1 July 2002

Bungalow Farmers 1 Planning Law 0

I was unable to attend last week's meeting of the County planning committee, but those who were there tell me I missed an absolute treat as leading members the bungalow farming wing of the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group put on a show of truth-bending and logic-chopping that was described to me as "among their best ever" to force through an application contrary to policy.
As usual, the case involved an application for residential development in the open countryside - defined as anywhere outside the boundaries of a town or village, as set out in the local plan - contrary to the policies in the development plan.
There are three main exceptions to the rule against building in the open countryside: proven agricultural need; conversion of appropriate redundant farm buildings of traditional design and construction (Policy EV18); and infill development in hamlets.
The application in question came under the second of these headings.
Several of the bungalow farmers were keen to give consent, despite being told by the planning officer that the existing building was of concrete block construction, with an asbestos sheet roof on steel trusses and could by no stretch of the imagination be described as "traditional" and did not, therefore, satisfy the requirements of EV18.
At this point, I am told, Cllr Alwyn "Monster Muncher" Luke started bellowing that he had never heard of policy EV18 and complained that whenever the members wanted to approve an application in the open countryside the officers came up with some policy or another to stop them.
The difficulty with dealing with Luke is that he is beyond ignorance.
The fact is that policy EV18, and all the other policies in the development plan, were debated and approved by himself and his colleagues at a long series of meetings in the dog days of Preseli District Council and finally adopted by him and his colleagues soon after the inception of Pembrokeshire County Council in 1996.
The reason the officers resist attempts by Luke and his cronies to override the provisions of the development plan is that to do otherwise would lay the authority open to a charge of maladministration, because adherence to the development plan is enshrined in statute (Town and Country Planning Act 1990).
Indeed, in the good old days of Preseli DC such a case arose when, with Luke again to the fore, the planning committee gave consent for an agricultural dwelling on a six- acre field at Jordanston, near Neyland.
Clearly, there was no proven agricultural need for such development and when the application came before full council for ratification Chief Executive, Islwyn David,
stood up and announced that what was being proposed was illegal and that he had a statutory duty, as Monitoring Officer, to ensure that the council kept within the law.
I remember the occasion well, particularly Luke's response.
"Monitoring Officer, what Monitoring Officer?" he brayed, "I have never heard of such a thing".
That sent me scurrying to my library of Council minutes where I found that, as required the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, the Personnel Committee had appointed Mr David as Monitoring Officer in early 1990; a decision subsequently ratified by both the Policy and Resources Committee and Full Council.
Further scrutiny of the minutes revealed that Luke was recorded as being present at all three meetings.
I remember giving him some stick about it at the time, but, given my more recent discovery of his tendency to claim travelling expenses for meetings that he hasn't attended, I may have been too hard on him.
Another, who I am told was on sparkling form, was Cllr Peter "All over you like a duvet" Stock.
Having been told by the planning officer that the building in question was not of traditional construction, Cllr Stock argued that, in that case, policy EV18 did not apply and permission should be given.
I understand, it had to be explained to him that if the application didn't fall within the exception covered by EV18 then it was development in the open countryside pure and simple and, therefore, beyond any shadow of doubt, contrary to policy.
My moles tell me that Cllrs Luke and Stock were both in the running for the final place in the Cabinet.
In a photo finish, Stock (£22,500) got the better of it, while Luke had to make do with the £17,500 chairmanship of the Transport and Environment Scrutiny Committee, which is charged with making sure that the environment is protected from, among other things, over-development of the um, er, county's beautiful countryside.
You couldn't make it up!

As the decision to approve this development is against policy the matter will now have to go to full council for a replay. I will report further in due course.


