May 1 2007



Strictly for the fairies.

Last week the Today programme carried an item on the unusually warm spring weather.
Two indicators were cited: the hawthorn - also known as May - was in flower, and swifts had been seen over southern England a good three weeks ahead of their normal arrival date.
Naturally, this is all put down to global warming and, indeed, the BBC weatherman reported that April had been 3 degrees C above normal.
Now, three degrees is a much, much bigger rise in temperature that anything coming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) whose projections are for a rise in temperature of between 0.2 and 0.6 degrees per DECADE.
So we must conclude that either the IPCC's computers have got it completely wrong or that this unusually warm weather is a local phenomena.
Without the need to consult the weather records, I can relate my own experiences of the great variations in temperature at this time of year.
Firstly, in late April 1990, when my son and I were slating the roof on a house in Lower Priory, it was so hot that we had to knock off in the afternoons and go back after supper.
I know the date because we were rushing to finish the job before going to the Isle of Man for Grumpette's parents' golden wedding celebrations in early May.
The following year, when I was fighting the Preseli Pembrokeshire District Council elections at the end of April/early May, it was so cold that an overcoat was required throughout the three week campaign.
Further evidence that this is a local weather event comes from two other stories on the Today programme.
A couple of weeks ago we were told that London was hotter than Marbella and, last week, that it was hotter than Mexico City.
Hardly conclusive proof of runaway GLOBAL warming.
While I can understand why the May blossom might flower early in response to the warm conditions, I am at a loss to work out why a swift would leave southern Africa three weeks earlier than normal to take advantage of a warm spring of which it couldn't possibly be aware, especially as it had to pass unseasonably cold Marbella on the way.
Perhaps these quotes from an article in the Belfast Telegraph tell us something about these stories.:
Having reported on the early arrival of the May blossom and the swifts, the paper goes on:
"Due to the exceptionally mild start to the year, this summer signal is arriving up to three weeks earlier than 30 years ago. According to Celtic mythology, hawthorn is the plant most likely to be inhabited by fairies. If a twig of hawthorn is tied together with red thread to twigs from oak and ash, it will provide protection from the fairies. One folk custom was to tie ribbons or rags onto hawthorn trees on May Day as gifts to the fairies."
Speaking of fairies, the route from Douglas to Grumpette's home in the the south of the IoM takes you over Fairy Bridge.
To avoid bad luck, local custom requires that you must salute and say "hello fairies" as you pass.
Now, you might ask whether a scientific rationalist like Old Grumpy takes part in this ridiculous superstitious ritual.
You bet!
If you saw how people drive over there, you wouldn't be taking any chances, either.

