Most people, hearing the words 'Parish Council', will probably think of The Vicar of Dibley, and they won't be far wrong. There's something pleasingly reminiscent of Dad's Army and other quaint sitcoms about the workings of the average English Parish Council.
The charmingly amateur approach to local matters demonstrated by so many Parish Councils can easily be subverted by determined individuals. Which is what has happened in the Lenchwick region.
It is fairly standard practice for a Parish Council to organise a Working Party to investigate and report on various issues. It saves time, having a small group looking into an issue and feeding back to the Council, and there is no need to minutes to be taken. But it is unusual for such a Working Party to demand upfront payments from several Parish Councils for it to carry out its duties.
Where the Windfarm Working Party is concerned, those duties have shifted somewhat. To begin with, the Working Party was sold to the participating Parish Councils as a group tasked with gathering and sharing information both in favour of and against wind farms. This information would help the various Parish Councils prepare for the arrival of the planning application. Their questions would be answered.
That did not happen. The WWP had only been in existence for a few weeks, and was not yet fully funded, when it got into bed with the protest group VVASP.
This came as no surprise to some. Church Lench Parish Council (which established the Windfarm Working Party) was nimby through-and-through. The thugs of VVASP had disrupted so many Parish Council meetings that the real councillors resigned, making way for a Parish Council composed entirely of demented anti-wind farm nincompoops. As one resident remarked, Church Lench now had a 'single-issue parish council'.
In the summer of 2009, the WWP agreed to share VVASP's workload. It granted VVASP the sole right to 'educate' the public on windfarm matters (which was pretty daft, given VVASP's propensity for telling fibs) and offered to concentrate on the noise issues related to the proposed windfarm while VVASP focussed on the visual impact.
So already the WWP had decided, in concert with VVASP, to gather and share information relating to only one aspect of the windfarm - the potential noise issues. Now, with a budget of £4,500, provided by the six participating Parish Councils, the Working Party could afford a great deal of research, input and advice. But, in the event, hardly any of this was spent on investigating the noise issues relating to the windfarm.
Instead, the WWP massively overspent on a solicitor, paying the said brief upwards of £3,000 to submit repeated objections to the windfarm plans on the Working Party's behalf.
So what happened to the noise issue? We'll come back to that.
When the WWP was founded, it was clearly stated (by Norton and Lenchwick Parish Council, among others) that the WWP representatives would report back to the Councils on their findings but would have no input directly into the Councils' reponses to the planning application.
This would make sense. In the course of their extensive research (which never happened), the WWP reps would surely form their own opinions. They could feed back on the activities of the WWP and answer questions from their fellow Parish Councillors, but it would be only sensible if, having told the Councils what they had found out, they then left the room while the Parish Councils decided how to respond to the planning application.
Again, though, this did not happen. All six Parish Councils dutifully submitted the woeful 'critique' of the planning application prepared for the WWP by their solicitor. These submissions all took place within one week, with the Norton and Lenchwick submission arriving at Wychavon District Council on the same day as the solicitor's not-very-good critique arrived.
Far from having no input in the eventual decisions of their respective Parish Councils, the WWP reps appear to have insisted that all the participating Councils submitted the selfsame objection, in the form of the solicitor's 'critique'. It seems highly unlikely that the majority of councillors had even seen that report before it was submitted on their behalf. And the parishioners - those who had demonstrated a marked lack of real interest in the whole windfarm issue - were of course not consulted.
With the six submissions of the same document - plus the solicitor's own submission, which makes seven versions of the same 'critique' submitted in the one week - the WWP threw its cards down on the table. It had failed or refrained from gathering and sharing information and it had pretty much given up on its mission to concentrate on the noise issues. It had simply made sure that all six Parish Councils submitted the same dumb objection, regardless of the facts, public opinion or the views of the actual parish councillors.
