Wednesday 29 September 2021

New flood maps - the undersea world of Pentre Awel (the Wellness Village)

As from 1st December all Planning Authorities must adhere to new flood maps and the revised advice in TAN 15. The revised maps and guidance have now, finally, incorporated the effect of climate change on future flooding events and coastal erosion across Wales, and not simply the current risk.

New developments of homes, the emergency services, schools and hospitals, must not be located in areas of high flood risk without strong flood defences.

One big chunk of Llanelli now comes under these new rules. See the crosshatch in the picture below. And one would assume that The Mark James Luxury Spa, the Wellness Village (now called Pentre Awel, for shame's sake) will, as objectors predicted, be under water in the next ten to fifteen years.

Pentre Awel will surround Delta Lake (the elongated lake in the picture) and further plans for housing and the 'Wellness Hotel' encroach further into the prohibited area.
All that's between the sea and Delta Lake at the moment is a faulty sluice gate. Flood defences are insufficient. Putting a few feet of topsoil to raise the area isn't going to help, this is the Carmarthenshire Canute Approach to building on flood plains.
Click to enlarge

Of course the plans for the Wellness Village were driven through by Mark James, and concerns about flooding, which were repeatedly raised, were rubbished. Other concerns, that the development was currently under criminal investigation and riddled with corruption, were also ignored.

And we also know that Mr James had a rather different agenda to everyone else.

As an objector I was present at the Planning Committee meeting in January 2019 when the decision was made, and Sian Caiach, a County Councillor at the time voiced her objection. I wrote an account of the event here, plus some background... Our presence in County Hall coincided with the announcement of Mr James' hurried retirement, which also enabled Sian to publicly wish the "arrogant control freak" her warmest wishes. 
By July Mr James was having his door kicked in by the organised crime squad.

The Wellness Village, or Pentre Awel, was approved under the old maps, but with the current lack of any serious private investment, a history of corruption, a planning department not fit for purpose, the council already in debt by nearly half a billion, and the prospect of major flooding, perhaps it's time to take another look at the sauna-on-the-swamp...

Monday 13 September 2021

Croydon Council and libel funding, Carmarthenshire style...

There is growing anger amongst the council taxpayers of Croydon that their hard-earned cash has been spent unlawfully. After obstruction and delay and the involvement of the ICO, Inside Croydon, a news site based in the borough, obtained information that around £25,000 had been spent on top lawyers to issue libel threats against them.

The threats came after two articles on Inside Croydon got up the nose of the then chief executive and council leader. The Monitoring Officer appears to have given the rubber stamp to the illegal expenditure, but it all came to nothing as Inside Croydon, quite rightly, stood their ground, and demanded to know who was funding the threats. Finally, they have their answer.

"Which appears to mean that Negrini [the then CEO] was acting in contravention of that Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) Order from 2004 which states, “No indemnity may be provided under this Order in relation to the making by the member or officer indemnified of any claim in relation to an alleged defamation of that member or officer…”.


Some might regard such actions by someone in public office as being an abuse of their position."

Furthermore, the Derbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers Ltd [1993] ruling, held that local authorities may not sue given that they are government bodies and should therefore be open to “uninhibited public criticism”, the House of Lords determined that allowing a council to sue, or to use an officer as proxy, would be incompatible with the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

All of which should sound very familiar to those who have followed this blog.

Individual council officers, or Members can of course sue as individuals, like anyone else, with their own money. 

You will recall that the former chief executive, Mark James illegally used public money, or the 'slush fund' to fund a tactical counterclaim for libel against myself. The Wales Audit Office subsequently confirmed, in their Public Interest Report that this was unlawful.

He was never brought to book over the illegal legal expenditure, and neither was the crooked Monitoring Officer Linda Rees Jones who aided and abetted him. I hope Inside Croydon have more success.

Mark James was determined to shut this blog down, and despite the outcome of the libel case, he failed. More to the point, the words he sued over, 'slush fund' and 'Pinocchio' were spot-on accurate; it was a slush fund and he was, and is, a liar. Worse still was his seventeen year reign of bullying, pocketing public cash, greed and, let's face it, downright corruption, culminating in the acceptance of £mms in bribes shortly before his hurried departure.
I remain resolute that he will not get away with any of it.

I also remain resolute that I will get rid of his suspended order for sale from the £46,000 charge on my home, and that the monthly payments I struggle to make to this nasty piece of work will stop - I will use any damn means possible....
It simply cannot go on.

The article from @InsideCroydon, can be read here, an interesting read. 

Wednesday 8 September 2021

Full council next week - and that damning report into Planning Services - Updated

Update 15th September 2021
Following a heated debate this morning the Labour motion outlined below was defeated by the Plaid/Independent administration.

What stood out amongst the criticism was the total lack of transparency from the Plaid administration over all this, and of course from the corporate management.