Oiling the wheels

The Freedom of Information Act has brought forth some interesting correspondence between Pembrokeshire County Council and the Welsh Assembly on the sale of the Mine Depot to an Irish biofuels producer.
It will be remembered that this proposal first surfaced in early December last year when the Cabinet agreed to sell the site to an unnamed buyer for an undisclosed price (Hanging together).
Interestingly, the documents released under FoI show that discussions had been underway for some three months before that.
Since early September, in fact.
Unfortunately, many of the names have been blanked out, though it is not difficult to make an educated guess at the missing words.
In June 2006 the Cabinet agreed that the proposals of the two rival bidders for the Mine Depot- Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA) and Cleddau Enterprises Ltd (CEL) - should be sent to the Welsh Assembly for an independent assessment of their respective economic benefits for the area.
Members of the Cabinet might reasonably have expected that this was what was being done.
However, in an e-mail dated 10 November 2006, a Mr Peter Kettlety of the Welsh Assembly's Dept of Industry (DEIN) informed Mr Neville Henstredge of the council's property department that this independent assessment had now been put on hold "given the interest from the Biodiesel project".
The Cabinet neither knew about the the Biodiesel project nor the fact that its resolution of June 2006 was being disregarded.
Not that any of them would have cared because, for them, being a member of Cabinet (special responsibility allowance £14,000 + oodles of self-importance) is far more important than any democratic principle.
But let us return to September 2006 when a Mr Mel Crisp (the Welsh Assembly's man in Dublin); county council inward investment officer Tony Streatfield; and Robert Behan (chief executive Agri Energy) were setting up this biofuels deal.
It seems that the original idea was for this project to be sited on one of the refineries and Mr Steatfield informs Mr Roger Barrett-Evans in an e-mail dated 27 September 2006 that: ". . . over the past few weeks I've introduced Robert [Behan] to xxxx, xxxxx and xxxxxx [believed to be the names of the three local oil refineries Texaco, Total and whatever they now call Gulf.]"
It seems as if these discussions were fruitful because: "Of these xxxxx and xxxxx [Texaco and Total?] have expressed an interest in the project and both are going back to their HQs to see if the level of interest can be converted into something more concrete."
However, before this altogether splendid idea could be pursued, Mr Streatfield took Robert to see Blackbridge and informs Barrett-Evans that "he was very excited by what he saw."
So excited, in fact, that "this afternoon he has spoken to his chairman and now wishes to speak to you to enquire about the chances of purchasing this site."
The Labour government in the Welsh Assembly were also keen on the idea because, in his e-mail of 27 September, Mr Streatfield tells Mr Barrett-Evans: "Last Friday xxxxx [Robert Behan] met Andrew Davies [WAG industry minister] (at the Ryder Cup) and there is political support for this project happening in Wales."
The Ryder Cup, by the way, was held at the swish K Club, Co Kildare, between 22-24 September.
Tough old job being a minister!
Still, I suppose, combining business with pleasure justifies asking the taxpayer to pick up the bill. (see Welsh Assembly FoI response below).
It seems that by now the council had given up even the pretense of running a tender process because the following day (September 28) Mr Streatfield e-mailed Mr Crisp to tell him that he'd spoken to Roger [Barrett-Evans] who "confirmed that the bidding for the site has increased to over £1 million. I therefore phoned Robert [Behan] to apologise that I had misled him about the price."
Robert responded by putting in a higher offer which formed the basis for the report to Cabinet which recommended the sale to Agri Energy.
However, there was still the possibility that one of the other interested parties might put in a higher bid.
Mr Kettlety of DEIN was concerned about this and, in an e-mail to the council's head of property management Neville Henstredge dated 10 November 2006, he expressed surprise that the deciding factor was to be the highest bid rather than economic benefits.
However, in the event of a higher bid being received he suggested that the council ask all three bidders to retender together with "detailed proposals and a costed business plan" whereupon the submissions could "be assessed on the basis of economic benefit/best value with the use of independent consultants".
This heads I win, tails you lose strategy was familiar to the council because the bidding contest between MHPA and CEL had been conducted on exactly the same basis.
When MHPA, the council's preferred bidder, had the best offer on the table, the deciding factor was monetary value, but, when it became clear that CEL had more financial firepower than the Port Authority, the bids were sent off to the Welsh Assembly for an independent evaluation of their overall economic benefits.
This way of going on may be OK for Arthur Daley or Del Boy but I can't believe it is appropriate behaviour for a public body.
Mr Gary Phillips of CEL tells me he complained to the Ombudsman who declined to investigate.
Though, if favouring one bidder over another, even to the extent of smoothing their path by providing them with confidential Cabinet papers, isn't unfairness amounting to maladministration, it is difficult to know what is (Panto mine).
And, it seems, MHPA weren't too pleased at losing pole position.
It appears they raised doubts about the acceptability of importing xxxxx xxxxx [animal waste] and, following one meeting between MHPA, Agri Energy, Welsh Assembly and the council, Mr Crisp told Mr Bryn Parry-Jones: "Personally I was slightly disappointed by what MHPA brought to the table last Friday and suggest they need to sharpen their pencils so to speak."
Ah! the biter bitten.

Expensive tastes


Extract from the Welsh Assembly's FoI disclosure log.

Request for Information – reference 1716

Dear Mrs Williams,

I wrote to you on 8 November following your request for information. In your request you asked for:
• An itemised breakdown of the costs incurred by the ‘Team Wales’ delegation attending the Ryder Cup 2006 tournament in Ireland
I have listed the information which I believe is what you requested in the following table. Overall expenditure is still being finalised, but the current total is shown below.

