November 26 2002

Nice to be home

Old Grumpy is back from Portugal after a week in the rain.
If you do go to the Algarve I would advise you to steer clear of Vilamoura which is full of golfers complaining about missed putts and slow play.
We were doubly unfortunate because our hotel contained a large contingent of Scotsmen who all seemed unnaturally cheerful despite the weather.
Still, I suppose, almost anything would be an improvement on Glasgow in November.
The first disappointment was to find there was no tea making equipment in the room.
The young lady from the travel company explained that it was the hotel chain's policy not to provide a kettle in order to encourage guests to use room service.
As a cup of tea delivered to your room cost 2.4 Euros, and it is my policy not to allow myself to be ripped off, this had the opposite effect.
The young lady's helpful suggestion that we should buy a kettle next time we went into town also met with a negative response.
Confirmation that we were on a different wavelength - planet, even - came when she told us that a "must see" in Vilamoura marina was Cliff Richard's boat "Bachelor Boy" and another named "Tommy" belonging to someone called Tommy Hilfiger who, Grumpette informs me, is a noted fashion designer.
Cheap wine, good food and reliable public transport saw us through the rest of the week.
The highlight was a trip to the border on the train and a ferry crossing into Spain.
When we arrived at Vila Real it was absolutely pelting down and as we had neither coats or umbrellas we took shelter in the station where I was delighted to find that a large glass of vino tinto - the sum total of my Portuguese - and a cup of coffee cost only 1.05 E (about 70p in real money).
As it was only 10.30 am, it was fortunate that the rain eased off before I could sample a second glass.
On Saturday afternoon, I found a pub where they were showing the England v South Africa match.
There I really felt at home because it was full of the aforementioned Scotsmen all praying that England would lose.
By half time they could see the writing was on the wall and they all wandered off to watch the soccer on the other tele.
As I stepped out into the sunshine I saw a group of men walking along the marina in the direction of our hotel and overheard one of them say "He takes two steps before he passes, just like Howley".
As I had seen the last five minutes of the Wales-New Zealand game I couldn't resist a "Not a good day for you boys" quip.
It turned out they were a band of hackers from Pennard Golf Club on the Gower and, as we walked along chatting, one of them turned to me and said: "England are definitely the best team in the World".
Fancy having to go all the way to Portugal to meet a Welshman who knows something about rugby.


Standard practice

I was unable to attend Tuesday's meeting of the County Council's Standards Committee but from what I hear I missed a treat.
The main business of the meeting was to discuss what was to be done about leaks of confidential information to the press.
Apparently, this stemmed from a report in the Mercury about a secret Cabinet decision to sue for the recovery of rent and other monies owed in respect of the former Mine Depot at Blackbridge and, horror of horrors, three days after the meeting "the newspaper published an article which contained a reference to a sum of money" mentioned in the confidential report.
I am told that Mr Clive Sheriden, one of the lay members of the committee suggested that a way should be found to prevent newspapers printing confidential information.
The Gulag, perhaps!
As someone once said: "News is that which someone doesn't want published - all the rest is public relations".
But by far the most interesting contribution came from the Community Council representative on the committee, O E Williams, who let slip that, before the previous meeting of the committee (where Cllr Terry Mills was cleared of allegations that he had leaked confidential information to the press) (see Self destruct), he had been telephoned by a County Councillor who wanted to discuss the case with him.
Now the Standards Committee is a statutory tribunal with the power to suspend a member, without pay, for up to six months and any attempt to exert behind-the-scenes influence on its decisions is tantamount to nobbling the jury.
I understand there is to be an investigation into to matter.
Old Grumpy looks forward to the outcome with keen anticipation.

Snail Mail

So much for the marvels of modern communications.
On 11 November I sent an email to the The Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes, asking various questions about a press release he had issued concerning the tie up between Cabinet member Brian Hall and the council's economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan, who are, you will recall, the sole directors of a company Euro-Ryall Ltd which was registered with Companies House on 30 December 2000.
According to Cllr Hughes, council officers had given the green light to this business arrangement after the two men had given assurances that the company would not trade in Pembrokeshire and that no conflict of interest would arise(see Conflict of opinion).
I asked Cllr Hughes to supply the names of the officers involved and the date on which the discussions took place.
Two weeks have elapsed and, despite simplicity of the questions and the wonders of modern communications, I have yet to receive a reply.
The reason I am interested is that the time-scale is of some importance to the question of the possibility of a conflict of interest.
To recap, Dr Ryan was appointed as consultant in August 2000, some five months prior to the incorporation of Euro-Ryall Ltd.
However, inspection of my records reveals that Cllr Hall claimed £34.00 in expenses in respect of the four days (16-19 November 2000) he, Dr Ryan and a Mr Pat O'Sullivan spent together in Pembroke Dock.
Clearly, if Dr Ryan and Cllr Hall's business partnership pre-dates November 16, there is a possibility, at least, that, during their tour of Pembroke Dock and its environs, they were acting on behalf of Euro-Ryall rather than the taxpayers.
On the other hand, of course, it may be that the decision to set up in business together was taken after 19 November 2000, in which case there would be no problem with this particular encounter, though that would not affect the more recent issue (see Conflicts of opinion).


