Monday, 19 October 2015

The planning lottery - and an email from history - Updated


Given the number of comments on this post relevant to 'Emlyn's Barn' I am adding my observations as an update rather than a new post.

Well, I'm a bit lost for words over the decision to approve Council leader Emlyn Dole's Barn. (the application, you will recall, is in his wife's name)  I can't have been the only one watching yesterday's webcast unfold with increasing disbelief. The approval, against the recommendation to refuse, went through by nine votes to eight with the Chair, Plaid's Alun Lenny abstaining for reasons best known to himself. What made it worse was that the nine appeared to consist largely of Emlyn's Plaid mates accompanied by his new Indie friends.
I had expected better.

By granting permission they've also bumped up the family Dole assets to the tune of £300k, or whatever a brand new hairdressing salon/holiday let complex, in open countryside is worth. It's so unique, it's probably priceless...
All done without proper planning permission. Cllr Dole must have been so confident he'd get the rubber stamp he didn't even stop the work, the BBC news video shows further work has continued since last week.

I'll link to the webcast when it's up (Ah, here it is, 37 minutes in) and you can see the farce for yourself. It was a Cinderella moment, they made sure the slipper fit, and Cllr Dole squeezed his foot in it.

So what next? As far as residents are concerned a precedent has been set to knock down what you want, build what you want and apply for retrospective permission....if anyone happens to notice. If the council leader can do it, and claim to have done nothing wrong, then surely so can everyone else?

As far as public confidence in the planning process goes, it's as bad as ever. The barking mad planning committee is one thingm to which we've all sadly grown accustomed, but what of the department as a whole? To give just two examples, why wasn't a Stop Notice issued when it became blatantly obvious that Dole's original permission from 2012 was being ignored? Why wasn't a Stop Notice issued when the developer at Blaenpant 'farm', relevant to the Breckman case, decided to carve up a SSSI site?

Far less obvious and far more insidious than the blustering idiocy of the Committee are the delegated decisions and the decisions which involve the latest 'vision' of the council's top brass. Which rather brings me back to the email I referred to below.

How on earth is it that a council, or more specifically a chief executive, block an independent investigation based on confidential information supplied by the public and politicians? The email, which came into my possession during the disclosure stage of the libel case, shows a sinister and calculating attempt to access confidential information, with potential misuse of FOI.
It shows utter contempt for local politicians and the Wales Audit Office and a blurring of the lines between public and private interests.

If there was nothing wrong, and the sackfuls of complaints unfounded, why not embrace an investigation to 'clear the air' and restore faith in the planning system? Answers on a postcard please...

It was written in 2010 but essentially, with Mr James still holding everyone's reins, it could have been written yesterday...

Click to enlarge

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This week's Carmarthenshire Herald takes a comprehensive look at the weird and wonderful world of the Carmarthenshire planning system.

Pic courtesy of the Carmarthenshire Herald

The articles, which are not yet online, detail recent examples of inconsistency and, to be honest, downright mysteries over several recent planning decisions at both officer and councillor level. They also include highly critical quotes from experts in the field of planning.

From the Stradey development to the council leader's 'barn', the Herald is being polite describing the system as a lottery. Whilst planning is not an exact science, the interpretation of policy and guidance, from listed buildings, to major developments and planning enforcement has been curious to say the least and much of it reported on this blog.

Remarks made by planning committee members have been another source of concern, particularly when the decision is contrary to the recommendation. The recent application for a 'One Planet' development, recommended for approval, was refused by the committee with one councillor seemingly basing his objection on the grounds that they shouldn't give permission to every 'Tom, Dick, or Harry'.
A different application, this time for a new farmhouse and recommended for refusal, was approved by committee as the applicants were a 'well-respected' church-going farming family and well up in the ranks of the Farmers' Union of Wales.

