (now part of Kingsbridge) in 1762 and became Governor General of Odessa during a distinguished career in the Russian Army.
The article came about because of a portrait of Thomas Cobley, reposing in the house of a friend of a friend in Guernsey. The guardian of the portrait although not directly related to the family was curious enough to have researched various facts about Cobley’s life. It seems that his father was the Rector of Dodbrooke, and was killed at the age of 40 due to a sounding board falling on his head in church while he was preaching. Thomas was aged two at the time, and his mother was expecting another child to add to the family of four girls and three boys.
However Thomas’s eldest sister Elizabeth had married well, to a James Partridge who was a well- to-do merchant in Leghorn (Livorno) and she and her husband promptly volunteered to bring up three of the younger Cobley children including Thomas. So it seems that he left Devon at an early age and spent his formative years in Livorno with thePartridges.
His younger sister Harriet was also in Livorno by 1780, and in 1785 married a naval captain, Nikolai Mordvinov (who has his own place in Russian history). Thomas was keen to make his way in the Russian army and Mordvinov was able to secure him a commission, setting him on the path to his eventual destination of Odessa.For some time now, there have been efforts to arrange the transport of Thomas Cobley’s portrait from Guernsey to the Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum, as the owner has kindly agreed to donate it. The portrait is a copy of a painting in the Odessa Museum, and was commissioned by Cobley’s great-nephew John de Haviland. Just as plans were being concluded, by sheer coincidence, I received an email from Galina Korotkova of Odessa. She had found my name attached to the original article about Thomas Cobley, and contacted me for any other details about him as there is a project to make a film about his life and rescue his reputation from undeserved obscurity!
So the story continues: the film research is going on and the Guernsey portrait is now safely in the Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum, awaiting some minor restoration and a new frame. Meanwhile a copy of the Odessa portrait concludes the current developments.