Tuesday 26 April 2011

Fly-Tipping by Carmarthenshire Council

Carmarthenshire Council are always very keen to promote their 'green' credentials. The 'Media' section of their website proudly lists the numerous court victories and fines imposed against fly-tippers and litter-bugs. They have a clearly stated aim of "...improving the world around us, today and for tomorrow. Clean air, water and attractive surroundings...improving the way places look, from conserving wildlife to enjoying the natural world.."
also dislike such actions which spoil our lovely Carmarthenshire countryside.
...and you would think that by now, Carmarthenshire County Council itself would have learned to practice what it preached...but judging by these photographs, it would seem not.
photos of illegal fly-tipping perpetrated by Carmarthenshire County Council (click on an image to enlarge)

UPDATE 28th April;
In light of a recent comment on this post perhaps I should elaborate/substantiate a little more; Information released under FoI and passed on to me, including documents and the photos, are evidence that Carmarthenshire Council have been warned/cautioned for environmental breaches/illegal dumping over twenty times since 2007 (I believe it is not considered appropriate use of taxpayers money for two public bodies to fine each other - hence the official warnings). The photos are from the most recent case concluded earlier this year.

Update May 4th;
One way of cleaning this mess up is to get the locals to do it for free!

and a warning from  County Hall to Carmarthenshire businesses to dispose of their waste with care;
 http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk/news/Traders-reminded-waste-duty/article-3511321-detail/article.html (with comments from me)

UPDATE 18th May;
I see the local newspaper has finally picked up this story although the problem has been minimised - of course. The interesting part of this which the gentleman who is researching all this wasn't told, despite having suspicions and pursuing it at length was the identity of the landowner - who turns out to be a County Councillor

Saturday 23 April 2011

Forging Signatures

Someone has been forging Councillors' signatures. An unknown Councillor/s has forged the signatures of three Planning Committee Members on the register of attendance. Two out of the three Councillors claimed to have been 'shocked' that someone else had signed them in and claimed that they had been present at the meeting.
The Council, in it's response to a FoI request by the Carmarthen Journal alleges that this was the only instance over the past couple of years that had been discovered or, er...noticed.
Of course one wouldn't like to speculate as to how many times this may have happened, whether this is common practice and if there have been any fraudulent expenses claims from Councillors who were not even at meetings....surely not?
Of course, we'll never know, as typically the seriousness of this matter has been downplayed by Council bosses who felt it was unlikely the guilty party, or parties, would come forward and further investigation was unnecessary.
I should imagine that in other walks of life clocking-in for others would be a sackable offence.
No wonder they don't want anyone filming the meetings. 

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Felin Wen and the Planning Committee

I called in at the Planning Committee meeting this afternoon at County Hall to see how Mr Humphreys' application to (retrospectively) remove and dispose of the mill machinery at Felin Wen went. It was refused. I am not saying that the committee were unduly influenced in any way but an approval today would have blown the plannning officers case out of the window. One Councillor did attempt to suggest a site visit - this was immediately rejected by the planning officer; 'there's nothing to see' (and we know what can happen after a site visit). They preferred to go on a trip to Pendine instead, can't blame them, probably more agreeable than Llandybie, especially if it's a nice sunny day.
Another Councillor made an interesting point, he established that the machinery had in fact gone so why was Mr Humphreys being forced to put back what didn't exist? The Conservation officer looked a little uncomfortable and mumbled something about 'restoration' - one wonders whether the Enforcement Notice (Mr Humphreys has a Public Inquiry over this machinery in September) will hold up under scrutiny of cross examination.  It is worth noting that, much to the Council's chagrin, the Planning Inspectorate have agreed to Mr Humphreys' request that the appeal be changed from an Informal Hearing to a Public Inquiry 'when it became apparent that cross examination may need to take place, as evidence put forward at an informal hearing cannot be subject to cross examination'. Of course, the Planning Inspector at the previous Inquiry decided that restoration and replacement was wholly inappropriate. The Council solicitor, who had quite a lot to say for himself during this application, tried to reassure the Councillor that they had to make sure Enforcement Notices were correct or the planning authority would have 'egg on it's face' (don't tempt me) However, I am not certain that anyone else is entirely convinced of the Council's case.
The whole matter is odd to say the least, Mr Humphreys has been fined, he now has a criminal record (only for part of the charge, and only after the Council blew a fortune appealing the magistrates decision to clear him), the Council has spent in the region of £100,000 and rising. All Mr Humphreys wanted to do was try and sympathetically restore this little building to be of some use.
One also wonders why the council, who have (at the moment, anyway) special powers from Cadw to protect Carmarthenshire's heritage, left this listed mill to deteriorate beyond repair over so many years before Mr Humphreys even bought it.

