7 June 2005

email:oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

Time to count your spoons

My revelations about the approval of an agricultural application by Cwmbetws Ltd; a company which numbers among its directors the Leader of the county council, Cllr John Davies, has raised quite a storm in the local press.
And, over the past few days, I have received a record number of emails and phone calls on the subject.
In the Western Telegraph poor old Cllr Davies claimed he was being "victimised" and told the paper that "certain members have chosen to make this a personal matter"
"I don't think it right that I should be treated differently," the Leader added.
Amen to that, I hear you say.
He told the Mercury that he knew that somebody would try to "make political capital" out of the issue so he had been careful throughout to make sure that the matter had been dealt with "entirely" by his agent.
It is commonplace that good government requires a vigorous opposition to keep it on its toes, so why is it that, whenever we try to hold our rulers to account, we are accused of political opportunism.
As a member of the opposition on the county council, I consider it is my duty to expose this sort of chicanery.
And the louder the squeals from the ruling group, the more diligently the voters should count their spoons.
As for Cllr Davies' attempt to hide behind his agent, that simply will not wash.
As you can imagine, the law reports are littered with cases where people have tried to shuffle off responsibility onto their agents, most commonly when an agent has agreed a contract on behalf of his principal only for it to be discovered that there was a better deal available elsewhere.
The principal then seeks to disown the agent in order to repudiate the original contract.
As any of the council's trained lawyers would attest, the courts have invariably given short shrift to this kind of manoeuvre .
Provided that there evidence that the agent was acting on behalf of the principal, the courts have consistently taken the view that agent and principal are to be treated as one.
So well entrenched has this idea become that the judges have given it the the Latin tag "Qui facit per alium, facit per se," which, roughly translated, means: "He who acts through another is deemed in law to do it himself".
In any case, it is not even true that Cllr Davies always acted through his agent.
There are two aspects to this application: the certification by the council's estates department that a new dwelling was required to enable someone to live on the spot, and the planning process inwhich such matters as the siting and scale of the building are determined.
Of these, the first is by far the more important because unless that hurdle is crossed the application is dead in the water.
I have obtained a copy of the council surveyor's report on this first issue which reads: "This site was inspected in the presence of the applicant (my emphasis) on 13 January [2005], when I also had the opportunity to inspect the business accounts.
"Firstly it has to be said that the business meets both the functional
[need for someone to live on the spot] and financial tests and the application is therefore supported."
There is also a document on file: the "Agricultural Justification Form", in which it is claimed "There is a real need for a second dwelling to accomodate a full time herdsperson/GFW. A farm of this magnitude is expected to provide on farm accomodation."
This document is signed John T Davies (Director).
What is noticeable is that both the surveyor's memo and the Cllr Davies declaration are long on assertion but bereft of any supporting evidence.
And then we have the use of impressionistic language consisting of words that are not themselves untrue, but are designed to give a false impression.
So, when the Mercury asked Cllr Davies if he was concerned that the planning officer's view that a dwelling of 1,250 - 1,500 sq ft would be "appropriate" for the proven functional need (to provide accomodation for a herdsman) had not been repeated in his report to committee, in which he recommended approval of a dwelling of 2,800 sq ft, the Leader replied: "It is impossible for an officer to cover every aspect of correspondence in his report."
If that conjured up a picture of the planning officer trying to synthesise a half-coherent report from a mountain of paperwork then you have been misled because
having inspected the file, I can report there it contains only two letters.
The first, from Cwmbetws Ltd's architect, complains about the delay in dealing with the application, and the second is the planning officer's letter of 13 April in which he says that 1,250-1,500 sq ft is the appropriate size for a herdsman's cottage.
The questions that the council, and Cllr Davies, fail to answer is why, just 5 weeks later, the same planning officer was recommending approval of something twice as big.
Nor why the officer's report to planning committee contains not a word about the principles set out in paragraph 47 of TAN 6 which were so clearly explained in the letter dated 13 April 2005 to the applicant's architect (see Size matters).
And why, when the issue of the size of the dwelling was raised by Cllrs John Cole, Tony Brinsden and Malcolm Calver, none of the officers present (Roger Barrett-Evans, David Lawrence and David Popplewell) thought fit to explain the importance of the requirements in paragraph 47.
I detect the sickly aroma of decomposing rodent.
In the meantime, some very interesting information has reached me from sources in the north of the county and further investigations are underway.
Don't miss next week's thrilling installment.
In the meantime I have written a longer article on the planning issues involved. (See Cwmbetws)


Democracy denied

 

