Saturday 2 May 2015

Friday's Herald...and Cadno goes to Grillo

Passers-by have again reported seeing steam issuing forth from the windows of the Presidential Suite, County Hall. This is becoming a regular occurrence every Friday and appears to coincide with the publication of our new weekly newspaper, the Carmarthenshire Herald'...
This week's edition makes some interesting observations ...

The front page leads with the ££££ emerging mess over council funding to voluntary groups and charities and in particular the discrepancies between what the council's own departmental spending figures are telling them and what the organisations are actually receiving.

The Wales Audit Office is already looking at the council's management of property grants and this may well add another dimension to their investigations.
I mentioned the fiasco earlier in the week and the Herald doesn't hold back;

"The failure to control third sector spending featured prominently in the recent court case involving disgraced former mayor of Town Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. While there is no allegation of corrupt practice relating to third sector spending at Carmarthenshire County Council, close scrutiny is bound to follow as to who is benefiting from the Council's largesse and exactly what their relationship is with different council departments"


This week's splendid Cadno piece takes a look at the Grillo development in Burry Port, Llanelli. The subject of considerable controversy over the past week or two;

Cadno covers the waterfront

THIS IS the week when Cadno hopes that each of his readers will enter into their local ballot booths and mark their X’s against the appropriate candidate.

Possibly because Cadno is a nomadic sort, and possibly because he is a fox, the pollsters and canvassers have not troubled Cadno too much during the present campaign. As you might expect, Cadno’s manifesto would be pretty straightforward and revolve around the restoration of hunting MP’s on horseback and making Basil Brush appreciation a compulsory element of the National Curriculum.

With all the sound and mock-fury surrounding the election campaign, Cadno’s readers will be relieved to learn that he does not propose to discuss the General Election. How you vote is a matter for your conscience and yours alone, readers.

Cadno can’t help wondering how the ruling group on the local authority will vote come May 7. Without respected and admired employee Mark James to tell them what to do, how will some of the Executive Board even manage to spell ‘X’, let alone put their mark in the right place on the ballot paper?

Mind you, readers, Cadno wouldn’t mind seeing where esteemed pension specialist and all around good guy Mr James planted his cross, so to speak.

Even having entered into a self-denying ordnance regarding the General Election, there is still plenty around to tickle Cadno’s palate.

Last week, Cadno visited Llanelli. Having hopped aboard a passing train, this week he has reached Burry Port.

Great is the wrath of the Town Council that the government in Cardiff Bay has dared to piddle in their harbour. Mighty are the plans of Carmarthenshire County Council for the same area. Grand is the developer’s vision and desire for vast profit.

And despite all of this, the Welsh Government has intervened at the eleventh hour and derailed the County Council’s allegedly ‘impartial’ scrutiny of a scheme hatched between it and a development company to use derelict and toxic land for housing.

It is one of the great mysteries of the planning rules governing local government that authorities involved in drawing up and promoting development schemes are permitted to mark their own homework. It matters not how principled an officer or a councillor is, institutional inertia and self-interest is bound to have an effect on deliberations over a scheme sponsored by the authority of which they are either an employee or a member.

After all, readers, Carmarthenshire County Council contrived to begin preparatory works for the West Carmarthen Link Road before the full Council had voted on the budget for the project. Indeed, it appears that the Council began work on the road more in the hope than expectation that its unidentified partners will actually stump up towards its cost. Procedure means little when the Council is approving its own plans or pursuing its own agendas.

Somewhere in his office, readers, the Council’s presiding officer has a crystal ball that enables him to see in advance which votes will succeed and where the budgetary bite can be put. Perhaps much-loved Mark keeps that ball next to those belonging to the Council leader.

So, readers, let us have a little look at the plan to build houses on the polluted site of a former metal processing works.

Back in 2013, the Council fought against the decision of the Welsh Government to stop development on the former Grillo zinc oxide works. The authority went all the way to the High Court to battle a Welsh minister’s decision on grounds so specious that even Mr Justice Cranston – no slouch he - was baffled as to the basis upon which the Council threw Council Tax payers’ money at legal counsel to fight someone else’s battle.

Dismissing the challenge, the Court found that the Ministers had been entitled to rely on maps which classified parts of the site as falling within a 'highly vulnerable' area without any significant flood defences to protect them. The Ministers had rightly adopted a 'precautionary approach' to the flooding issue and there had been no unfairness to the developer which had been given a 'fair crack of the whip'.

Just to show how unbiased officers are about the whole thing, one Jonathan Fearn, aka the Head of Corporate Property for Carmarthenshire County Council, tweeted on November 4, 2013,

‘Bad news as Burry Port Grillo development rejected by High Court :(.’

Well at least one cannot accuse Mr Fearn’s sad smiley of having prejudged the issue this time around. Cadno read the Council’s planning documents, readers – a service he provides to spare your sanity – and no response had been received from Mr :( of 2013.

In order to get round the Court’s ruling, new maps were drawn. These new and improved maps, the Council argues, show that the risk of flooding is minimal - nugatory, even.

