Sat here today licking my wounds after being defeated in yesterday’s Parish Council Elections. As a rule, voter apathy surrounds these elections and even a 30% turnout is considered respectable. That’s assuming voters are even required to turn out. More often than not there are an insufficient number of candidates to mandate an election! St Mellion Parish is no exception to this rule; there hasn’t been an election for 14 years. So how did it come to be that this election for six seats was contested by ten candidates? The answer, strange as it may seem, is solar energy.
In October 2012 a planning application (PA12/03001/PREAPP) was submitted that related to a proposed Solar Farm in the Parish. I say “related” because it wasn’t a request to construct such a farm, rather to find out if an actual planning request would require EIA Screening (Environmental Impact Assessment). As a fine example of parish apathy, nobody commented on it until two months after the submission. When they finally did comment it was to expostulate that they didn’t even know about the application, despite it being on the publicly accessible planning website all that time.
Normally planning applications are treated with similar degrees of apathy as other parish matters but this one was different. It happened to be planned for a group of fields close to the largest housing estate in the parish. Most inhabitants of housing estates probably wouldn’t be greatly energised by an application for solar panels but this is no average housing estate. To understand why, you need to know a little of St Mellion history.
In 1976 two brothers, Herman and Martin Bond opened a golf course in St Mellion constructed on their potato farm. The course grew to be a major success, attracting international competitions and major names in golf, like Seve Ballesteros and Bernhart Langer. This led to the construction of a second course, the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course in 1988. This beautiful course quickly became known as one of the most challenging in Europe and consequently attracted more major events. Having a home next to such a golf course is highly desirable and such houses demand high prices. Building a large estate next to their golf course was a source of considerable revenue to the Bond brothers and aided them in expanding their club into a international standard resort. Eventually they sold the resort to American Golf in 1998 and it subsequently became part of Crown Golf in 2004 following a take-over. To put the size of this estate into perspective, in a parish of 351 electors (at the time of this election) 152 of them live on this one estate.
In parish elections, each elector may vote for up to the number of seats the parish commands. In the case of St Mellion, this is six seats. In the end, 190 people in the parish actually voted and, on average, they each voted for 4.44 candidates; an amazingly high average compared with a normal parish election. This high figure is easily explained: Five of the ten candidates stood as representatives of that one housing estate and had a common, unified goal; to object to the proposed solar farm.
The election result is shown below:-
||Incumbent (Parish Chair)
Without going into heavy maths, suffice to say it was almost impossible for them not to be elected. Commanding 43% of the electorate and being able to instruct those people to vote for the same five candidates rendered all the other voters in the parish powerless to affect the outcome without collaboration on a similar scale. As the other candidates had independent views and the other voters independent thoughts, that couldn’t happen. It’s an incredible achievement by Ian Waite to obtain 87 votes from the approx 100 voters who did not collaborate. Well done Ian!
When I talk about colloboration on this housing estate, perhaps I should offer some explanation. St Mellion Park Residents Association is a Limited Company, complete with a board of Directors. The four candidates standing from St Mellion Park are all members of that association (as are most of the other residents). Whether these four make the future decisions on parish matters or simply pass on the instructions of their Directors is a moot point.
So there we have it. St Mellion faces four years under a council whose driving priority is the representation of the housing estate they live on. The odd exception to this is Ken Henley, a member of the previous parish council. Ken lives in St Mellion village and has no obvious affiliation with the Golf estate. Despite that, he represented them and even shared a common election flier with them. Perhaps there was concern in “Golf Estate Ltd” that their four may be forced to declare personal interests in matters relating directly to the estate they live on. Having a stooge who has to declare no such interest ensures unanimity in any vote they care about. I think Ken also had a point to prove in getting re-elected and was sufficiently driven not to care about the ethics of how he got there. I understand that prior to the election Vivienne Malsom, the incumbent parish chair, was approached to join the collaborating five but she declined on moral grounds. Respect to you Vivienne!
I say four years under the control of these collaborating candidates but the reality is, they will retain control until they no longer want it or until the population of St Mellion Parish swells to the point they cannot sufficiently bias the voting. Next election they could register six collaborating candidates and instruct their residents to place six votes each. This pretty much ensures the parish will remain in the hands of, what is in a effect, a dictatorship.
Since word of the collaboration came out, there has been an impending sense of doom amongst the independent candidates that the five would prevail, leaving one poor independent in the impossible position of trying to represent the views of the parish. That one turned out to be Ian Waite, a man of sufficient principles that he will almost certainly resign his post rather then face four unethical years of futility, casting his one vote against five.
So much for democracy!