I'm afraid to say this is rather long and complicated.
However, I can guarantee that anyone who manages to read it through will learn more about what really goes on inside County Hall than from a thousand years' worth of Western Telegraphs.
So, be consoled by the words of my old chemistry master David 'Solomon' Beaumont: "Everything worth knowing is difficult to understand."
Unfortunately, these events occurred at the time when the Welsh Assembly took over from the Welsh Office, so I apologise if I have used the terms as if they were interchangeable.
The first piece of evidence on the Enfield saga dates from 1991 when the former district council refused an application to rebuild the former farmhouse at Enfield, Portfield Gate because the building was too tumbledown..
In 1995 permission was given for the conversion of a small, intact barn on the site under policy EV18 which allows the renovation of sound traditional buildings provided it does not involve "extensive alteration, rebuilding and/or extension" (see below)
In 1997, the property came up for auction and, according to an unsigned memo on the file, a Dr Richards approached the planning department with a view to rebuilding the farmhouse to provide a four bedroom house.
According to the memo, Dr Richards was advised that such a development would be contrary to policy because "the original farmhouse was considered derelict then [at the time of the 1991 application] and must have deteriorated since."
Clearly this advice was in line with policy because a derelict farmhouse would require "extensive . . . rebuilding . . . "
In March 1999 the county council's planning committee considered an application to rebuild the Enfield farmhouse.
Although it is not well understood, the determination of planning applications is subject to the statutory provisions found in Section 26 Planning and Compensation Act 1991 which reads:
"Where making any determination under the planning Acts, regard is to be had to the development plan, the determination shall be made in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise."
Or as Lord Clyde put it in a leading Scottish case: ". . . it can be said that there is a presumption that the development plan is to govern the decision on an application for planning permission . . ."
Of course, the words "unless material considerations indicate otherwise" give planning committees a degree of flexibility, though, it should be said, contrary to popular belief, having influential supporters on the planning committee is not a material consideration.
The policies relevant to the Enfield application are GN4 and EV18 of the North Pembrokeshire Local Plan and H7 of the Dyfed structure plan.
In his report to committee in March 2002, Head of Development Control, David Lawrence, said that the former farmhouse, which constituted the main part of the proposal, was very derelict and needed almost complete rebuilding, and, in his verbal presentation, that it was crystal clear that this was against policy EV18(1) which requires that: The building can be genuinely converted to accommodate the proposed use without extensive alterations, re-building and/or extension".
Mr Lawrence said the application should be refused because "the submitted scheme does not represent a conversion of existing buildings but rather the erection of a new dwelling in open countryside."
Despite Mr Lawrences unequivocal advice; and a plea from the, then, Leader, Eric Harries, that the committee should follow policy, the bungalow farming wing of the ruling Independent Political (sic(k)) Group forced the application through by eight votes to seven.
Because it was contrary to policy, the application had to go before Policy and Resources (P and R) and Full Council for further scrutiny.
At the meeting of P and R, Cllr Philip Llewellyn, the then, leader of the Tories on the council, suggested that the honest way to proceed was to "put their hands up" and admit that the decision was outside policy and justify giving consent on the grounds that the clearance of the range of derelict, redundant farm buildings on the site was a "material consideration" sufficient to overcome the policy objections.
That proposal did not find favour because it would have meant the bungalow farmers losing control to the Welsh Office.
No doubt the bungalow farmers could have mustered enough support to force the application through both P and R and full council but that would not be the end of the matter because, given Mr Lawrences clear advice that it was against policy, the Council would, anyway, be bound to refer the matter to the Welsh Office as a major departure from the local plan, with the attendant risk that the Welsh Office might call it in for determination by an independent inspector.
Something rather more subtle was called for, and a plot was hatched which involved creating a scenario in which the application would miraculously be transformed so as to comply with policy.
So, the Independents proposed that consideration of the application should be deferred to allow the officers and the applicant to negotiate a scheme that would better accord with policy.
It would seem that the Director Mr. Roger Barrett-Evans played a leading role in these negotiations and when the revised proposals came back to the planning committee in June 1999 Mr. Lawrences report informed members that: Although technically the development does not fully comply with Policy EV18 and some of the walls need rebuilding, the amended proposal does meet the other requirements of the policy and approval would not mean a major departure requiring reference to the Welsh Office
When Old Grumpy inspected the files, I discovered an earlier draft of Mr. Lawrences report to this meeting which said, simply: The proposals do however still constitute development which is not in accordance with the policies set out above.
Which was, of course, correct because no amount of fancy verbal footwork could alter the fact that it still involved ". . . the erection of a new dwelling in open countryside."
Some members of the minority groups believed this change of tone from "not in accordance with the policies . . . " to ". . . technically the development does not fully comply ... [but it] does meet other requirements of the policy . . . " was evidence that Mr. Lawrence had been pressurized into producing a report more friendly to the application than his professional judgment would warrant - of which, more later.