Monday 11 April 2011

Carmarthenshire Councillors Allowances 2011

I notice that the Council has just published the allowances and expenses of it's 74 County Councillors for 2010 to 2011. By my reckoning the totals are actually down by £14,369 from £1,381,779 in 2009 to £1,367,410. I thought for one moment that belts had been tightened, particularly amongst the Executive Board Members but then I remembered it is actually the money saved by not refilling the vacancy (yet) that arose on the Executive Board last year. Oh well.
On closer inspection I see that Cllr Gravell, the Leader, still coins in over £49000 and Cllr Madge, Deputy Leader still enjoys a shade under £34000 whilst Cllr Scourfield, Member in charge of Planning has manged to add an extra £200 or so to his takings bringing them to a whisker under £32,500. Our own Local Member, Cllr Theophilus, whose efforts I value at around £26, actually takes over £26,000. I should imagine that these figures will be further analysed by our local journalists.

As ever, some Councillors do strive to make a difference and their efforts should be recognised but they are the very few and include none named above. There is also, as we all know, a minority who have additional 'perks' which are not, of course, included in the published figures....

Double Standards Again

As I have been following Carmarthenshire Planning Department's relentless, expensive and disproportionate pursuit of Mr Humphreys and the Mill at Felin Wen (please use search box on right for previous posts and background) I was a little surprised to read an article in the Evening Post concerning Kidwelly Town Hall, a Grade II Listed building which has been put on the 'at risk' register by 'Save Britain's Heritage'. It has been slowly deteriorating over a period of 15 to 20 years due to neglect. You would think that Carmarthenshire Council would have marched the owners off to court by now, rather like they have with Mr Humphreys or at least done necessary restorative work and chased the owners to pay the bill, after all their own website states that "If you are the owner of a Listed Building or come into possession of one, you are tasked with ensuing that the property is maintained in a reasonable state of repair" in fact you have a legal obligation for it's for its "good maintenance and repair". Cllr Scourfield, Executive Board Member for Planning even stated that  "the authority takes very seriously the statutory duties placed on it by Parliament with regard to listed buildings.”
Then one reads that it is the Council themselves who own the building! We knew they cherry-pick who they take action against and who they don't and this certainly confirms it. They are now trying to flog it off to a developer before it crumbles away completely. Double standards yet again.

Google Searches
A totally unrelated point, but I can sometimes see the google search words used by those who end up landing on this blog, some can be very revealing and prompt a little more research. Perhaps in the running for 'Search Words of the Week' should go to 'carmarthen council tribunal shredding documents'
The mind boggles!

Thursday 7 April 2011

Vote of No Confidence in Executive Board Member

With the fall out over the decision to keep open the two Llanelli care homes continuing, I notice that next week's full Council meeting has an interesting item on the Agenda. There is a proposed Vote of No Confidence in the Executive Board Member for Social Care, Cllr Pat Jones. It is being put forward by Cllr A Davies and reads;
"It is with deep regret but I have no alternative but to put forward a vote of no confidence in Cabinet Member for Social Care, Cllr Pat Jones, following the decision of full Council not to close Caemaen and St Paul's Care Homes. Her previously fixed views of the urgent need to close these homes and her lack of sensitivityt to the plight of the elderly residents does not convince me that she will be fully committed to follow the new direction that Full Council has dedicated.
The flawed consultation procedure was not only severely criticised by the elderly residents; their relatives; the public; local Councillors but also the Elderly People's Commissioner. Despite the public's tremendous outcry, the emotive public meetings, the numerous newspaper articles and the petition, Cllr Pat Jones support from the officer's proposal was unrelenting.
In conclusion the manner in which this serious issue has been conducted has been both insensitive and impassive. Cllr Pat Jones' indifference to the desperate appeals from the elderly residents has damaged the credibility and the standing of the Council demonstrating a serious defect in her objectivity and leadership"
I think it speaks for itself. The unremitting scorn poured on the democratic vote and the inaccurate scaremongering over the cost of keeping the homes open by the Leader, Cllr Meryl Gravell should also be called into question.  
The Executive Board, as I have said before, functions as a rubber stamp for officer decisions. They have consistently supported cuts to council services which target the elderly and the vulnerable  and any rebellion amongst the rank and file of Councillors is treated by the Leader as self serving and 'politically motivated'. I predict that Gravell will step down as Leader next year if not before and perhaps, with an influx of new Members, some element of true democracy will enter the Chamber.
It should be an interesting meeting next week, I'll have to pop along....

