by Deborah Thomas
WHEN the Monty Python team made the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is set in the Middle Ages, they blackened everyone's teeth because they thought that was how medieval teeth would look. But a recent discovery of a medieval skull reveals that its owner had a better set of choppers than his 20th century counterpart. The reason is that in the Middle Ages people didn't eat white sugar.
This and other interesting titbits came from a short programme about what constitutes progress, written and presented by Monty Python's Terry Jones (Channel 4, Friday). Jones' thesis was that we are going to think that everything gets better and better over time, and this was something which kept coming to mind during Mondays Cutting Edge on Channel 4.
The programme was about North Cornwall and its district council planning committee. Some people are saying that the "bungalow eczema" currently spreading over the skin of this most lovely of areas is not unconnected with the propensity of the committee to grant dubious planning permissions.
Councillor Bill Lyne explained his position: "That's what I'm after all the time progress". By progress Mr Lyne means things like electricity pylons strung across the fields in designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Mr Lyne is of the opinion that they add a frisson of excitement to the landscape.
And Mr Lyne is not alone. The North Cornwall Planning Committee are collectively known to some as "the renegades of the planning world". The area over which they have control consists largely of areas in which development is strictly limited by law Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Heritage Coastline, Areas of Great Scientific Value, and so on.
But there are exceptions, and in North Cornwall they seem to be becoming the rule. For example, farmers are allowed to build dwellings for their labourers. Recently granted planning permission for a labourer's dwelling was Mr Johnson. Mr Johnson's PA insists
that he is a bona fide farm labourer: are we to believe that it is in error that he is more generally known as a managing director and that his private helicopter is one of his humble agricultural implements?
The main whistleblower, and possibly the least popular person in all of North Cornwall, is Councillor Brenda Parsons. She has been on the planning committee for four years, and what she has seen in that time has moved her to inform the national press and to demand an independent public enquiry.
Ms Parsons believes that the councillors do each other favours. She says it is no coincidence that the chair of the planning committee from 1987 to 1991 had 14 planning applications approved in that period. I think that a lot of people would agree that it is strange that a property developer should ever have become chair of a council planning committee.
Directed and produced by Joseph Bul!man, this was an excellent and hard-hitting programme. It made sense of the complexities of planning law, and it made mincemeat of some of the people charged with upholding it.