7 January 2003
Rule by decree
Planning Inspector John Wallis struck a blow for democracy recently when he overturned the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority's decision to refuse permission to build on the former turkey farm at Little Haven.
The reason for the Park's refusal was that the applicant declined to sign an agreement to comply with the controversial "homes for locals" policy.
Whatever your views on this policy, the fact is that it has not been through the required public inquiry process and, therefore, any attempt to impose it at this stage is of dubious legality.
Although some politicians appear to favour it, we have not yet, thankfully, reached the stage where those in power can rule by decree.
I also noticed a piece of statistical chicanery in the Western Mail's report on this issue..
"A survey by the National Park last May showed that the average price of a house in the area was £142,666 - almost double the average price in Wales." The Western Mail reported.
This comparison is logically flawed because houses in the Park are not typical of those throughout Wales.
Last week I wrote about the potential effects of the stock market slump on the County Council's pension fund and, in due course, our Council Tax bills.
At Monday's meeting of the Cabinet, in answer to a question from Cllr John Davies,
Director of Finance Mark Lewis said that the Authority "was lucky" because the pension fund "was solvent as of 31 March 2002".
Well, I said that in last week's column, but a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since last March and what interests me is the state of the pension fund today.
Mr Lewis said the fund was "under constant review" but, unfortunately, neglected to tell us what the results of this review were.
And, needless to say, nobody asked.
Jobs for the boys
It has come to Old Grumpy's notice that former County Council Leader Eric Harries's four-year term as a non-Executive Director of Milford Haven Port Authority expires in June.
Readers may recall that his Independent Political (sic) Group cronies recommended ex-councillor Harries for a position as the County Council's representative on the Board just a few weeks after the voters of Hubberston decided that they no longer wanted him as their representative on the County Council.
So much for the will of the people!
It will be interesting to see whose names go forward this time around.
I am told that this is a nice little earner at £4,000 a year for doing not very much.
Not a fortune, I admit, but, for the County Council's other representative, Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse, a useful addition to the nearly £25,000 he picks up as Deputy County Council Leader, not forgetting the £850 he is paid as a County Council representative on the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
Old Grumpy was interested to read in the job specification that membership of the Port Authority Board requires: "An acceptance that as a Member they will be working in the best interests of the Authority and not in any other capacity e.g. on behalf of a nominating or representative body."
So what happens if the interests of the Authority clash with the interests of the County Council?
Or, if you are Trades Union representative, the best interests of the Authority are at odds with those of the Union's membership?
This is a frustrating time of year for gardeners.
Either the ground is too wet, or too hard, so we have to sit indoors, reading seedsmen's catalogues, planning the year ahead.
Old Grumpy's speciality is growing vegetables but, this year, I have decided to spare Old Grumpette all that backbreaking digging by converting part of the kitchen garden into a shrubbery.
Being something of an ignoramus when it comes to growing things you can't eat, I had no alternative but to resort to the gardening books for advice.
Here is what I discovered.
Roybusticus Follandii. (Toadyflax)
This unbelievably fast-growing, prickly shrub is a triumph of genetic engineering.
For more than twenty years this plant prospered in a subterranean environment before scientist managed to introduce DNA from Politicianaria whereupon it burst forth in aerial form in the flowerbeds of Haverfordwest Town Council.
In the rather poor soil of the Town Council (budget £80,000 a year) this species was apt to take on a blue coloration while making free market noises about the wastefulness of public spending, and government in general.
However, once planted in the fertile, alluvial deposits of Pembrokeshire County Council - current budget £160million - this rather unlovely shrub has undergone a remarkable transformation.
It has grown exponentially (£3,500 - £22,500 in only seven years) and now raises its branches in favour of whatever the Chief Officers Management Board (COMB) recommends.
Its main distinguishing feature is the ability to puff itself up to twice its normal size using nothing but its own self-importance.
Verdict: If you want to annoy your neighbour, plant one of these on the fence-line..
Gravytranus Hughesiatum. (Creeping moneywort)
This busy, low-growing plant, is useful for those who are looking for ground cover-up.
Some people attribute this creeping shrub's advancement to its ability to roll up its trouser leg; shake hands in an unorthodox manner; and utter fearsome oaths against those who desert the true faith.
However, more thoughtful horticulturalists have concluded that Gravytranus's emergence as the county's Napoleon owes more to the lack of credible alternatives than to either its Masonic connections or its ability.
As the old saying goes: "In a flowerless world, the single bloom is queen".
Verdict: Avoid. The word in Merlins Bridge is that, at £35,000 a year, this species has become far too conspicuous to escape the attentions of a sceptical electorate; many of whom don't earn half that much for doing a proper job, and will become extinct on the first Thursday of May 2004.
Brynsophilia Salarium Giganticus. (Golden emperor)
Sadly, this hardy herbaceous perennial has become a collector's piece; way outside most gardeners' pockets.
Originating in North Wales, this species underwent further development in the hothouse atmosphere of Oxford University where it was rated only second-class.
It was transplanted in Cheshire, where it made modest progress, before being moved to Pembrokeshire, via Llanelli Borough Council, where, under the influence of the local political culture, it really came into its own.
Those who bought shares in this exotic cultivar in its Llanelli days at £35,000, or even when it was first introduced to Pembrokeshire in 1995 at £63,000, are now sitting on a handy profit because currently these plants are selling at £105,000 + £12,000 mobility allowance.
Old Grumpy believes that this particular phenotype is not all it's cracked up to be but those who decide these matters on our behalf seem to believe that this plant has magical properties
Verdict: Nice, if you can afford.
Daispinopsis Disemblens. (Trailing brynfoil)
Some experts believe that this rather straggly, undistinguished climber does best when planted alongside Brynsophilia Salarium Giganticus (see above).
In its earlier form it was cultivated at the Western Telegraph and Swansea Sound where it was considered to be a worthy, if unspectacular, specimen.
However, once it took root next to Salarium Giganticus in the flowerbeds of Llanelli Borough Council, this plant really began to flourish.
Later it followed its mentor to Pembrokeshire County council where, it is said, the staff refer to it as "the henchman" because of the perception that it is the eyes and ears of someone known as "The Chief".
Warning: do not attempt to save seeds from this plant because, being a reporter/spin-doctor hybrid, it cannot be relied upon to breed true.
Verdict: This plant may be living at the outermost boundary of its range.
Lukus Cafeteriana. (Knife and fork plant)
You will need to feed this massive, greedy plant at least twice a day if you want to get the best out of it.
An old favourite, it was developed in the former Haverfordwest R D C and progressed through Preseli District Council to its present eminence in County Hall.
Not suitable for outdoor planting, it is most at home in sheltered locations such as canteens and restaurants
A very showy subject that bears a year-round display of large white expense claims with intricate black and blue markings designed to deceive unwary accounts clerks.
Has a tendency to turn a rather unattractive shade of purple when under stress.
Verdict: If you can't afford a thousand a year for Miracle Grow, this is not for you.
Lines discontinued through lack of demand:
Grandiflora Halleratum (Pennar speedwell)
Squireanthus Anglotorus (Silver spoon plant)