Other remarks heard over the years include 'he is of impeccable character', 'at least they're not outsiders' and one of my favourites, from veteran councillor Tom Theophilus, 'I knew his grandfather'. It is quite clear that many councillors lack a basic grasp of material planning considerations, let alone the requirement to approach decisions with an open mind.

Calls have been made for many years for a full and independent investigation into the planning system in Carmarthenshire. However, an email dating from 2010, of which I have a copy, may partly explain why this has never happened, and never will as long as the chief executive, Mark James, remains in post.

In 2010, due to the volume of complaints, the Wales Audit Office were on the brink of such an investigation. They had called for evidence from members of the public and had also received a dossier of complaints from Plaid politicians Adam Price MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM.

The investigation was then quietly and mysteriously dropped.

The chilling email, from Mark James to several senior colleagues in planning and legal, reveals that he refused, point blank, to co operate with the Wales Audit Office.

Without even seeing the contents of any of the complaints, (but aware that the two politicians, who he names, had supplied information) he told the district auditor that he was refusing to allow the investigation. He said that following his 'challenge' the Audit office' had 'backed down'.

So that was that. With no reference to elected members, the arrogance of the chief executive, combined with a weak and feeble regulator left the Carmarthenshire public at the mercy of a deeply flawed planning system for years to come. No one was going to dig around in the planning vaults, not under Mr James' watch.

We have to be grateful that his 'powers of persuasion' failed miserably over the pension and libel indemnity scandals last year. Though I'm not sure what happened with Gloucestershire police...they didn't seem to have the stomach to dig very deep either.

Anyway, on the subject of the planning 'lottery', don't miss the next instalment of Emlyn's barn. The webcast will start at 1.30pm tomorrow (Tuesday) after the site visit.


(The West Wales News Review blog has a series of posts detailing these recent planning decisions including coverage of the latest twists in the Breckman case)

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Judging by today's planning committee meeting - the planning procedures have changed dramatically - no longer do you have to apply for planning permission then wait for approval - the procedure is now that you finish your project - whatever that might be, and then put in your 'retrospective application' and get it!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Let's all get building??

Blodwen said...

I don't know why, but of all the dastardly decisions and actions this council has made over the years, this is the most depressing. Maybe it's because I'd hoped better of Plaid and the fact that in many ways they're showing themselves to be no better than any of the others makes this latest "planning" travesty seem worse. I despair.

That's three votes from this household that Plaid have lost.

Anonymous said...

Exactly.Me too.Confidence lost.

Wavell said...

And three more lost here.

YIKES said...

And me....

Anonymous said...

When he watched the walls come down he must have known it was wrong. So he joins the army of people who go ahead risk it anyway it might work which it obviously has.
How can any councillor now criticise retrospective planning.Lets all do it.

Anonymous said...

In the days of honesty this used to be called "Bent as butchers hooks".

But not to worry Carms Plaid, I will do my damnedest to see that you RIP.


Anonymous said...

Having represented my community in the chamber to oppose a planning application, I am totally comfortable in saying that the planning process in Camrarthenshire is dire. I would go so far to say that I suspect there may have been some brown envelopes involved

Anonymous said...

I didn't see the live web-cast.Will be interesting to see who proposed acceptance.Shall watch with interest tomorrow.Bad choice this.

Anonymous said...

It is perfectly clear from yesterday's planning meeting there must be an inquiry into this particular department. If the Welsh Assembly refuse to invoke their powers, then the Wales Audit Office should now resurrect their involvement and insist on an investigation. If Mark James continues to obstruct all inquiries into this department he should be made to publicly explain himself. A CEO with integrity would welcome an investigation given the huge public outcry over many many highly dubious decisions made by officers and indeed outcomes from the committee. M.Js.continued obstruction into anyone asking questions is looking more and more akin to someone who has something to hide. If there is nothing to hide then an investigation won't bother him at all - would it!!??

ramaredtheone said...

Yet another example of the shambles that is evident in parts of Carmarthen County Council. The very credibility that "we want to be the most transparent council" is at risk of becoming lost for ever. A thorough investigation is required despite the protestations of Mark James.

