14 January 2002


Out on the town

Old Grumpy has been carrying out some further research into Cllr Brian Hall's activities during his visit to London on 31 January - 1 February 2001 to attend a House of Commons reception on behalf of the Mid and West Wales Fire Authority.
During that trip he stayed overnight at the Jarvis International Hotel in Hyde Park.
On his return, he submitted receipts in support of his expense claim, including taxi fares of £10, £14 and £18 - a total of £42.
His expense claim includes a signed declaration that: "I have necessarily incurred expenditure and subsistence for the purpose of enabling me to perform approved duties as a Member of Pembrokeshire County Council."
Now, the necessary expenditure in this case is the taxi ride from the hotel to the House of Commons and back - two journeys not three.
Recently, I arranged for one of my agents, who was on a visit to London, to take a cab from the Jarvis International to Parliament.
The cost? £9.20.
I also noticed that Cllr Hall had claimed £51 in respect of a visit to the Mandarin Kitchen - presumably a Chinese restaurant - in Queensway.
Another declaration on his expense claim reads: "The amounts claimed are strictly in accordance with the rates determined by Pembrokeshire County Council under the relevant regulations".
The relevant regulations state that the maximum that may be claimed for an evening meal is £7.79.
According to the Council, Cllr Hall's claims for this trip to London, including his travelling expenses ( see October 15 December 17) are all in order.
I am therefore surprised that, despite my having written several articles disputing this view, I have not yet received one of the solicitor's letters he is so keen on sending to those who cross him.
Perhaps he, and his advisors, have concluded that a High Court judge is less likely to swallow the myth of the "Irish inward investor" than our local P C Plod.

Waiting for Godot

A recurring complaint from the County Council is that Old Grumpy has failed to check his facts with them before rushing into print.
The implication being that if only I'd given the Marketing and Communications Department a ring they could have saved me from error.
If only!
On 5 November 2001 I faxed the following to Marketing and Communications.

During my recent inspection of the County Council's accounts I discovered an order in respect of a visit to London on 6-7 November 2000 to attend the Queen Mother's Birthday Awards.
This order (No A236519) reads: "Please reserve 1x double room b and b for our Chairman (Lady Councillor) and Mrs Bill Hitchings + dinner".
The Chairman at the material time was Cllr Bill Hitchings so I am puzzled by the reference to "Lady Councillor".
Can you offer an explanation?
Also an invoice (No 893264) from Ocky White for a ferry booking on 29-30 March is causing me similar difficulties.
This refers to "Passengers: MrX Pembs CC x 2" and to a "2 berth cabin".
The car referred to on the invoice, Citreon N637 LDE, is, I believe that of Cllr Alwyn Luke.
This trip to Ireland was in connection with a Nuclear Free Local Authorities conference to be held in Cork.
In the event, this conference was cancelled because of the foot and mouth outbreak.
However, as Cllr Luke is the authority's sole representative on the NFLA, the question that arises is: who was his intended travelling companion and why was the Council paying his or her fare?

I still await their reply.


Logic Chopin

It would seem from the reports in the Mercury that I missed a lively meeting of the planning committee last week.
One item on the agenda was an application for a certificate of lawfulness in respect of a dwelling in Hundleton.
The planning officers' recommended that the certificate should be granted.
Apparently, this building had been constructed circa 1992 without the benefit of planning permission.
This sent the members into a bit of a lather.
Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse said that if this was allowed it would amount to telling people that they can go ahead and build what they want without permission, then simply apply for a certificate of lawfulness.
And Cllr Joyce Watson also expressed strong misgivings.
"I'm really, really concerned here that we're been held to ransom by someone who's decided to build wherever they like" she is quoted as saying.
Now, I can understand why these self-important people should feel aggrieved that ordinary citizens should go around doing things without their permission but I'm afraid they'll just have to put up with it because the law, as I understand it, is that once a building has been in place for four years the planners are unable to do anything about it.
So, if the building has indeed been there since 1992, the council will just have to lump it.
Not that this gives the green light to anyone to build without consent because, if the council do find out within four years, they may require the structure be demolished.
Perhaps our councillors would be better employed trying to find out how this particular building escaped the planning department's notice for all these years.
Another application that caught my eye was for the development of part of Pembroke Boro's football ground on London Road.
The planning officers recommended approval.
Both Cllr Allen-Mirehouse and Cllr Brian Hall opposed the plan but, according to the Mercury, both also expressed the opinion that, should he developers appeal, they would win their case.
The application was unanimously rejected.
I have some difficulty in seeing the logic of this because, if Hall and Allen-Mirehouse are right, then we will have both the offending development and a hefty bill for costs when the Council loses the appeal.
For many years now I have been telling our elected representatives that the determination of planning applications is a quasi-judicial process and it is the law, not their own personal opinions, that should guide their decisions.
Last year the County Council organised a seminar when, I understand, the authority's top lawyers tried to put across the same message.
Sadly, this seems to be beyond the grasp of some of them.
As my son is fond of saying, it's like trying to teach plankton to play the piano.

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