Old Grumpy has been making some further enquiries into the controversial planning application at Enfield, Portfield Gate.
Of particular interest is a three-page letter sent by the applicant's agent Mr Brangwyn Howell to all members of the planning committee in March 1999, setting out the reasons why consent should be given.
A copy of this letter, marked "FAO David Lawrence" on which someone in the planning department has written a series of scathing comments, sits in the file.
At the bottom of the last page a planning officer has scrawled "This letter is disgraceful coming from a qualified planner. It is completely misleading and largely totally irrelevant".
Eventually, the application was called in by the Welsh Assembly and a letter was sent by the Director of Development Roger Barrett-Evans pleading the applicant's case.
What is striking about this letter is that it draws heavily on the "disgraceful" letter sent by the applicant's agent.
For instance, in common with Mr Howell's letter it claims that Enfield is a "brownfield site" against which the planning officer has written "No" on the original.
Next to Mr Howell's claim - repeated in the Director's letter to the Welsh Assembly - that the site is not in an "Area of Special Landscape Interest" the planning officer has scribbled "Irrelevant - it is outside the village development limits".
And as for the claim in both Mr Howell's and Mr Barrett-Evans' letters that the development was in keeping with policy EN9 (general presumption in favour of reclaiming derelict land) the planning officer comments: "It is not derelict land".
At the bottom of page 2 the officer has written "All the above is totally irrelevant. It misses the point that the proposal is essentially the construction of a new dwelling in the countryside outside the defined development limits and is therefore contrary to policy".
So, on the face of it, it appeared that Mr Barrett-Evans, who is not a qualified planner, had overruled his own planning officers.
Naturally, as Mr David Lawrence's name appeared at the top of Mr Brangwyn Howell's letter, I assumed the handwritten comments were his.
However, when I enquired about the authorship of the comments at the County Council's press office I was told that they were unable to identify the writer, though they did assure me that it was not Mr Lawrence.
That was all back in the summer of 2000 and more recently it occurred to me that the council's press office had never actually stated that Mr Lawrence had actually denied authorship.
So, I wrote to the Head of Marketing and Communications Dai "Spin" Thomas to seek clarification.
The following exchange of letters may help to explain how he got his nickname.


David Thomas
Head of Marketing and Communications
Pembrokeshire County Council
County Hall

4 October 2002

Dear Mr Thomas,

Authorship of handwritten comments on the letter dated 20 March 1999 from applicant's agent, Mr Brangwyn Howell, in respect of planning application 98/0631/PA - conversion of former farmhouse at Enfield, Portfield Gate, Haverfordwest.

I refer you to previous correspondence (June-July 2000) on this matter when, in response to my enquiries, your department informed me:
(a) that, as there were no initials on the comments, it was not possible to identify the author, and:
(b) that the comments were definitely not written by Mr David Lawrence, to whom Mr Howell's letter had been sent by the then councillor David Edwards.

For the avoidance of doubt, could you please confirm that the authority stands by the assertions contained in your department's letters to me dated 29 June 2000, 5 July 2000 and 12 July 2000, that Mr Lawrence had denied authorship of the hand written comments?

I enclose a copy of Mr Howell's annotated letter for your information.

Yours sincerely

Mike Stoddart


22 October 2002

Dear Mr Stoddart,

Thank for your letter of 4 October 2002 in which you enquire about the handwritten comments on a letter in the planning file 98/0631/PA.

I have made enquiries and I have no reason to believe the information provided to you in June-July 2000 was inaccurate.

Yours sincerely

David Thomas


28 October 2002

Dear Mr Thomas,
I am in receipt of your letter of 22 October 2002 in which you say that your enquiries give you no reason to believe that the information provided by you in June-July 2000 was inaccurate.
Unfortunately, I am not in a position to know the exact nature and extent of your "enquiries" so I would be grateful if you would answer the specific question raised in my letter of October 4 2002: has Mr David Lawrence actually denied authorship of the handwritten comments on the letter from the applicant's agent Mr Brangwyn Howell?
I look forward to your early reply

Yours sincerely

Mike Stoddart

22 November 2002

Dear Mr Stoddart,

Thank you for your letter of 28 October 2002 in reply to mine of 22 October 2002.

My reply was a clear and accurate response to your original query of 4 October and therefore I have nothing further to add.

Yours sincerely

Dave Thomas.

Old Grumpy wonders why it took the best part of a month to produce that uninformative reply.
Maybe I should rename him Dai Clam.

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