(Cllr Jones speaking at Care Home debate 28th Feb; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7XHNptexpU)

Another item on the Agenda is the 'Draft Deposit Carmarthenshire Local Develoment Plan', already a year behind schedule, to be approved for public consultation. (link here). The Report itself is 251 pages long and, if you care to read it you will find it consists mainly of three words; strategic, strategy and sustainable put together in various combinations. It is, of course supposed to outline the development of Carmarthenshire over the next 15 years or so, and you will find a list of maps which include (I believe) land put forward for development which has been accepted for inclusion in the plan.

Update 22nd April;
Cllr Jones survived the Vote of no confidence; http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk/news/confidence-vote-survived/article-3463249-detail/article.html , Cllr Sian Caiach described the 'debate' as a 'travesty of democracy'.
She's right, it was.
I was a little surprised, as apparently were a few of the Plaid councillors, that the Leader of the Plaid group, Peter Hughes Griffiths leapt in to denounce the vote of no confidence. I have also heard that before the meeting, Plaid had agreed with the other two groups to oppose the vote in exchange for Mark James honouring the vote of full council to keep St Pauls and Caemaen open - which might explain things. But
perhaps Mr Griffiths ought to consider that in his own town, Carmarthen, Cllr Pat Jones is going to close two homes with a total of 60 beds and replace them with a new build with 12 beds. I wonder how he's going to get Mark to help him out of that one?

Wednesday 6 April 2011

'The Council Works in Even More Mysterious Ways....'

Further to my earlier post, 'The Council Works in Mysterious Ways...' I see the mystery deepens over the supposedly impoverished Carmarthenshire Council's £280,000 gift to the 'Towy Community Church' project. The proposal is going before Cllr Meryl Gravell's Executive Board on Monday 11th April but, surprise surprise, the report is 'exempt' and will, when the 'public interest test' is applied, be discussed in secret. A couple of Councillors queried the Council's involvement in this project last October when the land deal was done but were met with short shrift. The council put the total council cash contribution at around £360,000 (in addition to the £750k land deal) so there's a bit more to find yet. 
As I said, a little more clarity would help.

Update 18th April;
I see from the Minutes of the Executive Board meeting that this was held in secret and yes, it was rubber stamped. How predictable.

Council PR Stunt Backfires

[post removed]

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Coedbach Biomass Appeal Withdrawn

I hear this morning that the appeal against the refusal for the Coedbach Biomass power plant near Kidwelly due to start in June  has been withdrawn, I am not sure why, but I understand Clive Hughes, the developer, hopes to fight another day, perhaps after a much needed regime change at Carmarthenshire Council. As I have said before, I am not directly affected and my main concern has, (if you search this blog) been the strange circumstances surrounding the planning process. I also believe there has been much disinformation put out about this proposal, which would have seen a very clean, state of the art, renewable source of power and heat for the local area. Whatever your view, this is less a victory for those opposed to the scheme than it is for the inconsistency of Carmarthenshire's planning system.

On an entirely unrelated note, do you realise you will now have to pay to park in Carmarthen town's council run car parks on Sundays? This was brought in so that the Council is 'in line with' the new St Catherine's Walk multi-storey car park or, to put it another way, to recoup the £200k a year losses to the council predicted  from said multi-storey which formed part of this development put forward by the council in the first place.