It was Church Lench Parish Council which administered the Windfarm Working Party (and had the contract with the solicitor), and so it is Church Lench which is to blame for the fact that the Windfarm Working Party completely failed to stay within its budget. Even though it saved hundreds of pounds by giving up on the whole noise side of things, that just meant that it felt entitled to throw hundreds more at their solicitor - whose bills eventually busted their budget altogether.
The WWP has since demanded more money from the Parish Councils so that it can pay the solicitor to appear and to speak at the Special Development Control Committee meeting to consider the windfarm planning application early next year.
Now, here's the rub - just who, exactly, is solicitor Peter Scott going to be representing at Wychavon planning meeting? The answer, short and simple, is: Church Lench. Because, as a mere Working Party, the WWP surely has no authority whatsoever to hire a solicitor to keep banging on and on about their naff objections to the development before the Development Control Committee. So, even though the WWP - or rather, Church Lench Parish Council - proved singularly inept at managing its own budget, the deranged nookies of Church Lench have now insisted that EVERYBODY ELSE should pay for a solicitor to represent them at the meeting of the Wychavon planning committee.
All this money - the £4,500 that was misappropriated from the Parish Councils and then misspent - along with the additional £250 or so donated by Parish Councils, is precept money. It is tax-payers' money granted to Parish Councils for the maintenance of local services. It is public money - OUR money - which is being misused to pay for Church Lench's dimwitted objections to a perfectly sensible scheme.
The Windfarm Working Party is simply a blind. It is Church Lench Parish Council (proprietor: VVASP) seeking to impose its views on the surrounding Parish Councils and making sure that everybody in the area jumps to their tune.
The reason why the WWP gave up on its mission to investigate the noise impact of the windfarm isn't too difficult to find. After a meeting between representatives of the WWP and the Head of Environmental Services at Wychavon, the District Council took the odd decision to hire a very biased noise consultant.
From the point-of-view of the WWP (which is also Church Lench Parish Council, which is also VVASP) this decision, taken by officers at Wychavon DC, absolved them of the need to worry about noise issues. The District Council had taken care of that for them. So they could now throw all our money at a solicitor - and then some more.
It should be abundantly evident to anybody with a functioning brain cell and a basic sense of right and wrong that the Windfarm Working Party has been a flagrant abuse of local democracy. It was created by a ludicrously biased Parish Council with the sole purpose of suborning the surrounding Parish Councils and spending their money (our money) on fighting the windfarm by any means necessary. Absolutely no genuine information was gathered and shared - the morons didn't even consider visiting an operational windfarm!!
Even when the WWP had agreed with their bosom pals in VVASP on who was going to do what, the Working Party was able to renege on that arrangement because it had tricked Wychavon into hiring a noise consultant who (apart from having no real qualifications) is known to be fanatically anti-windfarms, who repeatedly cites evidence that no one has ever seen and who routinely objects to and finds fault with every aspect of a windfarm planning application.
So the WWP had managed to save some money by getting somebody else (Wychavon) to spend public money on its fraudulent enterprise. But rather than return the money it had saved to the participating Parish Councils, the WWP gaily overspent on paying a solicitor to come up with as many objections as he could think of. And to warn off any local resident who expressed suspicions about the way the WWP was trampling over everything that was democratic and decent in the area.
Finally, even though its work is theoretically done, the WWP is paying for the same solicitor to represent the nimby nutters of Church Lench Parish Council at the meeting of the Development Control Committee. This is not what Working Parties do. It is a blatant abuse of public money by a dishonest, deluded minority.
The Parish Councillors of the area are at fault here for failing to insist that proper controls be exercised over a Working Party that was obviously partisan and politically motivated. A large amount of our money has been wasted, overspent, improperly accounted for, misappropriated and misused, all for the sake of a few nimbies. And, even though they had no authority to intervene in the decisions of their Parish Councils, the berks of the WWP made sure that all six Councils submitted the same objection, when the majority of residents in the area have never expressed opposition to the windfarm plans.
Isn't it about time that somebody, somewhere, woke up to this outrageous misbehaviour and taught the sick and evil-minded nimbies of Church Lench a lesson in democracy and proper conduct?