June 19 2007

Bridge too far

If you missed Cllr Jamie Adams' appearance on last Thursday's Dragon's Eye, you can catch up by clicking on http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/wales/dragonseye/media/dragonseye?size=16x9&nbram=1&bbram=1
And, even if you did see it, another viewing will be worthwhile.
This is the latest in a long line of TV fiascos for the ruling clique including Cllr Hall's unfortunate brush with a camera man and the Leader's less than compelling performance on Wales this Week(see Every picture . . )
To avoid a lot of boring, unimportant stuff about Rhodri Morgan's attempt to form a stable coalition in the Welsh Assembly, fast forward to 23 minutes and you can view the whole Cleddau Bridge episode.
There you will see Cllr Adams - Brian Hall's successor as Minister of Transport in the county council Cabinet - holding forth about the finances of the Cleddau Bridge.
He seemed to know what he is talking about as he used the skills acquired in Young Farmers' public speaking competitions to reel of a slew of carefully remembered figures, concluding with the fact that, rather than being a cash cow for the county council, the bridge has run up a deficit of £37.3 million.
"And who is this 37.3 million owed to?" asked the BBC reporter, all innocently.
Collapse of stout party!
Cllr Adams gave a nervous laugh before ducking towards the camera and turning to his press office minder with the question "Who is the £37.3 million owed to?"
He didn't know either, so it was left to Mr David Edwards former leader of the county council's Labour Group to explain.
As Mr Edwards told the reporter, this money isn't owed to anyone, it is merely a device to ensure that the bridge finances comply with accounting practice.
The next meeting of full council is on 12 July when I will be putting down some questions with a view to discovering whether the extra £14,000 a year Cllr Adams gets for being a Cabinet member represents value for money.
PS I am told that my claim that Cllrs Adams and Robert Lewis are Tory supporters (Closet Tories) is denied by both men.
Well, the party was looking for talent so I don't suppose it'll be too upset by the news.

Cottage industry

I can now bring you up to date with my researches into Cllr Adams' planning consent for a 2,400 sq ft (roughly treble the size of a three-bed council house) farmworker's "cottage" at Keeston Hill Farm (see Workers' paradise).
The officer's report to the planning committee informed members that: "Although the supporting statement refers to a member of staff living in a bungalow (Golden Grove) on the unit, this dwelling is not in the ownership of the farm business."
The report also contained a list of previous planning consents on the farm.
Interestingly, there was no mention of this bungalow.
It struck Old Grumpy that, if Golden Grove was built after 1947, it would have required planning permission.
Sure enough, my enquiries revealed a planning consent from 1961, which had obviously been overlooked when the planning history was written up.
One of the conditions of this planning consent reads: "The dwelling is to be used in connection with the farming of the holding and no other residential development will be permitted [emphasis added]."
I would have thought the planning committee ought to have been told why this condition was now being disregarded.
Policy 48 "Housing development in the countryside" reads: "The development of a new dwelling in the countryside will only be permitted if:
(i) It is for occupation by an agricultural or forestry worker and evidence is submitted that it is essential for that person to live at, or very close to their place of work
(ii) there has been no prior disposal [emphasis added] of a dwelling which could have been used to meet this need.
(iii) There is no suitable alternative residential accommodation available in the area in nearby towns and villages or by making use of existing buildings on site.
Paragraph (ii) is designed to prevent the farmer conveying an agricultural dwelling to someone else before submitting a further planning application on the grounds that the farm is now short of accommodation for essential workers.
The file on the 1961 application contains a declaration signed by J Llewellyn Adams, the owner of Keeston Hill Farm, that he owns the land on which Golden Grove is built.
If the dwelling was part of the farm in 1961, but is not now "in the ownership of the farm business", it would seem to follow that there must have been a "prior disposal" such as to disqualify the application by virtue of 48 (ii).
In any case, there is nothing in the policy that requires the dwelling to be owned by the farm, merely that it should be available.
It is also extremely doubtful if the application complied with 48(iii) because as can be seen on the plan at (Prime condition) there is a housing estate just across the road from the proposed new "cottage".
It is interesting to see how this particular difficulty is finessed in the officer's report which says: ". . . there are no traditional buildings on the farm which could be converted to a dwelling, whilst local properties priced in excess of £180,000 are beyond the reach of an agricultural worker."
This is, of course, a red herring because, as it is the farmer who is paying, what is within the reach of an agricultural worker is completely beside the point.
You could equally well argue that building a 2,400 sq ft "cottage" with 250 sq ft double garage is beyond the pocket of an agricultural worker.