So, that’s all alright, then. The fears of pedestrian carnage on Burry Port’s Church Road crossing are brushed summarily aside. The idea that house owners will face difficulties getting insurance, of no concern. The fact that leeks grown on that land would be able to be sharpened and used as pencils is as naught.
It’s all alright, readers, because the map has been redrawn.
Funny that, readers.

But oopsy-daisy, readers, the Welsh Government has called the plans in.

The Council is trying to ride two horses on this one, readers. As Cadno is about to explain:
Firstly, the Grillo site sits outside the area covered by the Council’s own Local Development Plan.

That the Grillo site was outside the LDP was not an oversight. Readers, the Council knows that so hopelessly contaminated is the site that even developing it presents a massive pollution risk to Burry Port and the waterway on which it sits. In any event, the fact the development is outside the LDP means that the plans would have headed to Cardiff Bay for consideration.

Secondly, no matter what conveniently redrawn flood maps show, the Council were told POINT BLANK in 2013 not to permit the Grillo site to be developed.

The Council knew it was playing fast and loose, but now tries to appear affronted and disappointed at the Welsh Government’s intervention in its planning jiggery-pokery.

You could not make up the extent of the Council’s over-weaning arrogance and hubris, readers.

Convinced, as ever, of their own rightness and everyone else’s wrongness, the Council has invested the efforts of officers into a plan that is all fur coat and no knickers. How many hundreds, if not thousands, of man hours have been ploughed into the sand and silt at Burry Port?

All the pictures of councillors staring sadly through a gate onto a wasteland will not turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, any more than redrawing lines conveniently on a flood map will convince Cadno that there is not something ripe and rotten about the way Carmarthenshire County Council has conducted this business.

Burry Port needs redevelopment and regeneration readers, but this all smacks of the sort of reasoning that follows the line that ‘we must do something – this is something – therefore, we must do this’.
That simply is not good enough, readers, in fact it makes Cadno feel a bit :(


Finally, for now, I was surprised to learn this week that planning decisions which are decided under delegated powers (decided by officers  rather than by the planning committee) are no longer accompanied by the case officer's report. If this is the case, then there are not only implications for audit trails but the transparency of decision-making has been dealt another blow.


Anonymous said...

Well that's it now then in CCC If dodgy dealings have been rife in the past,not much chance of transparency in the future.

Anonymous said...

Marky Mark and Mezza know that it will be fish an chip paper at Morgan's before you can say brown envelope. Let's be fair, it has been going on for so long that nobody really cars or has any intention of doing anything about it. When half the county works for them, it is to be expected. We know that the consensus of opinion is that the poor be damned and they can eat cake.

Anonymous said...

Re. - planning decisions which are decided under delegated powers.

The Local Government Association/Planning Advisory Service report ‘Probity in planning for councillors and officers’ is quite clear on this - in the section ’Complaints and record keeping’ it states:

“So that complaints may be fully investigated and as general good practice, record keeping should be complete and accurate. Every planning application file should contain an accurate account of events throughout its life. It should be possible for someone not involved in that application to understand what the decision was, and why and how it had been reached. This applies to decisions taken by committee and under delegated powers, and to applications, enforcement and development plan matters.”

caebrwyn said...

@Anon 16:47

Strange as it may seem, this appears to be the case. I had sight of an email from a Carmarthenshire Council Planning Officer confirming that; "officers no longer write up reports for planning applications approved/refused under delegated powers".

Anonymous said...

Re: "officers no longer write up reports for planning applications approved/refused under delegated powers"

So what happens when decisions are challenged? Depending on the nature of the challenge, I’m sure the Ombudsman, Planning Inspector or Judge would not be impressed.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 23:06
I agree, I don't think they'd be impressed. The email I referred to in the comment above continues;

"In the event of an appeal, the case officer, as a matter of course will be providing a written statement on behalf of the Council."

The email was in response to a request for the report to assist in the initial preparation of an appeal - that preparation will now be far more difficult without the availability of the report and reasoning behind the decision.

A statement, as referred to in the email, would be shifting from the purposes of an original report and would be compiled purely as a response to a challenge, on policy, procedure, or even a legal challenge.

Also, for auditing purposes, and in regard to transparency in planning decisions, there is now something of a gap in the paperwork.

Anonymous said...

Maybe CCC should take a look at Birmingham City Council’s ‘Planning Code of Practice for Councillors and Officers’ (Prepared by the Director of Legal and Democratic Services and the Director of Planning and Regeneration):

“9.3 So that complaints may be fully investigated and, in any case, as a matter of general good practice, record keeping should be complete and accurate.
Omissions and inaccuracies could, in themselves, cause a complaint or undermine the Council's case. The guiding rule is that every planning application file should contain an accurate account of events throughout its life. It should be possible for someone not involved in that application to understand what the decision was, why and how it had been reached. Particular care needs to be taken with applications determined under the powers delegated to the Director of Planning and Regeneration, where there is no report to a Committee. Such decisions should be well documented and form part of the case file.”