Wednesday 14 August 2013

A council petition? That's a bit rich.

Leader of the council Kevin Madge (Lab) has been busy recently promoting an epetition to make Western Power lay undergound cables joining the Brechfa wind farm to the national grid rather than overhead lines and wooden pylons. This started off as a Plaid motion at the last council meeting and was enthusiastically supported across the Chamber. As a .Gov petition, 100,000 signatures could spark a debate in the Commons, so far it has nine.

The subject is neither here nor there, underground cables would be preferable no doubt and I'm sure Western Power could afford it, I'm sure the profit they make on Caebrwyn's electric bill alone would meet the cost of a few hundred yards.

The press release on the council website doesn't just want us to sign the petition, it suggests that Wales 'protests' against the wooden pylons...Carmarthenshire Council sanctioning the power of protests? Getting all militant? No, of course not, although it'd be a good photo opportunity for Kev as he chainsawed through an offending pylon...

Sorry to sound so unenthusiastic about it all but I find the idea of the council promoting a petition a bit rich. Of course, being on the receiving end of petitions is an entirely different matter for the council, and they are largely ignored and the petitioners described and dispensed with publicly as a 'misinformed' minority. It is the Chief Executive who now decides the fate of petitions brought to the Chamber. After the debacle of the 8th June 2011 when a group of frail elderly folk were unceremoniously snubbed after reading out their petition against the closure of their day centre, the constitution was amended to remove the right to present a petition to the elected Chair and to require it to be 'forwarded' to the Chief Executive seven days before the meeting.

That 'amendment' was at roughly the same time as it became a requirement for seven Members to second a Motion rather than the usual one. Again the seven day process must be followed. You may remember at the beginning of the year, the fate of a motion concerning press freedom. Anyway, we know that democracy has never been a strong point.

Perhaps this new found love of the 'people's voice' could start a new trend. Maybe Kev could promote a petition to insist the Living Wage is introduced across Wales, starting with Carmarthenshire? Of perhaps a call to oppose the cutbacks coming from Westminster? And with a Plaid FoI revealing a 63% increase in those seeking help over the Bedroom Tax in Carmarthenshire, a petition opposing benefit and disability changes? I think not.

The council could also start hosting epetitions of their own, many local authorities already do. Where a percentage of the local electorate can trigger a debate in the council Chamber on an issue. Unfortunately the council would still determine what was 'appropriate', but would have to give good reasons for rejection. Will this happen anytime soon in Carmarthenshire? Of course not, but if they did, goodness me, I wouldn't know where to begin....

Update 22.06; The council Twitter account has been promoting Kev's petition today. As a councillor he can launch a petition of course but he should promote it himself. As he considers twitter to be 'dangerous' he doesn't have an account and council officers should not be promoting it for him. It shouldn't even be on the council website.
As I have said above, residents' petitions are not even welcomed by County Hall, let alone promoted using council resources.


Anonymous said...

Western power are not responsible for meeting the cost of the cabling, but have a statutory duty to provide a connection, and that must be the least costly option. In a recent meeting, representatives of WP stated that the cost of an underground connection would be c. 900,000 ponds per km, whilst the overhead option comes in at c. 150,000 pounds per km. Since it is the developer that pays, it is unlikely that they will go for the charitable option and pay 6 times over the odds.

caebrwyn said...

@Anon 01.48
Thank you for that.
The developer is RWE Npower.