April 24 2007


Closet Tories

Old Grumpy notices that members of the county council's ruling Pembrokeshire Independent Group feature strongly in the Tory party's efforts to win the county's two Welsh Assembly seats.
Preseli hopeful Paul Davies' leaflet has Cllr Mark Edwards pictured outside Withybush Hospital wearing a large smile and an even larger blue rosette.
This comes as no surprise because Cllr Edwards was first elected as a Tory before switching to the Independents when he realised the grass was even bluer on that side of the fence.
Cllr Edwards has now risen to be vice-chairman of the planning committee.
But it was Angela Burns' election address that really caught the eye because it has pictures of two prominent Independent Group members.
Down near the bottom left hand corner, next to a picture of Mrs Burns and Dave Cameron, the candidate can be seen with Cllr Rob Lewis - Cabinet member for Leisure and Culture.
Top right is a photo of Mrs Burns enjoying a day out at the Great Wedlock dinosaur park.
It would seem she has a thing about old fossils because further down the page she is pictured in earnest conversation with former county council chairman, Cllr Clive Collins.

Missed opportunity

Looking at past election results it is interesting to see the great strides made by Plaid Cymru.
Thirty years ago, Plaid was a marginal force in Pembrokeshire, usually picking up a couple of thousand votes or so.
Now it is a serious contender to win at least one of the county's two seats.
This has Old Grumpy wondering what might have been had I continued in nationalist politics.
I first became involved in 1951 when one of the candidates in that year's General Election, William Brownrigg, gave me sixpence to distribute his leaflets around the area where I lived.
Brownrigg was an independent whose main policy was home rule for Cumberland.
Once this was achieved, hound trailing and Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling were to become the national sports.
He made his way about on an ancient sit-up-and beg with his leaflets under a spring clip on the carrier behind the seat.
In retrospect, I can see that he was loopy, but I was only eleven at the time and in those days a tanner would buy at least two Mars bars..
Sad to say, our campaign was not a success and he polled just 158 votes.
Undeterred, he was back in 1955, when I again acted as his professional agent in the Highmoor district of Wigton.
There can't have been much inflation in those days because the rate of pay was exactly the same.
However, Mr Brownrigg received a much more encouraging reception with his vote climbing to 368; an increase of 133%.
Unfortunately, by the time the next election came round, Mr Brownrigg had passed away and I was too young to build on our past success.
Otherwise, I calculate, by 1979 our "Home Rule for [insert name of county]" campaign would have had enough votes to sweep the country, and Mrs Thatcher would be a mere historical footnote.

Many a slip . . .

A mole deep inside the Pembrokeshire Independent Group tells me that the Leader has selected Cllr Robin Evans (Newport) to be the next vice-chairman of county council.
I can't say I know Cllr Evans all that well but, from what I have seen, he seems rather more likely to respect the impartiality of the chair than some of his predecessors.
It is also noticeable that he is being handed the palm despite his record of rebelling against the party line (Voting machines).
Whatever next? Cllr Henry Jones as chairman of the planning committee?
Whoever is appointed vice-chairman will automatically become chairman at the 2008 AGM.
That is, however, after the next election, and it has not escaped Old Grumpy's notice that Cllr Evans' predecessor as member for Newport, Glyn Rees, was also elevated to vice-chairman during an election year only to have the prize of endless rubber-chicken dinners and chauffeur-driven limo snatched from his grasp by an ungrateful electorate.

Up in smoke

Thanks to my cyber whizz kid in Fishguard, I am able to cast some light on the recent visit to Shetland by a group of local authority grandees.
It appears that the purpose of the visit was to inspect a waste incinerator cum electricity generating plant.
It is not known for certain who went from Pembrokeshire or how much the trip cost though I seem to remember reading that the Western Telegraph had put in an FoI request for these details so all will be revealed in due course..
What I do know from experience is that it costs about 900 quid to charter a five-seater plane to the Isle of Man for the day.
As this trip to Shetland involved an overnight stay, and it is four times as far, you can make a stab at the cost yourself.
And was the journey really necessary?
Well, I know from Grumpette's Manx connections that there is a waste-burning electricity-generator on the Isle of Man (http://www.sita.co.uk/local-authorities/integrated-waste/isle-of-man), so it would have been considerably cheaper to have nipped over there, or, better still, asked the IoM government to pop the information in the post.
However, my man from Fishguard tells me that Pembrokeshire CC were not the first to make the trip because, it appears, Shetland's incinerator has become something of a tourist attraction and they were beaten to it by a party from Mongolia (http://sheap-ltd.co.uk/html/news.html).
He has also pointed out that, according to the BBC, in order to reduce landfill the UK government is planning to increase the amount of waste incinerated (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4624700.stm).
I am not aware of any plans to build an incinerator in Pembrokeshire, but where there's smoke . . .