As it has not been fully reported elsewhere, I offer readers a flavour of the meeting where this decision was taken.
The debate kicked off with Cllr Tony Brinsden (Lib Dem) questioning whether certain members of Cllr Davies' Independent Political (sic) Group should declare an interest in the application.
According to Cllr Brinsden, several members of the IPG, which has a 15-9 majority on the planning committee, had been appointed by the Leader to positions attracting special responsibility allowances.
Cllr Brian Hall interjected that, while these office holders had been nominated by the Leader, they had, in fact, been appointed by full council at the Annual Meeting.
While that is true of most of them, it is not true of the Cabinet/assistant Cabinet members present (Cllrs Hall and Anne Hughes) who hold office at the Leader's pleasure.
In any case, this is a distinction without a difference because, as I reported previously (see No contest) nobody who observed what went on at the Annual Meeting, could be in any doubt that these committee chairs and vice chairs are the creatures of the Leader.
I hardly think the rubber-stamping of these appointments by the Annual Meeting changes the reality all that much.
As Cllr Brinsden asked: what price the perception of fairness enshrined in the Code of Conduct when a large proportion of the committee (I make it eight) are so obviously the Leader's men (and woman)?
Cllr John Cole (Lab) then raised the question of the size of the dwelling.
According to Cllr Cole his own substantial bungalow on the Westhill estate weighed in at 1,400 sq ft - half the size of the proposed herdsman's cottage.
To which the Chairman Cllr Bill Hitchings replied: "We are judging this as an agricultural permission, not the size of it."
Cllr Brinsden also tried to query the scale of the dwelling which he described as being "more in keeping with a Persian Prince than a herdsman" only to be silenced by Chairman Hitchings; prompting Cllr Brinsden to ask: "Are we in Pembrokeshire or Zimbabwe, Mr Chairman?"
Cllr Malcolm Calver (independent Independent) wanted to know exactly what the agricultural occupancy condition said.
This is an important issue because, while the justification for this new dwelling is the need for a herdsman to live on the spot, the actual condition which reads: "Occupation will be limited to a person solely or mainly working or last working in the locality in agriculture or forestry, or a widow or widower of such person, and their dependents" clearly does not require a herdsman to live in the finished dwelling.
So, for instance, if Cllr Davies decided to sell all his cows and revert to "dog and stick" farming, thus removing the need for a herdsman, there would be no bar on his occupying the dwelling himself.
Indeed, as the original plan was for a "herdsman's cottage" of 3,400 sq ft (excluding the garage) - two-and-a-half times the size of Cllr Cole's bungalow - it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that that, or something like it, was the intention all along.
It is precisely to avoid the possibility of large houses being smuggled through the planning system under cover of farmworkers' cottages that the WAG has devised paragraph 47 of the guidelines.
Not surprisingly this inconvenient line of enquiry did not meet with Chairman Hitchings' approval and he interrupted Cllr Calver with the words: "I want to make progress in this meeting."
Cllr Calver persisted by starting to read out paragraph 47 of the Welsh Assembly Government's guidelines which call for the size of the dwelling to be commensurate with the functional need [to house a herdsman].
"That's all been done by our estates department." the chairman interjected, bringing Cllr Calver's contribution to a close.
It was left to Director of Development Roger Barrett-Evans to sum up.
"What we [the planning department] are saying is that there is a business need for a second dwelling." he said.
The question is, can the farm business justify this investment - that has been examined. Having had support on all these tests (my emphasis) we are recommending approval."
Of course, the application didn't pass all the tests because the requirement contained in paragraph 47, and clearly expounded in the planning officer's letter of 13 April, that the dwelling should be commensurate with the established functional need, had been studiously ignored.
Never let the facts get in the way of the desired conclusion!
If this is democracy, I'm a banana.


On song

 

Last week, thinking I was in need of a bit of culture, Old Grumpette took me along to the talent show/Nelson tribute at Pill Social Centre.
I must say this was a very civilised occasion.
Not only was the bar kept open throughout the show, but you could also smoke unmolested.
I am not into theatre reviews but I must say that both Jeff Dunn's script and Roger Arnold's portayal of Nelson, were first class, with historical accuracy never being allowed to get in the way of a good joke.
The one that tickled me the most concerned Nelson's wife Fanny.
According to Roger, "Fanny was no oil painting. Indeed it has been said she looked better by gaslight."
It's the way he tells them!
This story had at least the ring of truth because William Murdoch invented gas lighting in 1792 - just 13 years before the Battle of Trafalgar.
I must admit, I am not all that keen on modern music, so, though the singers and dancers were undoubtedly a talented lot, I more than once took the opportunity to slip up to the bar for another pint (Old Grumpette was driving).
I happened to be talking to a friend of mine about the show when I mentioned that, so far as songs are concerned, nothing after "Sweet lass of Richmond Hill" is worth listening to.
The look of incomprehension on his face told me he had not the faintest idea what I was talking about.
So, printed below, for the benefit of anyone else ignorant of our country's great musical tradition, is something I downloaded from the Internet.
Unfortunately, I can't write music but if anyone cares to give me a bell I will sing the tune for them.
However, a word of caution, my singing talents don't come cheap, and a sizeable donation to a charity of my choice will be expected from anyone taking up this offer.
Perhaps Jeff Dunn will ring up and offer me an audition for his next show.

