Thursday, 18 August 2011

Save our Countryside

Close your eyes, cast you mind back to when you last visited the countryside. Remember how beautiful and tranquil everywhere looked, and how relaxed I bet you felt.  Now keep those thoughts and just think how you would feel if the tranquil and idyllic setting you are remembering was suddenly turned into a battlefield with 40 to 50 excitable people running around in combat gear and  repeatedly  firing a paintball gun and shouting and screaming?.  How would you feel when the landscape that you were escaping too was littered with smoke bombs and inflatable objects reminiscent to an episode of ‘It’s a Knockout’? I bet you would not be too pleased.

This may all sound like the promo for a Paul McKenna self-help CD, but there is a serious edge to it.  The fact is that over the past 12 months or so there has an increasing number of planning applications seeking permission to make use of large areas of our countryside for urban purposes. The worrying aspect is that a vast number of these are being passed even in areas where settlement limits apply.   The consequence of this worrying trend is that it has and continues to adversely impact on the visual attributes of our countryside as well as the amenity of those who live within it and the ecology.  In short there are many areas of our countryside that are becoming urbanized.

So where is the justification for this?  I am not really sure but a clue may be found in the case of a pending application for change of use to allow a Norfolk farmer to use woodlands and agricultural land, in an area of the beautiful and mainly unspoilt Wensum Valley, north of Norwich (Ringland) for the purposes of operating a paint balling park.  

I along with others living within the area have over the past couple of weeks been working hard to oppose this application and during our campaign we have come across wide support from local people and also people from around the country.  We have come very few who see any benefit from turning this lovely piece of countryside into a noisy and visually unpleasant combat zone.  However a local Councillor at a recent meeting said he thought it would be good for the area as it would create jobs.  He added with an air of arrogance that the Council had recently received a directive from Government to do all they can to allow development of this type to take place if this in turn created job opportunities.

It is a sad state of affairs when one of the last barriers in place to ensure our countryside is protected appears to have been removed because of economic pressures.  I am sure David Cameron did not intend for Councils to forget their obligation towards the protection of the countryside when his Government issued the directive, and I am even more certain that it was not intended to be acted upon without giving thought to other equally important planning considerations.  The daft thing about all of this that the farmer in question believes only 2 full time jobs will be created.

I seriously question whether the sacrifice of the local wildlife inhabitants, the loss of amenity to those who live in the area and the destruction of a piece of countryside that plays an important part in bringing tourists to the area, is worth the ‘benefit’ of creating two jobs.

I would invite you to add your support to our campaign to protect the countryside from unwanted and wholly unnecessary development of this type by lodging your views with the local planning authority – Broadland District Council .   Just keep in mind the next application of this type could be on your doorstep! 

Morgan Jones and Pett are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877000 or via email at

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Solicitors face rise in professional indemnity premiums

There was an interesting article in Mortgage Strategy recently which caught my attention. The article predicted that around 50% of Lloyd’s customers could fall victim to negative equity if property prices decline by a further 10-15%. If this is correct then as is happening in Southern Ireland institutional lenders will inevitably be seeking recovery from somewhere or someone when they begin to suffer loss.  In Southern Ireland it is known that Conveyancing now counts for 70% of all professional indemnity insurance claims.

What is happening in the background should be taken seriously particularly at a time when many solicitors are now looking to renew their professional indemnity cover.

There is no doubt that premiums will rise.

The problem practitioners’ face is that there is a complete and total lack of transparency within the professional indemnity insurance arena.  Many of us are asked to complete quite detailed risk assessment documents. These are required by the insurers to that they can access the risk each firm presents and to then tailor a quote accordingly.

The problem is that when completing these forms there is little understanding on how an answer to a particularly question will affect the risk assessment and consequently the size of the premium to be paid. There is no guidance within the proposal form or risk assessment form that helps to understand how risk is assessed.

Knowing how membership of one particular accreditation scheme can affect the level of premium is important because it will encourage firms to invest time and money into obtaining ‘badges’ of this type.

Surely it is in the interests of the insurers to be transparent to make it clear what percentage reduction certain actions will result in so that all of us can then do all that we can to make sure those actions are taken in the  knowledge that this will result in lower premiums in the future.

I question what the Law Society is doing to assist in brining pressure on insurers to make this information available. Our insurer broker mentioned that being a member of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme is of importance but could not say whether it would actually result in a significant reduction in future premiums.

The other issue I have with insurance is that there are so many brokers out there looking for your business but the majority of these are tied in with certain insurance companies. Surely this must present a conflict of interest and not always lead to the best deal.

It would be better use of Law Society resources if it took the time to review and investigate this market and to bring in measures to improve the situation for practitioners who are for the majority of the time working very much in the dark.  Is this likely to happen?  No.

Morgan Jones and Pett are solicitors who provide legal advice and services to clients based in England and Wales and who can be contacted on 01603877000 or via email at