Election benefits

Last week, the Mercury published figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act on the salary of county council chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones
According to the paper, Mr Parry-Jones is now being paid £150,000 per year + over £9,000 in car allowances.
As I pointed out last year (Nice little earner) the chief executive's salary is set by six-member senior staff committee on which the Leader and three of his Cabinet cronies have a built-in majority.
As the Cabinet members all owe their positions (and special responsibility allowances) to the the Leader's patronage, it is not surprising to find they vote as a block.
In an attempt to democratise the process, the opposition put forward a notice of motion which would have removed the senior staff committee's powers to determine pay and restricted it, instead, to merely making recommendations to the full council.
Predictably, this was voted down by the Independent Political Group (Blockheads).
As I mentioned (Nice little earner) the chief executive's salary was not sole extent of his earning capacity because he also received an undisclosed sum for his duties as returning officer for Pembrokeshire.
Now, thanks to the wonders of the FoI Act, my socialist friend has discovered that Mr Parry-Jones received in excess of £7,000 on top of his county council pay for his efforts at the 2003 Welsh Assembly elections.
I understand that the Act is now being used to obtain the corresponding figures for past general, European and local elections.
I will report in due course.


Worker's paradise

Last week, I recorded that the planning committee had approved J L Adams and Son's application for an agricultural dwelling at Keeston Hill Farm.
"Son", in this instance, being Cllr Jamie Adams the recently appointed Cabinet member for highways.
Weighing in at 2,400 sq ft (3-4 times the size of a typical three-bed council house) + 260 sq ft double garage this house is at the top end of what estate agents refer to as an executive-type dwelling.
Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6 - the Welsh Assembly's guidance on this matter - instructs local authorities that: "Applications for planning permission for new agricultural or forestry dwellings should be scrutinised by the local planning authority with the aim of detecting attempts to abuse the concession that the planning system makes for such dwellings in the countryside."
This potential for abuse exists a long time in the future when the farmer decides he no longer requires to house a worker and applies to have the agricultural occupancy condition removed.
Once that is achieved, the house can be flogged off for its full market value.
Clearly, the incentive for this particular abuse is reduced if the size of the dwelling is restricted to that required to house a farm worker.
With that in mind the Welsh Assembly advises at para 47 of TAN 6 is that: "Agricultural dwellings should be of a size commensurate with the functional need. Dwellings which are unusually large in relation to the agricultural needs of the unit, or unusually expensive to construct in relation to the income it can sustain in the long term, should not normally be permitted."
Readers will recall that in the case of the application by the Leader's company, Cwmbetws Ltd, the planning officer thought that the "size commensurate with the functional need" was 1250-1,500 sq ft, though, just five weeks later, he recommended approval of a dwelling of 2,800 sq ft (Cwmbetws).
Another condition laid down by the Welsh Assembly is that the dwelling should be sited as near as possible to the existing farm complex.
Not only does this prevent sporadic development in the open countryside but it also acts as a disincentive to anyone looking to make a killing at some future date because clearly a house next to a farm yard will not be such an attractive proposition as one surrounded by green fields.
In the present case there was a suitable site close to the farm buildings but, unfortunately that has been earmarked for a slurry lagoon.
So the dwelling is to be sited further up the hill.
One of the conditions of approval is that the slurry lagoon must be constructed before work on the dwelling commences.
But, because the slurry lagoon is within 400 metres (150 metres, actually) of a private housing estate, it needs planning permission.
So, what happens if this is refused?
Clearly, the applicant can't be expected to fulfill a condition with which it is impossible to comply and the dwelling can then be built well away from the farm in accordance with the planning consent.
It would surely have been better if the planning consent for the slurry pit had been applied for before granting permission for the bungalow.
Then, if that application was refused, the dwelling could have been sited close to the farm complex as the rules require.
In any case, even if the slurry lagoon is built, it will be an easy matter in 20 or 30 years time to fill it in, apply for the occupancy condition to be lifted, and Bob's your uncle.

False comparisons

I have noticed an alarming tendency among some people to equate capitalism with fascism.
Presumably, this error stems from the left - right split in politics, which places communists at one end of the spectrum and fascists at the other, with social democrats, liberals and conservatives at points in between.
However, as Hayek is keen to point out, it difficult to get a cigarette paper between communism and fascism, both of which are totalitarian creeds where the citizen is seen as the servant of the state rather than, as in liberal democracies, the other way round.
To prove this point I would offer the following quotations from the works of a 20th century fascist.

Before the War the internationalization of the economic structure had already begun by the roundabout way of share issues. It is true that a section of the industrialists made a determined attempt to avert the danger, but in the end they gave way before the united attacks of money-grabbing capitalism

The best evidence of how far this ‘commercialization’ of the nation was able to go can be plainly seen in the fact that when the War was over one of the leading captains of industry and commerce gave it as his opinion that commerce as such was the only force which could put the country on its feet again.

In this way labour became degraded into an object of speculation in the hands of unscrupulous exploiters.

The de-personalization of property ownership increased on a vast scale. Financial exchange circles began to triumph and made slow but sure progress in assuming control of the whole of national life.

The War" referred to was the First World War and the quotations are taken from Mein Kampf by one Adolf Hitler.
Indeed, one of Hitler's aims was to show that a centralised fascist state was superior, especially when it came to making war, to the liberal capitalist societies of the UK and USA.
Fortunately for us all, he was proved wrong, but it was a close run thing.

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