But, when questioned about this, Mr Barrett-Evans denied any arm-twisting and claimed the revised wording had been introduced in order to make it absolutely clear that the proposal was against policy".
George Orwells Ministry of Truth would be hard pressed to better that.
I would also draw attention to the words "the amended proposal does meet the other requirements of the policy"
Planning committee approved the application and when it arrived at P and R, Mr. Barrett-Evans echoed this proposition when he told members that, though the application did not comply with Policy EV18 (1), it did accord with the other four sections of Policy EV18.
This flawed interpretation was repeated in Mr Barrett-Evans' letter to the Welsh Office after the application had been called in.
To sustain this line of argument you have to suppose that the building referred to in EV18 (2) (3) and (4) (see above) is the finished building, not the original building.
On any reading of the policy, this cannot be so, otherwise it would be possible to get a four-out-of-five score even if no building previously existed.
The fact is that Policy EV18 is a sequential test and if an application fails to satisfy 18(1) then it is impossible, logically, for it to clear the other hurdles.
Any doubt on that matter can be dispelled by reading the footnote to Policy EV18 which explains the purpose of the policy.
And, if that is not convincing enough, the guidelines issued by the Welsh Office on the "Re-use and adoption of rural buildings" might help:
P and R duly gave the application the green light and two weeks later it turned up at Full Council to receive the final seal of approval.
In the meantime, Old Grumpy and others had written to the Welsh Assembly, alerting them to the dishonest process that the Council had put in train, and requesting that they call in the application for determination by an independent inspector.
When Mr. Barrett-Evans addressed Full Council, he told the members that the Assembly had informed the Planning Department of the call-in request but had taken no action.
If the Assembly felt this was a major departure they would have called it in, he said, triumphantly, before the Independents voted the application through by 31-17.
Within the hour Mrs Lynda Taylor entered the chamber and passed a note to Mr Barrett-Evans.
and a chastened Mr. Barrett-Evans was soon back on his feet announcing that um, er, the Assembly had just been on the phone to say they were calling the application in after all.
An inspector was appointed and in due course he recommended refusal on the grounds that These proposals could not be regarded as a conversion or a change of use in compliance with policy GN4 nor could they constitute a genuine conversion without extensive alterations, re-building and/or extension in compliance with policy EV18. In effect they would, in total, constitute a new dwelling in a location where development should be strictly controlled.
Remarkably similar, you will notice, to the advice given by Mr Lawrence way back in March 1999, before Mr Barrett-Evans got involved.
Significantly, the inspector also found that, of the two proposals that had been before the Council, the "improved" version negotiated by Mr Barrett-Evans was even further outside policy than the original i.e. what the Director had negotiated was not something more in accord with policy but something which was more in accord with the applicants desire to disregard policy and build a large new executive dwelling in the open countryside.
There were other interesting aspects to the Enfield case, not the least of which was a letter in the file from the applicants agent Mr Brangwn Howell.
What is fascinating about this letter is that someone from the planning department has added a series of less than complimentary observations in the margins (see below).
What is even more fascinating is that, despite this complete demolition of the agent's case by one of their number, planning officers were claiming that the proposals were only "technically in breach" of the council's policies.
Even more fascinating still is that many of the agent's arguments appear in Mr Roger Barrett-Evans' letter of support written to the Welsh Office after the application was called in for determination by an inspector.
But, before I deal with that, I must bring you up to speed with the amazing developments that seem to have occurred on the site during the spring and summer of 1999.
When the application first came before the planning committee in March 1999, the planning officer was absolutely opposed to the proposal.
As recorded earlier, he said it was "crystal clear" that it was against policy and should be refused.
His report read:
After pressure had come to bear, the application appeared at the planning committee on 24 June when the report had been modified to say:
You will notice that the word "very" has disappeared from the original version and the "executive home" has become "a dwelling".
These alterations could, of course, be merely the result of careless use of language, but I would suggest that someone felt it necessary to go into the word processing programme and deliberately make these changes in order to soften the extent to which the proposals contravened policy
And when the application returned to the planning committee in November the following year the building seems to have improved even more:
From very derelict, to derelict, to poor state of repair in just over 18 months - perhaps, if the applicant had just shown a bit of patience, in a couple of years the building would have been fully restored of its own accord.
But, to return to Mr Barrett-Evans' letter to the Welsh Office in which he said:
To which the the planning officer who wrote the notes had responded "It is not derelict land" and, in response to the brownfield site claim: "NO!" and "it is not a brownfield site"!.
The letter printed below was sent by the applicant's agent to all members of the policy and resources committee, one of whom forwarded a copy to the planning department where someone wrote a series of notes in the margins.
I think it would be no exaggeration to say that whoever wrote these comments was less than convinced by the arguments put forward by the applicant's agent.
Naturally, I was curious to find out the identity of the mysterious planning officer who had scribbled these notes in the margins of Mr Howell's letter.
