|Want an antenna? This is all you're permitted without planning in the UK.|
Just to be very clear, within the UK, the strict legal position, remarkably, is that only a single, small TV and satellite dish is considered de minimis, that is, what you can expect to install on your property without fear of enforcement action. Unlike the US, we don't even get to put up a flagpole without planning permission, so flagpole antennas are, of course, not a fail-safe backup!
In practice, you may 'get away' with somewhat more than this - it depends on how bored your local curtain-twitchers are of a day, and how overwhelmed by cuts your local planning authority is. 'Get away' with it long enough - for four years without interruption - and anything you care to put up becomes immune from action.
In the recent past, the RSGB has claimed that, without it as a representative body, amateur radio would be in a much poorer state than it is now. I'm sure anyone keeping a tab on sliding membership and age profile statistics would raise an eyebrow over that assertion!
In any event, this week, I gave the RSGB another chance to show what it's doing about changing planning laws a little bit in our favour. I wrote to their planning committee (capitals supressed.)
I was suprised to receive a response from non-other than Graham Coomber, who seems to be handling quite a lot of the society's correspondence these days.
In his response, Coomber is very polite. But, the content is concerning. Firstly, it seems to try and 'get rid' of the correspondence by exhaustively asserting the position at law in the UK. It referred me to various planning regulations, all of which I already know plenty about, as my initiating correspondence indicated.
Then the RSGB displays the troubling characteristic that has been evident over the years: a "don't tell me what's what, sonny' attitude.
In response to my assertion that planning regulations within Wales differed from those elsewhere, Coomber's mate on the Planning Committee actually picked up the phone to Cardiff to see whether this was true! I'm not sure if it was out of annoyance or not knowing what the situation actually is!
I suppose this was a somewhat better response than my first contact with the RSGB, when then-chairman, Len Paget, vented his fury at a simple, polite letter from your truly. Paget sought out a number of emails of members of another, utterly unrelated organisation which had been illustratively mentioned in my letter, and manually issued his musing about my "suitability" as a representative (which, sadly for him, I was not!) of that organisation to eleven people, eight of whom received it. It landed the RSGB with a serious ticking-off from the ICO, prompting some hurried updating of the RSGB's lax data protection measures. It even hit the amateur news headlines.
Coomber, in his own, much more considered response, accepted that there were differences in some guidance, and made a nod to a review of the law in Wales, but that otherwise, the system was the same as elsewhere in the UK.
You could cut Coomber some slack and say that he's right to indicate the planning system in Wales is firmly rooted in the all-UK legislation. But that misses several key points.
First, in relation to the ongoing review of planning law in Wales, which will see a new law introduced in the near future, Coomber doesn't indicate - and I have never seen - any RSGB input into the consultation on planning law within Wales. They had a chance to do so, but for all the world appear never to have known it was underway.
Secondly, if you consider the detail, which I've now pointed out to Coomber, there is considerable scope for planners locally and hyper-locally to apply what are known here are 'Technical Advice Notes' (TANs). Number 19 is the one regulating telecomms (which disjointedly includes amateur installations.)
Coomber later asserted, in a follow-on letter, that amateur installations are generally classed as residential development. Yes, but that doesn't negate the advice of TAN19, which is very clear on including amateur installations. The RSGB seems to think some other form of system operates, which is most odd. I asked Coomber if the RSGB can in fact accept any view other than its own, even when shown to be wholly or partly in error?
Again, I'm not aware of any input by the RSGB into the formulation of that TAN and, just like the lack of input into the legislation review, we can, as fee-paying members, very legitimately ask why that has been the case?
TANs are not, of themselves, legally binding documents. They are guidances that planning authorities are expected to take into account when considering an application. If the RSGB thinks these are just bits of paper that may optionally be taken into account or ignored for having no weight, they ought to think again.
In the field of wind turbine intallations, the relevant TAN is bandied about like a burning-hot potato in Wales, and is taken very seriously indeed by planners. Like most such guidances, in practice, they are much more like what must be complied with, rather than just a plain guidance.
Then comes the RSGB's failure to comprehend that guidances, which may include non-binding Supplementary Planning Guidances (SPGs) can become legally binding. This happens when a guidance is used as the basis of stipulating conditions on a planning consent. If the developer then fails to comply, the matter becomes one of enforcement, where the authority could refuse to issue a final certificate.
What's the point of all this, you ask? Well, the response from Cardiff this week to my latest discussions has been simple, expected, but also sensible. It asks the amateur community to educate and engage with the Royal Town Planning Institute and planning authorities, so they become more aware of our needs. It's difficult to argue with that line of reasoning, frankly.
Yes, it's a 'get lost, we're busy' answer in the bone. But it does highlight the blindingly obvious: the RSGB has failed, for a very, very long time, to put forward its case for a better planning environment for hams, and seems simply content to remind us all, when we ask what it's doing, what the status quo looks like.
So, the RSGB seems to be resigned to the way things are.
The truly sad point for me is that there is still a very strong feeling within the ruling elite of the RSGB that only they know how to run the show. If someone tries to tell them something, it is almost always returned with a firm sense of 'we're being got at' defensiveness.
So far as my own experience goes, nobody in RSGB HQ has welcomed comments from the wider world, or asked for help in their work. They really do seem to think nobody else has anything worth contributing.
Sadly, in the case of planning issues, the RSGB is simply regurgitating what the situation is today, whilst doing very little, if anything, for how things could be tomorrow. I think that tends to be symptomatic of nicely settled-in, middle-aged, middle class white males - a 'you can't change the world on your own' mentality that, if it were to defer to youngsters a bit, it may find very misguided.
Oh, and Coomber continued his defensiveness by stating, as the RSGB always does, that if you use their services for planning applications, you are "more likely" to gain approval than if you don't use the RSGB.
That sounds worth the membership fee, doesn't it?
Except, it's an assertion missing detail. It's unlikely the RSGB knows whether this claim is actually true on a like-for-like planning application basis. The RSGB could simply, by chance, have helped those cases that had a better likelihood of being approved from the outset. Because each application is very unique to its own situation, I think the RSGB is obliged to examine much more carefully the evidence for this oft-repeated claim.