April 17 2001


Special agents

It seems that at long last members of the County Council are to be given some guidance on their role in planning matters.

This follows a complaint to the Monitoring Officer by Plaid Cymru leader Cllr Mike Williams over the "beekeeper's bungalow" near Wiston.

Cllr Williams alleges that the local member, Cllr Don Evans, acted as the applicant's agent during the debate on the issue.

Old Grumpy didn't attend that meeting but I was present on a previous occasion when the matter was discussed and heard Cllr Evans state that he was speaking "on behalf of the applicant".

It seems that, in response to Cllr Williams accusations, Cllr Evans claimed that it was his duty as a councillor to use all his efforts to present the case for someone he represented and other members expressed the view that they should be able to fight their corner without being accused of bias.

There seems to be some confusion here because fighting your corner carries with it the implication that you have formed an opinion on the matter i.e. you are biased

The fact is that a planning committee is a quasi-judicial body with the attributes of a court of law.

Clearly it would be unacceptable for members of a jury or a bench of magistrates to be "fighting their corner" on behalf of someone who appeared before them.

Quite simply, the duty of a member of the planning committee is to look objectively at each application with a view to determining whether the particular facts of the case bring it within the provisions of the local plan (the law) and if not whether there are any "material" considerations which justify going outside policy."Material" considerations do not, I might add, include the applicant being "a good ol' boy" (or girl).

In Cllr Evans' case the situation is slightly different because he is not a member of the planning committee and was present merely as the local member.However, when the application comes before full council he would be well advised to consider whether he should declare an interest in the matter.

The advice given to members of Preseli Pembs District Council was that an interest should be declared whenever you are "likely to be influenced in considering the matter because of your knowledge of or dealings with the applicant"

Also worthy of consideration is the Ombudsman's criticism of former county councillor Alan Edwards in the report on Princes Gate waste disposal facility.

Cllr Edward's "offence" was that he signed a petition opposing the scheme and subsequently neglected to declare an interest when the matter was debated by South Pembs District Council.

There are those who think these rules too harsh but, given their purpose - to prevent influence peddling by politicians grubbing around for votes - perhaps they are not strict enough.

The fact is that the present planning system is an affront to the basic constitutional principle of the separation of powers which holds that politicians, judges and administrators should, as far as possible, be independent of each other.

As the philosopher John Locke wrote as long ago as 1690: "It may be too great a temptation to human frailty, apt to grasp at power, for the same persons who have the power of making laws, to have also in their hands the power to execute them, whereby they may exempt themselves from obedience to the laws they make, and to suit the laws, both in their making and execution, to their own private advantage"

Media mongrels

A fierce battle is raging over who gets the radio licence for Pembrokeshire with the three contestants: More FM, 107 Haven FM and Real Radio all trumpeting their local connections.

More FM and 107 Haven FM have even recruited County Councillors - John Allen-Mirehouse and Mary Megarry,respectively - to their Boards of Directors in an attempt to boost their street cred.

Believing, as I do, that the relationship between journalists and politicians should be the same as that between a dog and a lamp-post, I regard the idea of politicians having any sort of say in the control of the media with utter dismay.



For the past several weeks two male blackbirds have been fighting over my garden.

Mostly this has consisted of handbags at ten paces but, occasionally, is has escalated into actual physical violence.Things have quietened down recently, presumably because one of the protagonists has given up his claim to this most desirable territory.

Old Grumpy can well understand why the battle should be protracted. Quite simply my garden is one of the best billets around.

While most blackbirds have to hop about on somebody's lawn hoping to catch a worm unawares, the inhabitants of my vegetable patch enjoy the equivalent of the Savoy Grill.. I am sure they sit about in the bushes all day waiting for me to appear with a spade.

And, because of the quantity of farmyard manure I use, the ground is literally alive with worms.

On Sunday afternoon I watched the female of the pair dispatch 10 large, juicy wrigglers in less than a minute before she hopped off into the hedge - too overloaded to fly.

I suggested to Old Grumpette that this could be where the expression "good digs" comes from.

She was not amused.

That's the trouble with women - no sense of pun.

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