14 June 2005

No udder conclusion

Old Grumpy suffered the ultimate ignominy last week: being scooped by the Western Telegraph over the little matter of the council leader's sale of his dairy cows.
What is really hard to take is that I had known about this for almost two weeks and hesitated to publish because my intelligence was from a single, untested source.
And we all know how dangerous it can be to base your case on that sort of evidence.
However, now that the information is in the public domain, it casts a even darker shadow over the already murky business of the agricultural planning consent given to the leader's company, Cwmbetws Ltd.
This application was submitted last October and was accompanied by an "Agricultural Justification Form" signed by Cllr John Davies (Director) setting out the stocking levels on the farm, including 165 dairy cattle.
I will not bore you with all the details but these stocking levels are then used to calculate the farm's labour requirements and, in this case, justify the need for an extra worker/dwelling.
As even non-farmers will appreciate, milking dairy cattle twice a day is rather more labour-intensive than walking round a beef herd with a dog and stick.
Indeed, on a rough calculation, in the case of Cwmbetws, the dairy herd accounted for somewhere between a half and two-thirds of all the work on the holding.
No dairy cattle, no need for an extra worker and, therefore, no need for a second dwelling.
Presumably, when the form was filled in last October the information in it was accurate.
But sometime between then and the approval of the application at the planning committee meeting of 24 May 2005, the cattle were disposed of.
However, the report to the planning committee refers to "a dairy herd of 165 cattle" and concludes: "Based on the size of the holding and the farming regime (my emphasis) there is considered to be a functional need for an additional dwelling to accommodate a full time worker in accordance with the requirements of Local Plan Policy HS9 and Government advice set out in TAN 6."
The inescapable conclusion is that this decision was taken on the basis of a false prospectus because the farming regime, as it existed on 24 May, bore no relationship to that represented in the report.
What is surprising, to say the least, is that Cllr John Davies, who was aware of the true situation, and, in common with all elected members, would have had a copy of the planning committee agenda at least three days before the meeting, appears to have made no effort to correct the misleading impression given by the report.
What has gone on here is a corruption of the planning system on a grand scale and I am determined to keep highlighting this issue until the cows come home.
Or don't come home, as the case may be.

No Callers

I did ask the Welsh Assembly Government to call in the Cwmbetws application for determination by an independent inspector, but it refused.
My first attempt to have one of these bungalow farming applications called in was back in 1991, when I was a member of Preseli Pembrokeshire District Council, and Nicholas Bennett MP (remember he?) was a junior bag carrier at the Welsh Office.
Refusing my request, Mr Bennett explained that there were so many of these dodgy planning consents given across Wales that, if he called them all in, he would need an army of inspectors to deal with them.
As I pointed out in my reply, this was tantamount to saying that the more these people fiddled the system the more likely they were to get away with it.
I emailed the Welsh Assembly on 23 May 2005 - the day before the planning committee met - asking for this application to be called in.
On 7 June I received an email from a civil servant informing me that the department had decided against this course of action.
According to this email, the county council had been informed of this decision on 27 May and the planning consent had been sent out to the applicant on 6 June.
So I was somewhat surprised to find Cllr Davies telling the Western Telegraph dated 8 June: "Furthermore, I welcome the fact that the application is going to the Assembly."
Whether this was a bit of spin designed to persuade people that he was happy to have the application independently assessed, or whether the council had failed to inform the leader of the Assembly's decision, I cannot tell.
What I did know was that the Telegraph's report gave a false impression, so I sent them a copy of the civil servant's email.
On Monday morning the Telegraph telephoned seeking my reaction to the Assembly decision.
I said I was disappointed but not surprised.
According to Welsh Assembly, only applications that raise matters of national importance are called in.
I told the Telegraph that that, so far as I was concerned, the cornerstone of any democracy is equality before the law and that I could think of nothing of greater importance than the defence of that principle.
I also advised the reporter to read a letter on the subject of the sale of the dairy herd that I had sent to the editor for publication.
Later that day, I telephoned the reporter with some further information only to be told that she wasn't sure the paper would be running the story because it had already been well covered in the Mercury.
Unfortunately, neither could room be found for my letter - crowded out by two people from up the line seeking news of long lost friends and relatives - though space has been found for the sale of the cows, which, in case you missed it, is tucked away in the top right hand corner of page 25, just above a report on the North Pembs Floral Art Society which merits exactly the same amount of space.
Indeed, it seems that if you want to get serious coverage in the Western Telegraph you have to move to St Davids where a "disgraced mayor" and a community councillor who made obnoxious racist remarks have both made front page news in recent editions.
Or you could try getting a photo of the large jaguar-like creature that is said to roam the highways and byeways around Tiers Cross.
As for the story having already appeared in the Mercury, my friends tell me this is the Telegraph's stock excuse when they complain that important items have been ignored.
And a pretty feeble excuse at that because the Mercury's sales are about a quarter of those of the Telegraph and, more importantly, it has hardly any readers in the Independent Political (sic) Group's northern heartland.
So putting your brave journalism in the Mercury is a bit like making faces behind someone's back.

Tories with a human face

I read in my Daily Telegraph that the Tories are pinning their hopes of a return to Government on something called "New Localism".
There was a whole page on this stuff and I have to admit I didn't read it all, but from a quick skim through the article I gathered that this was something akin to what the Lib Dems used to call "pavement politics".
The aim, it seems, is to try to convince the public that Tories are human beings like everyone else.
An uphill struggle, I would have thought.
This strategy will, apparently, involve more Tory candidates at local elections, and the devolution of more power down to county councils and other local authorities.
Can we look forward to more than a single Tory candidate the next time we go to the polls to elect the county council?
And will Peter Stock still have the biggest majority in the county if he runs under his true colours?
I doubt it will come to that because these Tory wolves know their prospects are better when dressed up as independent sheep.
A mole tells me that Conservative top brass in Cardiff have been trying to persuade one of the party's members to stand as a Tory in this Thursday's Templeton bye-election, but that their advances have been rebuffed.
As for devolving more power down to local authorities, that sounds such a good idea that it must be wrong.
If they can think of nothing better to do with the powers they already have than to abuse them (see above) why give them more?

Form fillers

Word reaches Old Grumpy that police investigations are underway into the Manorbier Community Appraisal.
Details are not easy to come by, but, from what my mole tells me, the provenance of some of the submitted forms is at the heart of the police probe.
With these appraisals, a certain percentage of eligible households must respond before the money can be drawn down.
It is alleged, I am informed, that when the number of returns looked likely to fall short of this threshold, a bit of Enron-type activity took place involving different coloured pens and, when writers' cramp set in, a photocopying machine.
How much truth there is in all this, I can't be sure, but I will keep my ear to the ground and report more fully when a clearer picture emerges.

Where have all the flowers gone?

It seems I may owe my socialist friend some sort of an apology for mocking his theory that potatoes have to be in flower before they are big enough to be worth harvesting.
Old Grumpette tells me that only last week she heard exactly the same claim on a television gardening programme by someone called Monty Don - who she describes as dishy, whatever that means.
If it was on TV, I suppose there must be something in it.
So sorry XXXX!
However, I should add that this is a qualified apology because I am digging first-early Epicure as big as tennis balls and there is not a flower anywhere to be seen.
Readers will have to decide for themselves whether they prefer to take the word of a TV gardener, who prances around in gloves and spotless wellies, or a horny-handed son of the soil who is prepared to get his hands dirty..
I know I can't compete in the dishy stakes (Old Grumpette just told me) but you should never judge a book by its cover.


To say what you don't believe is to lie.
Not to say what you do believe is to betray the truth.


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