June 28 2005
Once more into the breach ...
I return yet again to the question of the agricultural planning consent granted to Cwmbetws Ltd (Managing Director, Cllr John Davies, leader of Pembrokeshire County Council).
It was interesting to hear what Cllr Davies had to say about this matter when interviewed on TV.
According to Cllr Davies, this was a matter of "perception" caused by the activities "of certain individuals, be they aggrieved by the planning decision, or, indeed, members of the council on the opposition benches."
Or, to paraphrase: it's all a storm in a teacup; stirred up by a bunch of malcontents and political troublemakers.
Now, I would have thought it is perfectly legitimate in a democracy for anyone who feels they have been unfairly treated by the planning system to complain.
As for my own part, as an occupant of the "opposition benches", I am not the least bit apologetic.
Nor do I feel, as do some on my side of the chamber, apparently, that it is somehow impolite to raise these issues.
I regard opposition as an honourable calling because, alongside a free press (in those parts of the world lucky enough to have one), we are the best safeguard there is against the abuse of power by the ruling majority.
And the fact is that every rule in the book has been bent or broken in order to get this application through.
For instance, in addition the the Welsh Assembly's Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6 Paragraph 47 which limits the size of such dwellings (see Time to count your spoons) we also have TAN 6 Paragraph 41 which says
Permanent agricultural dwellings
41. New permanent dwellings should only be allowed to support existing agricultural activities on well-established agricultural units, providing:
(d) the functional need could not be fulfilled by another dwelling already on the unit . . .
Of course, this "functional need" has been fulfilled by "another dwelling already on the unit" for the past hundred years or more and could continue to do so if it was not occupied by the leader of the county council.
What has changed are the circumstances of Cllr John Davies and not the functional needs of the agricultural unit.
As the planning officer said when refusing the Ffos-y-ficer application ". . . planning policy concerns itself with the needs of the agricultural unit not the personal preferences or circumstances of the individuals involved."
Why wasn't that principle applied in the case of Cwmbetws?
But amongst all these arguments about the size of the proposed herdsman's cottage (did anyone in the planning department seriously believe that was the primary purpose of a 3,400 sq ft dwelling (excluding garage)?) and the functional need for such a house, it is easy not to notice the elephant sitting quietly in the corner of the sitting room in the form of the disposal of the dairy herd.
In the planning file is a document entitled Agricultural Justification Form and signed by Cllr Davies (Director) in which the stocking levels on the farm are detailed.
This document is stamped as being received by the council on 1 November 2004.
It lists a total of 165 dairy cattle of various ages and descriptions.
The same 165 cattle also make an appearance in the report that went before the planning committee on 24 May 2005.
That report states: "Based on the size of the holding and the farming regime it is considered there is a functional need for an extra dwelling."
The "farming regime" referred to included the milking of these dairy cattle.
Indeed, on a rough estimate, more than half the farm's labour requirement was down to this activity.
However we now know that by 24 May 2005 most of the dairy herd had gone, significantly reducing the labour requirements of the "farming regime" on which the functional need was grounded.
So, the planning committee decision was taken on the basis of a false prospectus.
One person who knew this was Cllr John Davies, who, in common with all members of the council, would have received the planning committee agenda and reports containing this outdated and inaccurate data three clear days before the meeting.
In any case he must have known, the moment he started to sell off the cattle, that the information in the Agricultural Justification Form was redundant.
I believe he had a moral obligation, at the very least, to inform the council of this change of circumstances and I am pleased to report that everyone I speak to outside of County Hall agrees with me.
His failure to do so is hardly in keeping with the "highest ethical standards" that he promised just a year ago on his election to the leadership.
I intend to continue with this campaign for as long as it takes because my main reason for seeking election last June was my determination not to live in a society where string-pulling, influence-peddling and backstairs dealing displace open accountable honest politics because once you arrive in a situation where brute power triumphs over the rule of law you are halfway to Zimbabwe.
(See Cwmbetws for a summary of the various issues involved)
On Monday the Today programme interviewed one of Mugabe's henchmen about the demolition of Zimbabwe's shanty towns.
He insisted that these were not people's homes that were being knocked down, but "illegal structures".