Manorbier machinations

Those who think that Manorbier is nothing more than an impressive castle alongside a rather nice beach should log on to http://www.manorbier.com/
What you will find is a story of political infighting and intrigue to match anything thrown up by the Borgias.
As most of what appears on the site is (if untrue) potentially libellous, and I have no way of checking its veracity, I will not risk repeating it here.
However, have a look for yourselves.
For myself, the only regret is that we never see this sort of excitement in sleepy little Liddeston.
If I was 20 years younger, I'd be looking to buy a house in Manorbier so I could join in the fun.

Uncontrolled development

The county council has received another critical Ombudsman's report about the activities of the same team that was responsible for the Prospect Place planning fiasco (see Think of a number).
This latest case involves the construction of five dwellings on the site of the former Railway Inn, Pembroke.
Briefly, an application for planning permission was submitted in January 2004.
Work commenced on the site in February 2005 and was completed in September that year.
However, planning consent was not issued until September 2006 which meant that for more than 18 months, with the full knowledge of the planning officer, there was unauthorised development on the site.
In an attempt to cover this up, the consent notice sent to the developer in September 2006 was, according to the Ombudsman, worded in such a way "as to imply that building work had not commenced" and a notice of commencement of work from the developer stating that work would start on 9 October 2004 was date stamped as received by the council on 13 October 2006.
If the notice of commencement was not received until four weeks after the job was completed, how could the council's building control department monitor the project?
As those who have been involved in this sort of operation will know, the council's building inspector has to check the suitability of the ground before the foundation concrete is poured.
Notification is also required before backfilling drains and other hidden work so that the council can satisfy itself that the operation has been carried out properly.
It would be interesting to know whether building control issued a certificate of satisfactory completion in respect of this development and, if so, how, if no inspections were carried out, the council could possibly know that the work had been properly carried out.
This is quite important because, as the council's trained lawyers will know, there is the possibility that, if a local authority fails to carry out its building control functions properly, it may be sued for negligence by a subsequent purchaser
Unfortunately, the Ombudsman doesn't address this point though he does say: "When approval was finally granted in September [2006] the documents were produced as if work hadn't commenced. This makes the paperwork on file seem surreal and unprofessional."
The reason given by the council for the long delay in issuing the consent was that the Highways Department had failed to respond to a consultation request, though, as the Ombudsman points out, there was no attempt to chase a reply even when, with the full knowledge of the planning officer, work commenced in February 2005.
"This meant that the Case Officer knowingly allowed an unauthorised development to take place and did nothing to expedite a response [from the Highways Department] to consultation that would have prevented this from happening", says the Ombudsman.
Now, building without approval is a very risky business because, if consent is ultimately refused, the building may have to be demolished.
However, it seems that in this case the developer had a nod and a wink that everything would be OK.
At paragraph 41 of his report the Ombudsman says: "The Case Officer acknowledged that the development was unauthorised. He, the architect and the developer were all aware that this was the case. In that sense the developer went ahead at their own risk. However the developer apparently knew there would be no problem with issues addressed by the Highways Department."
Just how the developer came to know this is not explained in the report.
Unfortunately, the Ombudsman treats this case as one of bungling incompetence whereas, in reality, it is further evidence that, in Pembrokeshire, there are certain well-connected individuals who operate outside the rules that apply to ordinary folk.
PS. When I put forward a Notice of Motion that would have allowed local members to have controversial planning applications in their wards determined by the planning committee, rather than officers acting under delegated powers, it was rejected on the grounds that the consequent delays would frustrate the authority's aim of dealing with applications within eight weeks of receipt.
As the planning committee meets monthly, such delays would be, on average, two weeks.
If meeting the eight-week target is such a big deal, how can the council justify the 140 week delay in determining the above application?

