(Later post 8th September: Full council next week - and that damning report into Planning Services)
As anticipated on my previous post, the Audit Wales report into the council's planning services has now been published.
It is a damning report and it is clear that the planning department is in total meltdown; "Significant and long-standing performance issues in the planning service need to be urgently addressed"
As usual, these reports are 'politely' written, but it doesn't take much to read between the lines, not with this one.
The external consultants report, as also mentioned in the previous post, was commissioned by the council themselves and completed in December 2019.
It has never been mentioned in any committee, let alone ever made publicly available, despite making no less than FIFTY recommendations for improvement - this current Audit Wales report notes that the council, apart from dithering about with a customary 'Action Plan', has failed to improve on any of them.
What a waste of money that was.
What is also clear is that the blame lies with the corporate management and executive councillors.
We understand that following the Audit Wales report, the head of planning, Llinos Quelch left the council...'for personal reasons'. However the chief executives (present and former) and the Director of Environment, Ruth Mullen (£130k+ per year) are also, and ultimately, responsible.
Plaid Council leader Emlyn Dole, and his Executive Board, have failed miserably to keep an eye on the planning service and ignored the systematic failings. They've continually let senior management off the hook, causing catastrophic damage to the department and public confidence. What a shambles.
Of course it must be remembered that not so long ago Emlyn was embroiled in his very own planning scandal, emerging unscathed with the able assistance of Mark James, a favour for which he was duty bound to return...
For years the council has been seeking empty headlines with their various and vacuous 'ambitious regeneration programmes' whilst not even having a properly functioning planning department to actually deliver it.
This systematic failure was all under Mark James' watch. Sadly and as we all know, he was more concerned with his own wallet, his ego, and, it turns out, accepting bribes, than a functioning, decent council.
It's also clear from the report that the massive backlog (847 planning applications and 761 enforcement cases as of March 2021) is impacting on the regeneration visions, and vice versa, the time spent on 'strategic visions' is making the backlog pile up to an unmanageable scale.
The report notes that the council has no plan to deal with the backlog, some of which go back over five years.
The council is also misrepresenting it's data for the time taken to determine applications, Audit Wales points out that "performance may potentially be worse than currently recorded and reported".
It also notes that every year there's a massive overspend, in 2019/20 it was £512,000.
The planning department is also unable to manage the growing backlog and increasing number of enforcement cases. This is leading to more retrospective planning applications, a failure to follow planning policy and a loss of confidence from the public in the service altogether. Nothing new there mind you.
Remarkably, "Delivering effective planning enforcement" was quietly removed from the Council's Risk Register in September 2020.
I suppose if you delete the problem it no longer exists...
The report notes a total lack of transparency on any attempts by the council to act on recommendations or improve the service, possibly because it hasn't. It certainly hasn't been transparent over the external consultants report, nor this one.
It is also noted that the planning division has not been transparent, nor shared information, about complaints. Significantly it has also failed to respond to complaints; the public have had to resort to contacting their local councillors.
And who knew they were passing on swathes of planning applications to a private sector company to deal with? No one.
All this indicates a failure of a critical system, a system which is fundamental to economic recovery, addressing climate change, and of course to the public. It also leaves a system open to abuse. Failure to 'perform' is a failure to function.
Let's hope that this report doesn't find itself in the County Hall long grass, out to pasture for a couple of years in a dreaded 'Task and finish group'. It must be debated at full council without delay.
As the title of this blog suggests,(it expanded its interests a long time ago but the title stuck) there have been historic problems with Carmarthenshire's Planning Department for many years, and not necessarily related to 'performance' per se....there have been countless questionable decisions, some very curious behaviour from the planning committee and senseless council planning decisions pushed through regardless of public opinion or the environment, let alone actual policy.
As with the rest of the Mark James hangers-on still in the top brass, Rees-Jones, Wendy Walters, Chris Moore etc, it's about time there was a clean sweep of the upper echelons in this department too.
Sack 'em all.
It might just get somewhere then.
The report can be found on the Audit Wales website. It should come as no surprise that there's no link on the council's website.