"If people put up illegal structures in your country, you would knock them down" he claimed.
This is perfectly true but, as we have seen with the roundhouse in the north of the county, people's homes, even if built without planning consent, are only knocked down after the individual concerned has exhausted the legal process.
In Zimbabwe, they are knocked down on the strength of government decree.
That is the crucial difference between countries that operate under the rule of law and those that don't.
The other difference is that, even if Zimbabwe had a well-established appeals process, it wouldn't make much difference because most of the judges are in the government's pocket.
No doubt it is very frustrating for the National Park to find its attempt to have the roundhouse removed thwarted by a protracted legal process but that is the price that has to be paid for living in a free society.
Over the past couple of years we have seen a rash of these legal challenges on issues ranging from the closure of schools in the north of the county, through Bluestone and, most recently LNG.
The reaction of the, then, leader of Pembrokeshire County Council's ruling Independent Political (sic) Group, Maurice Hughes to the first two applications for Judicial Review is a matter of some interest to anyone who values the rule of law.
In both instances, Hughes was quoted in the Western Telegraph as describing the decision to go to the High Court as "disgraceful".
Anyone who thinks that the exercise of the individual's right to seek a remedy in the courts is "disgraceful" is clearly not fit to hold power in a democracy.
The voters of Merlins Bridge deserve our heartfelt thanks.
I was in county hall last week where I met the newly-elected member for Narberth Rural (Templeton) Cllr Elwyn Morse who was been shown around by Cllr David Simpson the Cabinet Minister for small business and enterprise.
It is rumoured that Cllr Morse has already joined the Independent Political (sic) Group bringing the number of card-carrying Tories in their ranks to five.
At least I think it is five because, according the register of interests, Cllr Mark Edwards, the member for the Conservative stronghold of Prendergast, only admits to membership of the Balfour Club, though it is safe to assume he is fully on board, as he was spotted with Stephen Crabb in Liddeston during the general election campaign, and, sporting a large blue rosette, at the count.
In addition to the infamous five (Cllrs Wildman, Stock, Bryant, Edwards and Morse) there is an indeterminate number of closet-Tories including the leader, Cllr John Davies who I understand was involved in the process by which Mr Crabb was selected as the candidate for the Preseli seat (for further evidence of Cllr Davies political affiliations type "the Cwmbetws philosophy" into "Google" and read the puff that appeared in the Cardigan and Teifiside Advertiser to mark his elevation to the top job).
Cllr Brian Hall, not usually backward in coming forward, is another who has been seen displaying Conservative posters at election time.
And as I reported a few weeks ago, even the staunchly "independent" Maurice Hughes found room in his front garden for a Stephen Crabb placard.
Others tend to keep their political views under wraps but rumour has it that Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse was definitely not a member of Militant Tendency during his student days at the Royal College of Agriculture at Cirencester which I have recently seen described as the Oxbridge of farming colleges.
Then there is a fair sprinkling of what Lenin referred to as "useful idiots".
The leading light in this group is Stephen Watkins who claims to be "a lifelong socialist" yet manages to find common cause with Brian Hall and Peter Stock.
A broad church, indeed!
Freedom of conscience
Labour MPs are being asked to hold their noses and vote for compulsory identity cards because they were promised in the party's manifesto.
While a manifesto is infinitely preferable to no manifesto at all, it is difficult to sustain the argument that everyone who voted Labour at the last election bought into every line of the party's manifesto.
And as only 22% of the electorate voted Labour, it is even more difficult to sustain the fiction that the result is a reflection of the will of the people.
It is interesting to contrast this attitude to the manifesto with that taken with regard to the French referendum on the European Constitution when we were told that the French non was not a vote against the document itself but because of a dislike of Chirac, or concerns about Turkey joining the Union.
If the European political elite are free to second-guess the French electorate why shouldn't Labour MPs be afforded the same privilege when it comes to identity cards.
After all, this is an issue of huge importance because it redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state.
Is the citizen the servant of the state, or is it, as I believe it should be, the other way around?
Perhaps we would all have much more respect for our politicians if they voted in accordance with their consciences rather than the instructions of the party whips.
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