Redhead said...

Can you get the Secretary of State to call it in?

Anonymous said...

Everything is controlled by Mark James.That is obvious.Plaid councillors take control please!!!!

Blodwen said...

Anon @ 12.50 Fat chance of that happening by the looks of things. We need a whole new cohort of principled councillors to be elected next May to support the wonderful Cllr Caiach. Anyone up for it?

Anonymous said...

Plaid, the "anti-austerity part of Wales".....you couldn't make it up!

Anonymous said...

Yesterday evening BBC Wales Today did a piece on Dolegate. It included a rabbit-in-the-headlights interview with Cllr Dole, repeatedly saying ”At no time has anyone done anything wrong” see the clip here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-34586360
Cllr Dole, a former member of the planning committee, fails to comply with the original permission, then demolishes a building without consent and goes on to construct a new building without consent, yet in his view ”At no time has anyone done anything wrong”.

In the Wales Today piece, Cllr Dole was followed by Cllr Terry Davies, who sat on the committee, who was of the opposite opinion saying that Carmarthenshire is at risk of having its planning powers removed. He is quite right, any council which repeatedly grants permissions contrary to officers’ advice and contrary to the Local Development Plan and national planning policy runs a very real risk of this happening. At yesterday’s meeting 3 out of the 4 applications being considered were granted against officer recommendation.

Anonymous said...

Can we all write to the Welsh Assembly Government asking them to investigate? If they get numerous letters from individuals, surely they will do something about what's going on here?

Anonymous said...

Of course there should be an Independent Inquiry into this excuse of a planning department. It's long long overdue!

As time has gone on planning Carmarthen style has become a three tier system.

1st tier - You have the 'now old-fashioned' way where you would fill in all the appropriate forms, submit your truthful application along with your monies and hope it gets approval.

2nd. tier - This is the tier where you carry out your desired developments regardless of any silly old Enforcement Notices and the like - submit your 'retrospective application and hope you'll get it - you probably will.

3rd. tier - This is the best tier of all because you carry out your developments - ignore silly old E.Ns and the like - submit your 'retrospective application' you don't have to worry that the application is thoroughly dishonest - it wont be checked - it will be delegated to an officer who will just tick the box for you. Hey presto! Only for some though.

Anonymous said...

Lots to like in this week's (Fri 16th Oct) Carmarthenshire Herald: "While officers try to rationalise the irreducibly stupid to words that at least appear plausible, the true reason for rejecting one planning application seemed to be: "We'll have no truck with them posh hippies coming down here and building sustainable homes! No! Why my friend Pob Morgan wasn't given permission to build a nuclear reactor and granny annex, so why - why I ask you?! - should we allow a One Planet development?""

Anonymous said...

And was all this reflected in the Carmarthen Journal today. Front page was devoted to a local comedian joining the Journal staff for a day. What a bloody farce, not worth the money it costs.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly time for the herald to take over from The rag that is Carmarthen Journal.

Anonymous said...

"... Front page was devoted to a local comedian joining the Journal staff for a day."

Didn't know mark james was out for work experience in the community?

Anonymous said...

anon 18.03 Love it.I am still laughing.He must be thick skinned to take what has been thrown at him of late.

Anonymous said...

Re “with the Chair, Plaid's Alun Lenny abstaining for reasons best known to himself”

At the full council meeting on 12th November 2014, Cllr Lenny proposed a motion that TAN 6 was not fit for purpose. It includes the following:
“It is also perverse to treat the conversion of a farm building into a home or business as a new build in the countryside.”

The motion was passed unanimously. Cllr Dole’s comment to the Llanelli Star was “If you build on the existing foundations of an old building it shouldn’t be seen as a new build.”

Six days later on the 18th November, the planning committee with this presumably still fresh in their minds approved Cllr Dole’s application S/30698 against officer’s recommendation.

Anonymous said...

