Item 13 on tomorrow's full council agenda is 'Webcasting of council meetings' which, if approved, will mean that the first live webcast will be the council AGM on the 15 May, if all goes according to plan. Although there shouldn't really be a problem, as the council itself says, it is in a 'better position than most other authorities in Wales as it has already conducted a detailed review', indeed it has, for nearly two years. It is of course a twelve month pilot and only full council meetings will be filmed and after appropriate 'Member awareness' training has been undergone. Without a doubt there was also a public interest case to have included both Planning Committee and Executive Board meetings in the pilot too.
Included in the agenda are the usual reports from various committees and it will be interesting to see whether any issues are raised when the report from the planning committee meeting on the 28th March is brought up. Both the new superschool in Ffairfach and the 289 home development in Penybanc, Ammanford were driven through against enormous public opposition.
The latter had previously been refused (against officer recommendation for approval) by the committee last December but the 'cooling-off' period meant the decision was not ratified until it was sent back to the committee. By which time the application had been amended but had not, according to opponents, addressed all the issues of concern. From reading the officer's report to the committee it is clear that the overriding concern of the local authority was not the views of the local people but the avoidance of a costly legal challenge if the application was refused. Fortunately, for the Authority and the developers but not the objectors, this seemed to be the priority of the majority of committee members too, and the development was approved. Whether there was a breakdown in council communication or a misunderstanding I couldn't possibly say, but the Penybanc Action Group who opposed the development were apparently reassured by planning officers that no decision was going to be made at the meeting. PAG were under the impression that the committee would just be discussing the amended plans, so naturally they didn't go and air their views. I hear a request has now been made to the Welsh Government to call the plans in and campaigners have arranged to hold a protest on Saturday morning (Cneifwr has details).
Eric Pickles was on the warpath again yesterday criticising councils for obstructing journalists. The article, from Hold the Front Page, cites two examples from Wales including the meeting in Llanelli where the Llanelli Star reporter was thrown out and his notes confiscated. As we know, Mr Pickles jurisdiction on these matters doesn't cross the Severn Bridge and legislation requiring councils to publish 28 days in advance, notice of, (and good reason for) holding meetings in secret doesn't apply to Wales, and it especially doesn't apply to Carmarthenshire. Let's hope the prospect of live streamed meetings doesn't shunt even more decisions behind closed doors.