It is quite remarkable that Plaid Cymru have refused to acknowledge that the catastrophic failure of the planning department has happened under their watch, and their refusal to accept the reasonable steps within the Motion is simply playing political games, to the detriment of the residents of the county.
Shame on them.

Update 10th September 2021
I've had a response to the FOI request detailed in the post below.

The council have been offloading planning applications to private company called Prospero Planning Ltd, and paid them the handsome sum of £114,609 from September 2020 to date. Blimey.

The company which carried out the council commissioned review was Solace in Business - the business arm of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. They were paid £17,587

* * * * * *

Just a brief heads up about next week's (15th September) full council meeting. The damning Audit Wales report into Carmarthenshire's Planning Services hasn't gone away, or found the long grass just yet.
The Labour opposition group have tabled the following motion;

We propose that Carmarthenshire Council agrees:

In order to prevent the serious backlog of both planning applications and planning enforcements accruing in the future and to make the Planning Service fit for purpose and to prevent the acknowledged risk to our Regeneration plans that we:

1.    Strengthen our Scrutiny and Risk Management Processes, Procedures and Reporting by fully implementing the recommendations from the reports from the Welsh Audit Office “Review of Risk Management Arrangements – Carmarthenshire County Council – July 2019” and “Review of Planning Services – Carmarthenshire County Council – July 2021”.

2.    That the Internal report into the Planning Department, ‘Strategic Review of the Planning Service’ be made available for scrutiny by all Councillors and prior to the Audit Committee meeting of the 24th of September.

3.    That a Plan to resolve the current backlog of the many hundreds of applications and even more hundreds of enforcements as well as making the Planning Department Service fit for purpose to allow us to meet our Regeneration targets in a timely manner, is presented to this Chamber at our next County Council meeting by the Interim Head of Planning.

4.    That the practice of using private companies to clear the backlog of planning applications ceases and is brought in house.

5.    That an adequate budget is set to provide for any change required to provide for an effective and sustainable service provision of the Planning Department.

6.    Calls on the Chair of the Planning Committee to publish a monthly report indicating the current state of awaiting applications and enforcements.

All seems very reasonable but no doubt the Plaid majority ruling group will present some sort of nit-picking amendment, we'll wait and see. Let's hope the Labour group doesn't allow Plaid to get away with the usual whitewash response.

Just to hedge their bets, Plaid have planted their own question later in the agenda with Plaid stalwart Cllr Dai Thomas asking his mate Emlyn Dole to outline how wonderful everything now is in the Planning division.

You note that the Labour Motion also calls for the earlier council commissioned report to be shared with all councillors before it appears on the Audit Committee agenda later this month. This report made no less than fifty recommendations, and has been kept in a locked drawer ever since.

Historically, Carmarthenshire's planning department, and the planning committee has had notoriety for much more than systematic failure.... 

As for point 4, a response to my Freedom of Information request (below) is now overdue;

"Audit Wales published it's Review of the council's Planning Services yesterday. The report refers to a private sector company which has been handling planning applications, apparently to reduce the backlog.
Could you please tell me the name of the private sector company, and the cost of this so far.
Could you also provide the name of the external company/consultants which carried out the council commissioned review of Planning Services completed in December 2019, and the cost."

I'll let you know if I get a response (see update above).

This long-term failure in the planning service is the fault of the corporate management, primarily under the rule of Mark James. However, politically, it was all under the watch of Emlyn Dole and his Plaid and Independent buddies, and they will go out of their way to avoid all accountability.
Sadly this is common practice, in many areas, in both corporate and political circles. As I know full well. 

Incidentally my FOI request to the council for correspondence and documents held by the council relating to the Llanelli Wellness Village bribery investigation is now two weeks late. 
More on all that, and the former CEO, the bribe-taking liar, thief, and all-round crook Mark James CBE, and friends, in due course.

The council-owned waste company Cwm Environmental Ltd (mentioned above) also pops up on next week's agenda and it seems they are nowhere near settling the insurance claim for the massive fire six months ago. You may recall that the large shed and it's contents of blue recycling bags was razed to the ground. 
In fact, searching questions are currently being asked by the insurers, so Cwm are not even in a position to make the claim yet.

The council are now providing Cwm, their own company, with the convenience of a million pound, 12 month short-term loan to tide them over until the insurance cash comes in, unless of course they are found to have been negligent...
The council must be awash with cash.

Finally, I have noticed that the 'Executive Board' is no more...well actually it's still there, it's just been renamed as the 'Cabinet', sounds more stately perhaps, pity they're such a dim-witted, twisted bunch.

Update 14th September 2021
The council have come up with a novel way of dealing with the backlog of over 700 planning enforcement cases, seems they're going to simply erase most of them from history.
A new protocol will be approved by a single executive board member on Friday detailing the type of cases which will be binned.