Especially so, as his/her views seemed to have been disregarded by Mr Barrett-Evans, who, so far as I know, has no planning qualification to his name, in his letter to the Welsh Assembly in support of the application.
So, in June 2000, I wrote to the council's press office enclosing a copy of the annotated letter, asking if they could confirm that they were written by Mr David Lawrence whose name appears at the top of the letter.
The reply was characteristically brief:
"The comments were not written by David Lawrence and in the absence of any initials, it is not possible to say who they belong to."
Being nothing if not persistent, Old Grumpy tried again.
Surely, I argued, it must be possible to say which member of the planning department was the author.
But all to no avail.
Back came the reply:
"As indicated previously the comments were not written by David Lawrence and aside from enquiring of all the members of the planning department, it is not possible to say to whom they belong."
After years of dealing with the county council's press office you develop a nose for dissimulation, and, as there couldn't have been more than half-a-dozen potential scribblers, my nostrils began to twitch.
While digging around in some planning files in county hall I came across the following
And although it is a rather poor copy I couldn't help but notice the similarities between "to" "letter" and the "app" in applicant and the "app" in appeals (see above).
I sent a copy of this note to the press office who confirmed that:
The note initialled 'D' was written by Head of Development Control David Lawrence.
The comments written on the letter from the applicant's agent are in a different hand and we repeat our assertion that they do not belong to Mr David Lawrence."
So much for my first stumbling steps into the science of graphology!
However, a couple of years later, after I had across some further evidence, it occurred to me that my earlier correspondence with the press office had only elicited its views on whether Mr Lawrence had written the comments.
That, of course, is not quite the same as saying that Mr Lawrence, himself, had denied authorship.
So, on 4 October 2002, I wrote to the press office putting that exact question.
I have made enquiries and I have no reason to believe that the information provided to you in June-July 2000 was inaccurate. Mr David Thomas the Head of Marketing and Communications replied.
As that didn't answer my question, I wrote back and after a protracted exchange of correspondence My Thomas, in his best Alastair Campbell mode, sent me the following letter.
You will notice that my letter of 4 October 2002 (italicised in Mr Thomas' letter) asks exactly the same question that I asked in my letter of 1 January 2003 and which Mr Thomas says, had I asked earlier, "would have prevented an unnecessarily extended correspondence."
Kafka and George Orwell would have understood.
However, as I said above, this latest bout of letter writing had been brought on by some new evidence that I had come across in the council's files.
This was in the form of a memo written, apparently, by Mr David Lawrence.
Again, my amateur graphology skills led me to believe that the writing in this memo bore a remarkable similarity to that in the margins of Mr Howell's letter.
The words "to" "of" and "letter" in particular.
So, I wrote to Mr Thomas enclosing a copy, and asking if he could confirm that Mr Lawrence was the author of the memo.
When a month went by without a reply, I wrote to Mr Lawrence himself.
His extremely shirty reply concluded:
Clearly, my graphological skills need some polishing because the signature on this letter bears no resemblance whatsoever to that on the memo.
I was first alerted to the resurrection of the Enfield application by a public notice in the Western Telegraph on September 27 2000.
The application was being advertised because: The proposed development does not accord with the development plan in force in the area in which the land to which the application relates is situated.
Imagine my surprise when I read the agenda for the Planning Committee of November 1 and found that, though it most surely still constituted "the erection of a new dwelling in open countryside", there was no mention whatsoever in the officers report on Enfield that the proposals were contrary to policy
Even more surprising was that the officers recommendation was for approval, implying that the application was within policy.
Fortunately the Welsh Assembly was alerted to what was afoot, not by the Council, which should have notified them at the time the public notice was published, but by members of the public, and they contacted the Council on the day before the meeting and extracted a written promise that the application, if approved, would be reported to the Assembly as a major departure and no consent would be issued until the Assembly had considered what, if any, action to take.
When questioned about this, the planning officer said it was fully accepted by the planning department that the proposals were outside policy and, he claimed, it had always been the intention to subject the application to the full departure procedure.
But he failed to explain why none of this was contained in the report, the purpose of which is to inform members of the relevant policies and how the particular application stands in respect of those policies.
The planning officer's explanation didnt satisfy Cllr Phil Llewellyn who said that, on reading the officers report, he had formed the impression the application was now within policy and could be determined by the Planning Committee under its plenary powers.
We have been led up the garden path by the officers report, he said.
Not for the first time nor the last, I fear.
Eventually, a planning inspector appointed by the Welsh Assembly recommended approval mainly on the grounds that the development would lead to the clearance of the derelict farm buildings on the site.
Finally, after I happened to mention that Mr Barrett-Evans and the applicant's agent Mr Brangwyn Howell were formerly colleagues at Dyfed County Council, the county council's Head of Marketing, David Thomas, had my website removed from cyberspace. (see Private and confidential)