“If you build on the existing foundations of an old building it shouldn’t be seen as a new build.”

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!!!!!!!!

So, lets build a nuclear power station on the site of stonehenge. After all, the foundations are there. How the hell can you reconcile nuclear with stone age and expect people to accept there is no difference between the 2?

This dole bloke must really be that thick and to expect people to swallow his nonsense shows what fools he takes people for. As someone earlier said, its time for him to leave and leave before men in white coats arrive to take him away.

CCC is turning into a carry on movie led by Kenneth Williams aka mark james.

Anonymous said...

“If you build on the existing foundations of an old building it shouldn’t be seen as a new build.”

“If you build on the existing foundations of an old building it shouldn’t be seen as a new build.”

If that is the case, then Cllr Dole must then agree that he has created a new build as he has followed the recommendation in his structural engineer’s report of 19th June 2015. It states “We would therefore advise and recommend that these remaining stone walls are completely taken down and re-build in dense concrete blockwork on new foundations.”

This was the basic premise for the planning officer’s recommendation for refusal
“…however the barn has been demolished so the scheme needs to be considered as a new build employment development in the open countryside and considered accordingly in this context.”
However, the planning committee conveniently failed to discuss or address this key point which is one of the basic principles of the Carmarthenshire Local development Plan and national planning policy.

The Red Flag said...

In recent years we have observed a trend in Welsh local government that has seen unelected officers effectively take control of local authorities.

This is invariably achieved with the connivance of a small group of councillors who commit their loyalty to senior officers rather than to the council to which they were elected and those living within the local authority area.

https://www.assembly.wales/en/gethome/e-petitions/Pages/petitiondetail.aspx?PetitionID=870

Anonymous said...

Watch out everyone that will be a house before long. Give it the time required to prove that it is not drawing in holiday lets and hey presto. Old trick that one.

caebrwyn said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Thank you @The Red Flag for highlighting this petition - as it is highly relevant to Carmarthenshire, please consider signing.

A further development in Emlyn Dole's barn saga has appeared in this week's Carmarthenshire Herald.

The site visit protocol, detailed in Article 10.14 of the constitution prohibits the applicant from addressing members of the committee during a site visit.
The Herald continues;

"During the site visit to Capel Ifan farm to look at the two barns, which have been demolished and rebuilt in open countryside, Mrs Gwenda Owen [the applicant...you will recall that the application is in Cllr Dole's wife's name] can be clearly seen speaking to the committee who are standing around her dressed in florescent jackets.
The Herald was notified of the incident by an eagle eyed viewer of Newyddion on S4C aired on Tuesday (Oct 20) who drew our attention to the alleged breach of protocol"


I have not seen the footage so couldn't comment, but no doubt the newspaper will be asking a few questions.

Anonymous said...

"During the site visit to Capel Ifan farm to look at the two barns, which have been demolished and rebuilt in open countryside, Mrs Gwenda Owen [the applicant...you will recall that the application is in Cllr Dole's wife's name] can be clearly seen speaking to the committee who are standing around her dressed in florescent jackets."

The clot thickens...

Anonymous said...

Am I alone in thinking that the ‘retrospective’ structural engineers report is rather odd? It states that the re-inspection took place on 8th April 2015 but the report is dated 19th June 2015 and appears to have been produced at the verbal request of the client. It seems rather a long time to take to put in writing their concerns about “long term stability” and “potential health and safety issues”.

Anonymous said...

Retrospective applications should be abolished entirely.

They are used by those who wish to deceive. Planning applications should be honest and be the same for everyone.

Terry Davies was right - too many retrospectives now to get around planning rules.

Anonymous said...

This is the man (councillor Dole) that Plaid councillors have chosen for their leader what does this say about their judgement? One presumes they voted for what they considered the best available person what does this say about the rest?

Anonymous said...

Putty Plaid, led by dimwit dole to the tune of the dark destroyer, aided and abetted by Grease yer Palmer and geriatric Gravel.