Greetings from Airpark – though I wonder how long THAT greeting will last I don’t know – honestly, sometimes I wonder whether we will ever get a quiet life at the council offices. Just when I thought the dust had settled and all was well, officers happy in their bunkers, councillors happy in the Michelin-star restaurant something comes along that threatens to begger it all up.
We really were totally settled. The quadruple glazing was just about shutting out the noise of the Jumbo jets (did I tell you they decided to add a second runway) and no-one except developers ever visited us. (Though, goodness, were the residents of Cranberry upset when the jets started going over their gardens about 50 feet above their heads and let’s not mention that unfortunate incident when the toilet flange fell off just before landing. Then they read the small print in their deeds and found that it had all been covered and they had no comeback and were even more upset).
So, things had gone along nicely for a few months as we shared our business park with the call centre and the gas production unit. It was a bit difficult getting our lunches – the dash across the runway never got any easier but we managed. Then the bombshell. We read in the papers that the owners of the business park, fed up with not getting any tenants for years and years, decided to change things about. Next thing we know we have a planning application for a “hydraulic fracturing facility and associated refinery”.
At first, none of us were too worried – we all thought it was a pharmaceutical factory making pills and the refinery sounded like just making sure the pills were A1 quality. Could be worse we thought – and if we were lucky it would be the kind of pills we could get wholesale from next door for problems that many of us gentlemen have through no fault of our own – nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
Then someone (I think it was one of those Greens) said: “You do realise that what they are going to do is fracking don’t you? 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year and then turning it into petrol on site – cars, lorries, drill heads, noise, radioactive water, toxic chemicals – you name it And they can go under your building without your permission – is it earthquake proofed?”
Well, you could have knocked the planners and the councillors down with a feather! All this time we’d expected that eventually the landlord would get tired of trying to let all that spare space and just green it over and plant some mature trees and within a few months, except for the Jumbos, it would be almost like being at our old HQ in Widemouth.
Now, the nightmare began to sink in (literally). It sent our planners into overdrive! I’ve never seen them work so hard. They didn’t burn any midnight oil (sorry for the pun) about the Local Plan – very laid back they were for some reason – but here they were working day and night to try and find a way of stopping it.
They tried EVERYTHING! They said the floodlights would make it dangerous to land the aircraft until someone pointed out that there are floodlights all around Heathrow and Gatwick and no Jumbos seem to have landed on them. They tried saying that the site would have to be surrounded by so many trees that it would look like a small forest but that went down like a lead balloon when someone pointed out that we are chopping trees down left, right and centre everywhere else and shoving in industrial sheds up instead because the NPPF says we can. And someone mentioned the mega-industry complex in Sidford where it just used to be green fields for example, so we can’t easily win that argument at a planning appeal either. They started to talk about water contamination, water being cut off to our HQ if it got really bad, the frackers going under our building, the tremors that might happen, the lorries, the smells – etc. etc. Then again someone pointed out (think it was that pesky EDA mob) that our national government had just said that fracking anywhere, anytime is absolutely fine by them and unless the Leader wanted to abandon his hopes of a knighthood they had just better knuckle under. Someone said that there was a new group – the East Devon Fracking Forum – and they would be taking over from now on and to like it or lump it – I thought I recognised some of them from before but I just couldn’t remember where.
That was when the real planning started. Suddenly, someone had a great idea and decided that they must have yet another new HQ (we’ve only been here for a year) and started looking around for a suitable site. Beggar again – all the best sites grabbed for housing because we still have no local plan and Pickles says now that we have to build on brownfield sites.
They thought about Honiton but the best bit has just been sold to a Premier Inn and a supermarket. Exmouth they thought: but the consultants have told them that they have already flogged most of that off to Butlins and another supermarket. Ottery St Mary said someone else – no, everything gone to housing and supermarket there too. Axminster: no Cloakham Lawns took that option out. Seaton? Oh come on, let’s not get silly.
Honestly, they searched everywhere – no suitable brownfield sites at all. No, nothing for it – it had to be greenfield. What they really needed was a lovely building in beautiful park land surrounded by trees. Again, some killjoy worked out that they had just moved from Widemouth and that was already a McCarthy and Stone retirement village, so that was out.
Only one thing for it said the Regeneration people: we have to move into Exeter – but somewhere nice and green and not too far from a Waitrose. So they called up Exeter Council, got them to cancel the Ikea planning permission (something about bats) and what do you know, we are upping sticks again.
On the bright side, our residents will be able to get to us more easily (oh, sorry, that’s the dark side) and we will be able to get to the rugby (where we already have a VIP box) and we can call ourselves “The Greater Exeter Conurbation Administration”. With any luck, no-one will realise what our old name was and who we really are and we can be left to get on with what we do best – nothing!
Hope all is well down on the farm, though Daisy tells me that we don’t have a farm these days as it is now a big housing estate and the old farmhouse is now just our fourth home after New York (with its lovely view of Central Park, Paris (right next to the Eiffel Tower) and London (a 2 bed semi in Deptford, wherever that is).
Your loving son,