Sweet lass of Richmond Hill

The tune was written by James Hook (1746-1827), an English composer and was published circa 1790. The words are by Leonard McNally (1752–1820). The song was also popular in America during the 1790s.
The words were written in honor of Miss Janson, of Richmond Hill, Leybourne, Yorkshire, who was engaged to Leonard McNally. They were married January 16, 1787. McNally was an Irish political informer. He joined the United Irishmen and unsuccessfully defended several of them in court. After his death it was discovered that MacNally had been in the pay of the British government. McNally was the informer who betrayed Lord Edward Fitzgerald in the 1798 uprising and Robert Emmet in 1803.


On Richmond Hill there lives a lass
More bright than May-day morn
Whose charms all other maids' surpass
A rose without a thorn.
This lass so neat, with smiles so sweet
Has won my right good will
I'd crowns resign to call thee mine
Sweet lass of Richmond Hill.
Chorus
Sweet lass of Richmond Hill
Sweet lass of Richmond Hill
I'd crowns resign to call thee mine
Sweet lass of Richmond Hill.

This is what I sing to myself when deep in thought on solitary country walks.
Whether it is the poetry of the lyrics, the catchy tune, or the fact that it was taught to me by Miss Rogerson; a willowy, flame-haired beauty, fresh out of training college, I can't be sure at this distance in time.
However, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I now realise that my debt of gratitude to Miss Rogerson is even greater than I thought because she was kind enough to spare us the second verse, which begins:

Ye zephyrs gay that fan the air
And wanton thro' the grove
O whisper to my charming fair
"I die for her I love."

Just fancy walking across the fields trying to get your head round that little lot!


Flower power

Those of you who get up at a decent time in the morning may have heard Farming Today's (5.45-6.00 am weekdays and 6.35 am-7.00am Saturday) investigation into the relative merits of organic and conventionally grown food.
From what I could gather, the only real difference is that organic food costs twice as much.
If Monsanto or some other multinational company were to try to pull a scam like that the Soil Association would be demonstrating outside the gates.
Of course, the fact that organic and conventional food are virtually identical should come as no surprise to anyone with a D in GCSE chemistry because a nitrate ion that comes out of an ICI factory is identical in every particular to one that emerges from the rear end of a cow.
I write this as someone who takes great pride in his vegetable patch, but my vegetables taste better than Tesco's; not because of the method of cultivation but because they are fresher.
My socialist friend (I can admit to this only because my mother has no way of accessing the Internet) has fallen for this organic voodoo even to the point of refusing to use slug pellets.
He tells me that he chops them in half with a sharp knife.
Whether the slugs appreciate this compassionate approach to pest control, he does not say.
I suspect my socialist friend is one of those people who digs his garden to show solidarity with the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Wat Tyler, and still hankers after the days when his grandfather and his mates used to plan the coming revolution in a shed down the allotment.
Much of this romanticism can be excused because he is a city boy whereas I am a true son of the soil.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to him on the phone when he told me his potatoes were nowhere near ready.
I can take a hint, so I offered to give him a feed if he called round the house.
He duly turned up on the doorstep and we went down to the potato patch armed with the fork.
Just as I was about stick the fork in the ground he said: "Are you sure they're ready - they haven't got any flowers on them?"
"Flowers", I said, "I haven't tried them - what do they taste like?"
It turned out that he had read a book - "The Vegetable Doctor", or some such - that advised not to dig potatoes until they are in full flower.
The irony is that, when he went home and dug up a top, his spuds, flowers or not, were considerably bigger than mine.
I suspect he's been dosing them with "Miracle Grow" on the quiet.
Either that or beginner's luck!

Independent or independent?

Last week the Western Telegraph published my letter regarding the three independent candidates who are contesting the vacant county council seat of Narberth Rural.
For those who manage to get through life without the Telegraph, a copy of the letter can be read at IPG
A mole tells me that one of the candidates, David Bowen, has already been shown round county hall by Cabinet member Rob Lewis.
Is he the Independent Political (sic) Group's unofficial official candidate?
Or are they running more than one candidate - a trick they pulled off with no little success at last year's elections?
I think we should be told!

 

email:oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

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