Under the carpet

When the Ombudsman's report came before Tuesday's planning committee, Cllr Tony Brinsden (Lib Dem) proposed that it should be remitted for consideration by full council.
"I don't want to see this brushed under the carpet" he told the committee.
Cllr Henry Jones agreed.
He was concerned that this may not be an isolated incident.
"It is hard to believe that this one case that was investigated by the Ombudsman is the only one. My fear is that this is endemic in the planning department and we should have an independent audit to find out how deep this problem goes" he told the committee.
But, with a large Independent Political Group majority, under the carpet was the report's final resting place.
Cllr Brian Hall said it was "a fantastic development" and he thought the Ombudsman was wrong to criticise the council's decision to give it consent.
Clearly, Cllr Hall can't have read the Ombudsman's report or he would have known that it contained no criticism of the decision itself.
Indeed, just the opposite because what was criticised was the council's failure to issue consent until more than 12 months after the development was completed.
Independent Political Group loyalists queued up to oppose Cllr Brinsden's proposal with Cllr David Bryan asserting it was not a major issue and cabinet member for the environment Cllr Rev Huw George suggesting that to remit it to full council "would be going against the Ombudsman's advice."
And after Head of Planning David Lawrence assured members that this was "an exceptional case" Cllr Brinsden's proposal was heavily defeated.
Indeed, only Cllr Malcolm Calver (Truly Ind) Tony Wilcox (Lab) and Cllr Brinsden, himself, were for more open discussion.
What was perhaps most surprising was that two of the four Labour members present (Cllrs Ken Edwards and Umelda Havard) voted with the ruling clique while a third (Cllr Ken Rowlands) abstained.
I sometimes wonder if they are undergoing an identity crisis.
PS.Given Mr Lawrence's assurance that this was an isolated case it is interesting to consider how this case got to the Ombudsman in the first place.
Mr O and Ms J made several complaints to the council beginning in the spring of 2005. When these were not dealt with to their satisfaction they made a formal complaint which was upheld in a report by Mr Lawrence dated 13 April 2006.
The report, which concluded with an apology, said that the Case Officer "should urgently consider" how high a boundary wall needed to be in order to protect the complainants' privacy.
The Ombudsman records: "When in June they found that the Case Officer had not even re-visited the site, and after they had written a letter enquiring about progress which did not get a response, they decided to approach the Ombudsman."
The Ombudsman received the complaint on 7 June, but it was not until 7 September 2006 that the consent containing the condition regarding the height of the wall was finally issued."

Human substrate

Writing last week about bribery and the Saudi arms deal, the Times columnist Matthew Paris said that once corruption takes hold it is as difficult to shift as athlete's foot.
While Mr Paris is right that corruption is insidious, the comparison with athlete's foot, which can quickly banished with some powder from Boots, is not at all apt.
My first experience of athlete's foot was when I was about sixteen and, as I had aspirations to be an athlete at the time, I regarded it as a badge of honour.
Athlete's foot is in fact a fungal infection with the medical name Tinea Pedes (or Pedis).
It is a yeast-like organism that finds, in the sweaty conditions between your toes, the perfect environment to make its living by consuming your skin.
While it can be an unpleasant affliction, it is as nothing like as difficult to eradicate as Tinea Crucis (or Crux).
This is rather a delicate subject, so, for the benefit of those lacking a classical education, all I will say is that it is also known as jock [strap] itch.
On Googling the subject, I read that Pedes and Crucis are caused by the same fungus and that Crucis is usually the result of cross-infection from the feet.
How this is achieved, is not explained.
These are just two of the many fungal infections of the human body.
Others include Tinea Barbre (Barber's Itch that affects the beard), Tinea Capitas (the head) and Tinea Ungium (fingernails).
As a boy I was familiar with another variety of Tinea known a ringworm; circular red patches on the skin which was common among the children of farmers who picked it up from cattle.
I seem to remember those infected were put into a form of quarantine to prevent it spreading to the rest of the class.
By now, the thought of being a walking fungus farm should have you itching all over.
If so, please remember my grandmother's advice: scratching will only make it worse.

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