24 November 2004

Bluestone in Court


Sorry I'm late this week but I spent Tuesday in Swansea at the first day of the Bluestone hearing.
The whole day was taken up by submissions from counsel for the Council for National Parks (CNP) who are challenging the Pembrokeshire National Park's decision to grant permission for the development.
The CNP's case has two strands.
Firstly, they say that giving consent for this major development is contrary to the statutory purposes of the National Park, as set out in the 1949 Act by which the parks were first established.

As Mr Wolfe the CNP's barrister pointed out, Section 5(1) of the National Parks and Countryside Act (1949) provides that the statutory purposes of National Park authorities are:

to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Parks and

to promote opportunities for the public understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the Parks.

Section 11A(1) of the Act provides that, in pursuing these statutory purposes, National Park authorities "shall seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Park ..."
He claimed that the pursuit of economic and social well-being is subordinate to the the main purposes set out in section 5(1).
As Mr Wolfe also pointed out, the legislation refers to "communities within the National Park" so the Bluestone project fails to meet even this test because the main economic benefits will fall to areas outside the Park boundaries.

But by far the most interesting aspect of the case is the CNP's attempt to overthrow the Park's decision on the grounds that certain members of the committee ("the decision makers") were biased.
While this applies to a certain extent to all ten County Council representatives on the National Park Committee, Mr Wolfe's main targets were Cllrs John Allen-Mirehouse and Cllr Bill Roberts.
The reason for singling (or should it be doubling) out these two is that they are both members of the County Council's Cabinet, which, prior to the National Park planning decision, had agreed to give the promoters of Bluestone a £1 million loan.
According to Mr Wolfe, as a result of recent decisions in the Courts, the current test for bias is "whether a fair-minded observer having considered all the facts would think that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased."
So, all you fair-minded people out their, do you think that, having previously approved a £1 million loan for the project, Cllrs Roberts and Allen-Mirehouse's might fall short of perfect objectivity when it came to determining the planning application?
No need to wrack your brains, that is what the judge is paid to determine.
I must admit that my real reason for going to Swansea was not to spend five hours listening to a clever barrister minutely dissecting the legal issues involved.
I went to see Squirehouse torn from limb to limb, metaphorically speaking, during cross examination.
Unfortunately, no witnesses are being called and the whole of the proceedings is being conducted by way of written submissions.
With fox hunting banned, what is a man to do for blood sports these days?
When I last wrote about this issue, I said I would be willing to place a small bet (one of my older shirts) on a CNP victory.
I still stand by that.
And I am pleased to report that another of my predictions: that the real winners would be the lawyers, has already come true.
In the courtroom I counted eight wigs (three of them belonging to QCs) and six solicitors.
Not much change out of 20 grand a day for that lot, I would wager.
[The case continues]

The c-word


During the lunch adjournment I was sitting in a pub in Wind Street enjoying a pint and a bacon and cheese wrap with a couple of people I know.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to the case, and the planning system in general.
There was some consternation around the table when I ventured the opinion that the planning system was corrupt.
This is not the first time I have had trouble with the c-word.
Whenever I tried to slip it into one of my pieces in the Mercury the eagle-eyed Old Grumpette would give it the red pen treatment.
And the only time David Evans, who took over as editor after we sold the paper, ever censured anything I wrote was when I described the County Council as corrupt.
There was no point arguing, so I substituted "rotten to the core".
The problem is that people interpret the word as having cash connotations, but I have always maintained that this is wrong, otherwise why use the term bribery and corruption.
And when I say the planning system is corrupt I don't mean that councillors are taking backhanders but that any system which involves elected politicians taking judicial decisions is rotten to the core.
Interestingly, this very issue was discussed in a report into a planning scandal on the Isle of Man where an opposition Labour member of the House of Keys caused outrage by describing what had gone on as corrupt.
Naturally, the ruling party tried to turn this into the issue rather than what had actually gone on.
But Nigel Mcleod QC, who chaired the commission set up to investigate the matter, was having none of it.
He said that, while there was no proof that anyone had taken a bribe, "... there was corruption of the system of government by reason of consistent maladministration and weakness, allied to wrongdoing by officers, and the lack of transparency in government dealings."
If the c-word should ever appear in this column that is the meaning intended.
Should evidence come my way that someone is taking a bung, you can rely on me to make that perfectly clear.

Manorbier madness

Another drama regarding conflicts of interest has been playing itself out in the less glamorous surrounding of Manorbier Community Centre.
This involves cross-membership of Manorbier Community Council (MCC) and Manorbier Community Association (MCA).
The difficulty arises because most of MCA's income comes by way of a grant from MCC.
Cllr Malcolm Calver has consistently argued that, because it is a backdoor method of picking the taxpayer's pocket, MCC members, who also sit on the committee of MCA, should take no part in the Community Council's discussions about MCA matters
This "debate" has been going on for some years but it now looks as if resolution is in sight.
According to the website www.manorbier.com (editor M Calver) Cllr Calver again raised this issue at the MCC meeting held on 11 November.
The website records that one of those affected, MCC chairman Cllr Tony Wales, refused to declare his interest saying that, as hanging had been abolished, he would stay and take whatever lesser punishment his actions might bring down on his head.
Another with double-membership, Cllr Neads, is reported as claiming that he had been told by the County Council's Monitoring Officer Huw James that it was in order for him to take part in discussions involving MCA business.
It would seem that at that point Cllr Calver deployed his secret weapon - a letter from Mr James saying the exact opposite.
At this Cllr Wales' earlier boldness seems to have deserted him and he made his excuses and left, closely followed by Cllr Neads.
It is not reported whether the latter was muttering "neads must" as he made his exit.
For full picture of what is going on in the picturesque little village you will have to log on to the website.
When I first read it, I thought it might be a script for the village pantomime, but I am assured it is a serious account.


Pecking order

I am pleased to discover that my six year old granddaughter seems to taken Prince Charles' advice to know her place.
Old Grumpette was on family business in the Isle of Man at the weekend so was unable to take part in the debate about the venue for our Sunday afternoon walk.
Mummy suggested Solva, while I fancied something closer to home, like the cycle track at Rosemarket.
Mr granddaughter interrupted the discussion by turning to me and saying "You decide grandad. You're the boss".
Interested to know how she had picked up this idea, I said "And why do you think I'm the boss?".
"Because, you're mummy's daddy", she replied; adding for good measure, "and grandma's away."

Spacial discrimination

For several months now I have been trying to persuade the County Council to provide a link through my profile on its website to www.oldgrumpy.co.uk .
But three emails to the Webmaster and one to the Monitoring Officer have brought no response even though the Customers' Charter promises that emails will be acknowledged within three days and answered within 15.
Perhaps, now I am a councillor, I am no longer regarded as a customer.
What is particularly galling is that there is a direct link to www.davidwildman.com (don't bother unless you get an adrenaline rush from watching paint dry) so why am I being discriminated against?
I can only assume it is because the Webmaster is under the control of Director of Communications, David Thomas, who older readers will remember once had Old Grumpy removed from the Web because, he claimed, my site contained material that was "overtly defamatory and factually inaccurate." (see Private and confidential)
At the time, I complained to the Monitoring Office that this was an infringement of my right to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act, but he assured me that Mr Thomas had acted perfectly lawfully.
Strangely, when I opened a new site containing the identical "defamatory" material, no attempt was made to repeat this perfectly legitimate manouevre.

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