Nice work if you can get it…

It comes as no surprise to keen Kremlin-watchers like Old Grumpy that Pembrokeshire County Council’s Independent Political Group is seeking to make a comeback by tabling a motion of no confidence in Leader David Simpson at an Extraordinary Meeting to be held on Thursday 18 May at 10 am.

So this is a good opportunity to remind people of what they’ve been missing since 2017 when the electorate gave the IPG the order of the boot.

Examples of dubious practice during its 20 year rule are, as they say, too numerous to mention so it is difficult to know where to start.

I suppose the party’s unlawful use of the council’s IT system to try to influence the 2008 and 2012 elections is about a bad as it gets, but, as that episode has been extensively covered elsewhere, I will concentrate on the abuse of the planning system to the benefit of leading IPG figures.

Back in 2005 Old Grumpy noticed that the recently annointed IPG leader Cllr John Davies had submitted a planning application for a herdsman’s cottage at his farm at Cwmbetws near Eglwyswrw.

On consulting the file I discovered that what he had in mind was a large executive style house way above the pay grade of your average farm worker.

It appeared that the planning officer had also noticed that the size of this dwelling breached Welsh Government guidelines [Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6] that such agricultural dwellings to be no larger than required to house an agricultural worker – the so-called “functional need”.

Indeed the planning officer had written to Cwmbetws’ planning agent explaining that the proposed 3,200 sq ft property was almost three times as large as he considered necessary to meet the “functional need”.

In his letterĀ dated 13 April 2005, the planning officer set out this principle with exemplary clarity.

He wrote:

Scale – The advice set out in TAN 6 requires new agricultural workers dwellings to satisfy both a financial and a functional test.

Paragraph 47 (see above) states that dwellings should be of a size commensurate with the established functional requirement. In this case the functional requirement is for a herdsman/GFW [general farm worker] and as such the dwelling should reflect that functional requirement. I do not consider that the proposal which has a gross floor area (excluding the garage) of approximately 315 square metres (3400 square feet) is of a scale reflecting the functional requirements of the holding. I would suggest that a gross floorspace in the region of 115 to 140 square metres (1,250 to 1,500 square feet) would be more appropriate to the functional needs of the holding.

So it was something of a surprise when the planning committee agenda was published five weeks laterĀ to find that the report made no mention whatsoever of the “functional test” and that the planning officer was recommending approval of a 2,800 sq ft dwelling – still twice what he considered appropriate.

I tipped off three of my friends on the planning committee and even when they raised the subject of Paragraph 47 none of the officers present thought fit to explain “functional need” to the members.

It was all downhill after that because soon after the permission had been given it emerged that the 160 dairy cows – the care of which gave rise to the need for an agricultural dwelling – had been sold (No Udder Conclusion).

And it didn’t end there because TAN 6 required that the proposed dwelling should fulfil a present rather than a future need.

By happy coincidence, a friend who knows his way around the Internet rather better than I do has turned up some pictures of the herdsman’s cottage on Google Maps.

The new dwelling is on the left circled red. On the right circled red is the existing farmhouse (top) together with an office building on the site of a former dwelling that was demolished in 2004.

So the rule that there should be no prior disposal of a dwelling house was also broken as was that requiring that the agricultural dwelling should be sited so as to form part of the range of agricultural buildings.

Below is the almost completed new dwelling pictured in November 2021:

So much for the “present need.”

I should add that a not disimular process was followed when Cllr Jamie Adams applied for a herdsman’s cottage on his family farm at Keeston.

In that case a previous agricultural permission for a property known as Golden Grove carried a condition that no further such consent would be allowed on the holding.

By happy coincidence this vital piece of information failed to make it into the planning committee report and the unsuspecting members followed the officer’s recommendation and approved a 2,400 sq ft dwelling + double garage (Cottage industry)