March 26 2001

Cut-price profiteering

The anti-cheap food brigade has been out in force this week as the foot and mouth crisis deepens.

They claim that the outbreak is the result of intensive farming which rather flies in the face of the fact that foot and mouth is endemic in third world countries which practice subsistence agriculture.

Furthermore, the USA, which it is said to be in the vanguard of the rush to cheap food/intensive farming, hasn't had an outbreak of foot and mouth for the best part of 100 years.

Still who's worried about facts when there's the environmental agenda to promote.

The week's best piece of nonsense on this subject appeared in last Wednesday's Daily Mail where the owner of the prestigious Hotel le Manoir in Oxfordshire, M Raymond Blanc, was blaming everything on an agricultural industry which was producing cheap food in a drive to increase profits.

How selling things cheap increases profits, M Blanc did not explain.

If selling things cheap is the way to make profits then M Blanc would seem to be on a loser.

When I logged on to his hotel's website at I discovered that to dine there would cost me anything between £59 and £120.

St Joan and the dragon

Old Grumpy has been taking a keen interest in the increasingly acrimonious turf war between SPARC and Pembrokeshire County Council over which of them will get to waste several hundred thousand pounds of EU 'Leader' funds i.e British taxpayers', money.

Up to now SPARC, headed by Joan Asby (Joan of SPARC as the Mercury headline writer memorably put it) has been in control in South Pembrokeshire while the County Council, through Preseli Menter, has held sway in the north.

I will not bore you with the details of these so-called community development funds or the relative merits of the two organisations that presently dispense them.

Suffice it to say that Menter are the 'lead body' in charge of the ill-starred attempt to spend £100,000 on dragging a stone from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge.

Council Leader Maurice Hughes is heading up the County Council's campaign.

He told the Mercury that county councillors were 'concerned' about the lack of transparency in SPARC, especially that "information is not available" on the level of salaries paid to officers.

Old Grumpy would be the first to applaud this new spirit of openness if this wasn't the same Maurice Hughes who strove might and main to persuade the members of his Independent Political (sic) Group to exclude the public from the County Council's deliberations on the huge pay increases paid to senior officers just one year ago.

One rule for us and another for the rest of you seems to be the Independents' motto.


Wisdom of Solomon

Having been off the air as a result of the actions of the County Council's censors I have built up a considerable backlog of material.

Reading through some old papers the other night I came across the notes of a County Council meeting from just before Christmas during which the members debated whether to allow the public to attend a seminar on the options for the future management of the authority's housing stock.

Tory Leader Phil Llewellyn and his Plaid Cymru counterpart Michael Williams both favoured an open meeting.

But the Leader of the ruling Independents Maurice Hughes was against.

He argued that if those members of the public who were present "leaned to one option" that could affect the debate.

Elected members being influenced by what the public think! Whatever next?

Cllr Roy Folland, who seems to be in charge of the Independent Group's department for silly arguments, claimed that if members of the public were present at the morning seminar they would know more about the issue than the tenants, who the council were due to meet in the afternoon.

Members voted 11-7 to hold the meeting in public after Cllr Desmond Codd pointed out that tenants were also members of the public and they could attend both meetings should they wish.

So now you know why I nicknamed him Solomon.

Unanswered questions

Regular readers will know that Old Grumpy has devoted a large an slice of his life to the investigation of Great Enfield Panning Scandal.

To date I have concentrated on the role of the Director of Leisure and Development Roger Barrett-Evans, who, according to Labour Leader Joyce Watson, "deliberately misled" members with respect to the meaning of Local Plan Policy EV18 which allows the conversion of sound redundant traditional buildings in the open countryside.

Enfield is described in the planning officer's report as "very derelict" so it is difficult to disagree with Mrs Watson's contention that it cannot possibly also be a sound traditional building.

However, my comments on this issue have incurred the wrath of the Council's Director of Marketing and Communications David Thomas; known affectionately to the inhabitants of County Hall as 'Dai Spin', who wrote to my website server, Freenetname, complaining that what I had written about Mr Barrett-Evans was "overtly defamatory and factually inaccurate".

The mystery is that Mr Barrett-Evans has never complained to me, let alone launched a claim for the substantial damages to which, if Mr Thomas is right, he would surely be entitled

And this is not the only mystery about the Enfield case.

There is also the little matter of the three-page letter sent by the applicant's agent Mr Brangwyn Howell to all members of the planning committee in which he makes the case for the application.

One member sent a copy of this letter to Head of Development Control David Lawrence and it now sits in the file complete with a series of handwritten marginal notes which, not to put too fine a point on it, accuse Mr Howell of talking rubbish.

Old Grumpy was interested to know who had written these notes especially as several of Mr Howell's arguments had found their way into the letter supporting the application that Mr Barrett-Evans sent to the Inspector appointed by the Welsh Assembly to determine the application.

Clearly, questions need to be asked if Mr Barrett-Evans, who is not a qualified planner, had overruled Mr Lawrence who is.

So I sent a copy of Mr Howell's letter to the Council's Department of Marketing and Communications asking if they could identify the writer of the marginal notes.

The answer came back that, because the notes were not initialled, it was impossible to say who had written them but it certainly wasn't Mr Lawrence.

Not satisfied with this attempted brush-off, I replied that there could not be more than half a dozen possible contenders for authorship and asked if the writer could be identified from the handwriting.

It was not practical to compare the handwriting of all the members of the planning department with the notes on Mr Howell's letter, I was told.

All this I chronicled in my column in the Mercury and Mrs Watson, perhaps, like me, thinking this was an unlikely tale, decided to raise the matter at a meeting of the Council.

By now, the powers that be also seem to have concluded that this story didn't hold water and the explanation offered was that the notes hadn't been written by a planning officer at all, but by some mysterious third party.

Having applied my considerable powers of imagination to the matter, I have come up with the following scenario.

It is early evening in County Hall and all the £1000-a week supremos and their minions have gone home to their firesides.

Dilys the cleaner is pushing the hoover around the planning department when she spots a copy of Mr Howell's letter on Mr Lawrence's desk At paragraph 8 she reads that Mr Howell is claiming that the Enfield site is "derelict land".

"It is not derelict land" she scribbles in the margin.

In paragraph 10 she reads Mr Howell's contention that there are no other sites in a 25 square mile area around Haverfordwest which raise the same issues as Enfield, therefore giving permission "is most unlikely to set a precedent for others".

Clearly exasperated, she scrawls: "Wrong. There are examples which raise the same planning issues which we have refused and we have won subsequent appeals".

As she reaches the end of the letter, Dilys has obviously run out of patience.

Alongside Mr Howell's signature she has written: "This letter is a disgrace coming from a qualified planner. It is completely misleading and largely totally irrelevant".

Scanning the file for further evidence of Dilys' s moonlighting activities I came across the following handwritten note on another letter.

"LMT. Please draft a reply to applicant. D"

LMT, I assumed was Planning officer Linda Taylor,so was Dilys now issuing orders to planning department staff?

I had always thought my theory about the cleaner was a bit fanciful and it was eventually blown out of the water when I sent a copy to the Department of Marketing and Communications and received the reply that "D" was not Dilys but David Lawrence.

Below are copies of the handwriting so you can draw your own conclusions about what is going on here.



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