March 5 2008


Spatial purity


What are we to make of ex-Cllr Eddie Setterfield's latest letter to the Mercury, in which he slams anti-LNG campaigners for trying to force Milford Haven Port Authority to publish the quantified risk report on the importation of liquefied gas?
According to Eddie, these people are "not from the area" and that if they don't like the situation they "should find another place to live".
I sometimes wonder if the description "mouth in top gear, brain in neutral" was specifically devised with Eddie in mind, because, presumably, he would also have to argue that natives of Milford Haven living under the Heathrow flight path would have no right to protest against the building of a third runway.
Perhaps those of us who "are not from the area" should wear distinctive clothing so that others will immediately know whether our views are worth listening to.
Eddie has stated that he will not be running for election in May, and, as a large proportion of the population of Milford Haven are "not from the area", having been attracted to the town to work in the fishing and oil industries, that would seem to be a wise decision.
Indeed, the town's founding fathers were a bunch of Yanks from Nantucket, and the Setterfield clan is not immune from criticism on the grounds of spatial purity, having originally followed the herring fleet from East Anglia.
It is noteworthy that, prior to the electorate's decision to dispose of his services, Eddie was a leading member of the Independent Political Group (chairman of both planning and highways).
His latest effort is on all fours with the statement put out by the IPG's former leader, Maurice Hughes, who described attempts by the Council for National Parks to overturn the Bluestone planning decision by way of judicial review as " a disgrace".
How anyone who claims to be a democrat can criticise someone for pursuing their legal rights is a mystery.
To me, it smacks of an authoritarian desire to silence all opposition.
Voltaire's dictum: "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" would seem to be a better guide..

The price is right

A reader has raised an interesting point with regard to the discrepancy between QinetiQ's asking price (£250,000-£300,000) during negotiations for the sale of the East Blockhouse site to the National Park and the Meopham family's offer (£200,000) that was eventually accepted.
In fact, the Meophams eventually paid £235,000 which, as SF, who did hard sums at university, has pointed out, is exactly 17.5% more that the offer price and most probably represents VAT.
Clearly, if the original asking price was ex-VAT, the Meophams bought the site at a considerable discount.
Less so, if it was inclusive of VAT.
An FoI request has been dispatched with a view to clarifying this point.
As you will recall, soon after the Park's asset management group decided not to purchase the site, Mark Meopham (brother of head of asset management Gary Meopham) telephoned QinetiQ with an offer of £165,000, increased to £200,000 after he was told that £165,000 was too low.
It would be interesting to know what steps Gary Meopham took to negotiate a lower price, when acting on the Park's behalf.
Another FoI request.
This is important because it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the asset management group's decision might have been different if it had been aware that the site could be bought at a sizeable discount.
During the debate on the Chief Executive's decision to issue a final warning to Gary Meopham, the Park's hierarchy went to great pains to emphasise that Gary Meopham had not played a prominent part in the decision not to buy.
This seems rather strange given that, as head of asset management, he would have been the group's lead officer.
Mr Peter Hoardley, the director who carried out the final investigation into the affair, said that Gary Meopham's chief concern would have been "value".
That being the case it would surely have been incumbent upon him to try to beat down the price on the Park's behalf, just as his brother did when acting for the family.


Decision time


I hear that the Park's newly-formed and grandly-named special investigations and reputation committee has already held its first meeting (Reputational wreckage).
And, according to reports, with the sole exception of Cllr Michael Williams, the members voted to exclude the public and press.
Not the best way to enhance your reputation for openness and transparency, I would have thought.
Old Grumpy has been closely following the events surrounding the sale of East Blockhouse ever since I first heard about it back in October last year (Inside track).
On the face of it, what has become known as Garygate, revolves around two conflicting accounts of events in May 2006.
The asset management group's "decision" (the apostrophes will be explained later) not to purchase was taken on May 4.
According to QuintiQ's estates officer, he was telephone by Mark Meopham sometime between 1-4 May with an offer of £165,000.
Mark Meopham was told this offer was too low and on 5 May he came back with an offer of £200,000 which he confirmed by way of a letter dated 8 May.
Q's estates officer's version of events is corroborated by a memo he sent to his boss on 10 May 2006.
When questioned about these events more than a year after they happened, the Meophams insisted that these telephone calls from Mark Meopham had all taken place on 8 May by which date; the "decision" not to purchase having been taken on 4 May, Gary Meopham's interest in the site as Park officer had ceased to exist and he was therefore free to pursue his private interest unimpeded.
At which point we may notice the elephant in the sitting room: no decision was made on 4 May because, under the authority's constitution, it was not within the asset management group's powers to make such a decision.
All the asset management group was empowered to do was make recommendations to the senior management team in whose hands the final decision lay.
As far as I am aware, the senior management team has never ruled on the issue.
That being the case, the Park (and Gary Meopham as one of its officers) still had an interest in purchasing the site on 8 May.
In his report, he monitoring officer skirted round this little difficulty by observing that it was common practice for the asset management group to make "decisions" in this way.
As former chief clerk to the magistrates he will know that the defence "But, I've always parked on the double yellow lines outside my house" is hardly likely to carry much weight with the bench.
His second line is that there was an implied delegation of the senior management team's authority to the asset management group.
I am not sure that an implied term is capable of displacing an express term in the constitution.
To argue otherwise would mean that the officers could modify the Park's constitution as they saw fit.
While that sort of thing might pass muster in Putin's Russia, it is not the way things are done in democracies under the rule of law.

Bargain basement


Talking of property being bought at knockdown prices, Old Grumpy notices that planning permission has been granted to renovate the Commodore Hotel in Pembroke Dock.
In addition, the developers have obtained consent to build four town houses, 22 apartments and five maisonettes on the site.
According to the Land Registry website, all this development land was bought for the princely sum of £170,000 - little more than the price of a three-bed terrace in Milford Haven.
I also notice that the developer's name is given as P.E.M. Developments though Irish company records office has it down as Pem Developments.
This is important because, as I wrote last October (Insider trading), this company was set up specifically to take advantage of business opportunities in Pembrokeshire (hence Pem) and the apparent change to P.E.M. rather obscures that connection.
As I said, Cllr Brian Hall's erstwhile business partner Dr Michael Ryan (see Hall-Ryan)was involved in the establishment of this company which then bought two properties (land at Withybush designated for a motor retail park and the Commodore) which were both under threat of compulsory purchase by the county council.
In addition, the company was awarded a potentially lucrative contract to develop the Withybush Business Park.
This despite the fact that it had been incorporated only a year earlier and, therefore, had no track record of carrying out similar developments.
Old Grumpy was interested to read in the minutes of the planning committee where these consents were granted that "Cllr Brian Hall declared a personal interest in this application and withdrew from the meeting ."
Unfortunately, the minutes do not record that Cllr Hall declared the nature of this personal interest as required by the Code of Conduct.

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