Tuesday, 9 July 2019

No call-in for the Wellness planning application

After six months the Welsh government have decided not to call in the Wellness planning application but to let the council determine it themselves. As one of the people who requested the call-in, and attended the planning committee meeting in January, I received the decision letter yesterday. The WG have decided that it doesn't raise issues of wider importance and, presumably, the very belated contamination testing, from fridges to arsenic, going on at the site (and beyond) tick some of NRW's concerns. Apparently the water table is also much higher than previously thought.
However, the growing of vegetables at the site, even Wellness vegetables, might not be such a good idea....

The letter makes clear that the WG is making no comment on the merits of the application; "the decision not to call in the application should not in any way be taken as a reflection on the planning merits of the development".
There were, of course, other issues raised aside from the environmental impact which has put a stop to the project, namely the scandal with Sterling (now dissolved), the Uni and a certain ex-senior officer, and the small matter of a police investigation, which seems to have escalated. But these are not material planning considerations.

Incidentally, Plaid Cllr Alun Lenny has put forward a Motion for tomorrow's full council to boost TAN 20 planning guidance and ensure that Welsh language impact reports are designated material planning considerations and required for developments over a certain size. I find it odd that the Wellness application, heartily endorsed by Cllr Lenny and Co contains no more than a nod to the language, let alone a report under TAN 20.

Anyway, back to the swamp, and I would imagine that the timing of the WG decision was entirely coincidental to the recent retirement of Mr James...and the slightly scaled back 'new designs' trumpeted by Cllr Dole last week. Interestingly, this appeared to be the planned 'rebranding' tactic to lessen the reputational damage that the scandal ridden project has enjoyed. Putting lipstick on a pig.

And would Ministers really want to get involved and tainted with the ongoing scandals? They may also be hoping that the new CEO has a better working and planning ethic than the previous one. Just 'ethics' would be a start.

The 'new designs' also suggest that a new planning application should be put forward, or at least an amended version of the original. I doubt this will happen though and I'm sure the rubber stamp will be wielded post haste.

Unless the council decide to 'go it alone' (despite being already £413m in debt), or just stick to the leisure centre and care home, an amended business case will also be resubmitted to the City Deal joint committee. There is currently no clue where the £127m of private money will come from, Swansea Uni is out of the picture and Trinity St David is shedding jobs to break even. Whatever happens, this time the whole process must be transparent and the business case made public, as recommended by the internal governance review.

It's been a shambles from the start thanks to the dire governance under Mark James and former City Deal monitoring officer Linda Rees Jones. And, as for the other issues, I trust the police are closing in. The council have one more chance to start from scratch and get this right and ensure that this doesn't become another disastrous legacy courtesy of Mr James.
I also suspect he's still pulling the strings.

I have written extensively about this project and, unless everything is now above board and open to scrutiny, and will benefit the many, not a handful of conmen, then I expect I'll still be writing about it in five years time, accompanied, likely as not, by the usual damning audit report.


On the subject of transparency, the FOI department appear to have gone into shutdown mode, towards me anyhow. Maybe their resources have been redirected to the press office again, the two are very intertwined. I have recently made a few requests which are now over the time limit, including one about the letter from the health board Chair concerning the inability of our former CEO to abide by any of the Nolan Principles...
There was nothing terribly complex in my requests and I don't expect information which is not available. This painful and slow process is so often the only way to extract information from the council, it's a shambles.

I will be writing, in due course, to the new chief executive about that suspended, unlawful libel clause. I will be interested to find out whether she approves of her new found potential power to illegally sue critics with public money, or if she finds it all a bit iffy. This is yet another appalling legacy from Mark James for which, amongst other things, I am determined he will be held to account.

The clause is suspended at the moment but the Mark James Fan club, ie Emlyn 'two barns' Dole and Linda Rees Jones are very keen to reinstate the provision and extend it to cover councillors. It can't remain suspended forever (can it??) so I will be curious to hear Ms Walters' views on the matter, and the complete removal from the Constitution. Though, as a long term deputy of Mr James, who was allowed to scarper with his ill-gotten gains, I'd be surprised if her view was any different.

We'll see.

For background to all of the above, please search this blog


Anonymous said...

It’s rather odd that Alun Lenny’s should put this motion to council when CCC is currently undertaking the review of the Local Development Plan – that is the correct place for this proposal to be considered. It seems apparent the he is not aware of or ignoring the contents of Tan 20 which is quite clear on the requirements of an LDP to provide robust evidence to support whether it is appropriate to define areas where the Welsh language is considered to be of particular sensitivity or significance.

If an LDP does have such a provision it “does not give any additional weight to the Welsh language above any other material consideration and decisions on all applications for planning permission must be based on planning grounds only and be reasonable…. Planning applications should not routinely be subject to Welsh language impact assessment, as this would duplicate the SA and LDP site selection processes.”

However, it will come as no surprise to many that a member of CCC’s planning committee has such a poor understanding of the planning system.

Anonymous said...

Re anon @ 08:05

It would seem he is also unaware of the current LDP’s Supplementary Planning Guidance on the Welsh language.