A mole tells me that a big row is brewing in Johnston over the County Council's proposal to turn the former Arnold's scrap yard into a waste-recycling centre.
If Old Grumpy could offer a word of advice to the protesters it would be to go to the library and look up the back numbers of the Mercury for late 1998-early 1999.
I am sure they will find a front-page photo of Cllr Brian Hall, standing alongside a sign saying "Council Chamber", holding two stuffed rats.
I know it is there because I took the picture myself.
The rats were the supporting cast in Cllr Hall's campaign to scupper a proposal to site a waste transfer station in Pembroke Dock.
The rats also feature in his manifesto for the May 1999 election, a copy of which was sent to me recently by one of my cyber-chums.
It reads:
Q. Is it true that you brought two stuffed rats into the council chamber?

A. YES - at a time when Pembroke Dock needs investment, what is proposed - a waste transfer station. Our town is not going to become the dumping ground for the county.

Cllr Hall is now the Cabinet Minister in charge of transport and the environment, so it is safe to assume that this waste-recycling proposal is his responsibility.
What is sauce for the goose …


Coming clean

With the papers full of the accounting scandals affecting Enron, Worldcom and Xerox it seems like a good time to slip out some bad news about the financial situation with regard to OG Fruitanveg Co Ltd, the Cayman Islands registered, multi-purpose financial vehicle that has a controlling interest in my garden.
I am sorry to admit that our auditors, Handisums and Co, have inflated the company's profits by the use of dubious accounting practices.
The problem started with the purchase of a greenhouse for the sum of £750 in 1998.
Handisums advised that the company's balance sheet would look much more attractive to investors if the garden centre could be persuaded to issue an invoice for gooseberry bushes (an appreciating asset) rather than a greenhouse which would have to be written off over ten years at a cost to the profit and loss account of £75 annually.
After that greed and the pursuit of shareholder value took over and for the past four years it has been the company's practice to treat all greenhouse labour costs as capital expenditure on the gooseberry bushes.
This has had the effect of inflating profits from greenhouse activities. For instance, the 10 melons produced last year and valued at £1 apiece, actually cost £5 each in labour costs alone, and my £2 million profits-related bonus, recommended by the company's remuneration committee (Chairman, Old Grumpette), should never have been paid.
The result of all this creative accounting is that the company's only assets are 10 gooseberry bushes with a book value of £50,000 each.
The company's bankers are owed half-a-million pounds, secured by a charge on the gooseberry bushes, which have recently suffered an attack of American gooseberry mildew and are now virtually worthless.
P S. I am writing this from my villa in the Turkish sector of Cyprus, which, by happy coincidence, has no extradition treaty with the UK.
Must go now - I'm expecting the Asil Nadirs round for dinner.


Hot gossip

I have read a few daft stories about global warming in my time, but last week's reports on the group of Eskimos, who, it is claimed, are having to abandon their island village because of rising sea levels, takes the biscuit.
The chain of events described: a warming of the earth causing the ice pack in the bay to melt three weeks earlier than usual and the resulting rise in sea level, bear no relation to scientific truth whatsoever.
As Archimedes (upthrust equals weight of water displaced) explained, the melting of floating ice has absolutely no effect on sea levels.
Secondly, even if a melted iceberg did produce an equivalent volume of water it would not result in the localised rise in sea level suggested by the reports.
Or, put another way, you can't construct permanent hills, however small, out of a liquid.
An example of another type of global warming myth appears in today's Daily Telegraph which reports that some species of butterfly are putting in an appearance in January, a full 74 days earlier than in the 1940s.
Now, there are all manner of possible explanations, apart from global warming, for this phenomenon.
It might be that butterflies have evolved a greater tolerance to cold, or that people are more observant, or that the so-called urban heat island effect is encouraging the butterflies to emerge early, or a combination of these and other factors.
What is virtually certain is that this 74-day advance in emergence times is not due to the 0.6 degrees (roughly the difference in average annual temperature between Cardiff and Manchester) that the earth has warmed in the past century.
And what is the point of using such imprecise methods - other than to fill the newspapers with unscientific, speculative rubbish - when we have a perfectly objective and accurate method of measuring temperature - the thermometer?

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