Flights, accommodation, subsistence and ground transport £118,000
Official Wales events £28,500
Promotional activity £67,500
Income -£19,000
Total £195,000



Prime condition


I had an interesting conversation with a member of the planning committee that recently gave consent for Adams and Son's 2,400 sq ft agricultural worker's "cottage" + double garage at Keeston Hill farm.
Son = Cllr Jamie Adams, Cabinet member for highways.
The rules require that such dwellings be sited as close as possible to the farm complex.
Unfortunately, or, perhaps, fortunately, in this particular case, the most obvious site has been earmarked for a slurry lagoon.
This means that the cottage has been moved further up the hill where it will be much more prominent in the landscape and, incidentally, enjoy much more spectacular views.
One of the conditions of the consent is that the lagoon must be built before commencement of the construction of the cottage.
Because the proposed lagoon is within 400 metres of the houses (top right), it will require planning permission.
As you can't imagine the locals taking too kindly to having a slurry pit parked 150 metres upwind of their living room windows, what happens if they object and consent is refused?
According to my fellow councillor, the dwelling will then have to be moved down the hill to where it should, ideally, have been sited in the first place.
Unfortunately, the law on these matters is rather more complex than that.
As I understand it, if consent for the lagoon is refused, there is a strong possibility that the planning permission for the "cottage" will stand and the condition, compliance now being impossible, will fall for unreasonableness.
In any case, there is nothing in the actual wording of the condition: "No part of the development to be commenced prior to the construction and commencement of of use of the slurry lagoon referred to in the supporting information" that requires the lagoon to continue in use once the house is built.
But, while planning authorities can impose conditions on consents, they can't impose any conditions they like (see below).
So, even if planning consent for the lagoon is granted, it is not altogether certain that the council could enforce the condition because of the difficulty in meeting the test set out by Lord Widgery (see below) that the condition be "reasonably related to the development . . ." .
It is difficult to think of any other reason for this condition than it is intended to prevent the applicant pulling a fast one by using the slurry lagoon as a excuse for siting the "cottage" in a more desirable location further up the hill i.e. it fulfils an "ulterior purpose" unconnected with the development itself (see below).

Planning was granted for the rebuilding of a railway station on condition that the land allocated for parking should be made available for such purposes at all times and used for no other purpose. The station was duly rebuilt but the car park was not provided. The local planning authority served an enforcement notice requiring compliance with the condition. Held: The words of the statute clearly on their face entitle the local planning authority to impose conditions which affect land not the subject of the application itself and which go to the restriction of the past user or removal of existing work. Although they are wide it has been recognised for a long time that they are subject to certain restrictions. The two principal restrictions which the court had placed on those words are first that a condition is invalid as being contrary to law unless it is reasonably related to the development in the planning permission which has been granted: it must not be used for an ulterior purpose, and second a condition which is so clearly unreasonable that no reasonable planning authority could have imposed it may be regarded as ultra vires and contrary to law and treated as such in proceedings in this court .

The Good Life

I heard on this morning's Today programme that Tesco is now stocking wine costing more than £100 per bottle.
So, if any of you were wondering what to get me for my birthday, wonder no more.
And, as it is not until 1 Feb, you have plenty of time to save up.
And for those of you who are a bit strapped for cash, a bottle of the three-ninety-nine will do quite nicely.
After all, it's the thought that counts.
Meanwhile the garden is growing apace.
The potatoes are meeting in the stitches and the broad beans will soon need staking.
The greenhouse is so full of seedlings that it would need about five acres of flower beds to plant them all out.
However, my eat-local-vegetables-in-season campaign has turned out not to be an outstanding success.
Mind you, if purple sprouting broccoli is as healthy as they say, I should live to be a thousand.
But I have to admit that, while shopping in Tesco one day last week, my craving for something different got the better of me and, having checked that nobody was watching, I slipped a bag of frozen peas into the trolley and hid them under the Daily Telegraph.
Also, my little bantam pullet seems to have at last realised that spring is here and since last Thursday she has been sitting tight on 11 eggs.
By the weekend I will be able to check them for fertility with a torch.
The way the cockerel crows and struts about seems to suggest that he's up to the job.
But appearances can be deceptive and the torch will quickly reveal if he's all show and no go.
Roast corn-fed bantam and broccoli spears.
Now, that's what I call the good life.

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