November 6 2006
Last week, I published Cllr Brian Hall's expense claim for 30 November 2005 (see Brian the bus).Members may only claim for approved duties which include: "At the request of the chief executive: the Leader of council and other group leaders (or their nominated representatives) to attend at such meetings for the proper discharge of the business of the authority".
So I e-mailed the Leader, Cllr John Davies, to ask if Cllr Hall had been his "nominated representative" at the meetings with J Parsons and Ms Bassett.
The meeting with Ms Bassett was of particular interest because it allowed Cllr Hall to recross the Cleddau Bridge and claim extra mileage rather than going straight home from Pembroke to Pembroke Dock.
The Leader has sent me the following reply:
"As you are aware, the Chief Executive may approve as duties attendance by members at any meeting for the proper discharge of the business of the Authority. In order to undertake their duties, Cabinet Members regularly need to attend meetings with officers and others. I am satisfied that on 30th November 2005, Councillor Hall needed to attend a number of meetings at County Hall. I am also satisfied that it was reasonable for him to keep an appointment in Pembroke which broke up his day in the office. The mileage he has claimed is less than 2 journeys from his home in Pembroke Dock. What is confusing is that Councillor Hall appears to record some of his activities as well as his duties; though it also seems that he does not itemise all his duties."
It was drummed into us at school that we should always applaud good play by our opponents.
And I must admit that this e-mail, particularly the final sentence, is a masterpiece - obfuscation as high art.
You see, keeping to my policy of never asking a question unless I already know the answer, I knew that Cllr Hall couldn't possibly be representing the Leader during the meeting with Ms Bassett because she is the Ombudsman's officer who was investigating the allegations that he made threats of violence against a BBC journalist.
No doubt, Cllr Davies knew this, too.
Hence Cllr Hall's tendency "to record some of his activities [meeting the Ombudsman's investigator] as well as his duties", though "he does not itemise all his duties" i.e. he returned to county hall that day, not just to meet Ms Bassett, but on some"approved duty" that he neglected to record.
How the staff in the treasurer's department manage to check members' travel claims without recourse to telepathy is a mystery.
PS.[3 February 2007] I have since learned that J Parsons is Cllr Hall's solicitor.
So, while it might have been "reasonable" for him to visit his solicitor in advance of his interview with the Ombudsman's investigator, it was not reasonable to expect the taxpayer to meet his travelling expenses for what was his own private business.
Two weeks' ago, I drew attention to an extremely dubious planning consent for the conversion of a redundant farm building near Croesgoch (see Barn dance).
On my insistence, the planning committee referred this application to full council as a departure from policy, though I am now told that such referral was intended all along.
Funny, then, that there was no reference to the application being outside policy in either the written report to members or the planning officer's presentation to committee.
Indeed, when I asked for such a reference, the planning officer's first reaction was to resist and it was only the intervention of director of development, Roger Barrett-Evans that my suggestion was taken up.
By coincidence, the application followed immediately on the heels of that from Tom Goddard and Sons for a new incinerator plant near Camrose.
That, too, was outside policy and the report to members stated quite clearly that: "If the committee resolves to approve the application it will need to be referred to the next meeting of full council as a departure [from policy].
There has been an interesting new development with the appearance in the file of a hand-written note saying that: "Policy allows us to grant extensions to barn conversions and particularly where there [is] evidence of a previous building. There is photographic evidence in this case."
What the policy actually says is". . . the conversion of traditional buildings to residential use (including holiday accommodation) will be permitted where: the building is physically capable of accommodating the new use and any associated requirements without extensive alteration expansion or rebuilding."
So, while extensions may be allowed, "extensive . . . expansion" is not.
In the particular case the extension was two-thirds the size of the original building which sounds like extensive expansion to me.
Furthermore, nowhere in the JUDP can I find any indication that evidence of a pre-existing building, photographic or otherwise, has any bearing on the matter.
And, of course, if the hand-written note is correct, and the application was within policy, it is difficult to understand why the planning committee's decision to recommend approval was referred to full council with the words: "The development would be contrary to the development plan [policy] and accordingly the final decision is not within the plenary powers of that committee [planning]."
Surely, even in the intellectual desert that is county hall, something can't be both within and without policy at the same time.
Though, as George Orwell put it in 1984 "Doublethink means holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."
And it should be remembered that the hero of that book, Winston Smith, was employed in the department charged with the responsibility for rewriting history.
On Monday county councillors attended a seminar on global warming at which we were given a presentation by a young woman from the Energy Saving Trust.
It soon became clear that she was a fully paid up member of the Church of the Latter Day Environmentalists.
She said three things, all of which are now generally accepted as true, but to which I would take exception.
Firstly, she claimed that global warming is the cause of extreme weather events.
Interestingly, when interviewed on the Today programme, Sir Nicholas Stern, the author of the alarming, not to say alarmist, report on global warming, made the same point with particular mention for Hurricane Katrina.
Anyone who relies on the newspapers and broadcast media for their information; about 90% of the population at a guess, could be forgiven for forming the view that tropical storms are caused by carbon dioxide "pollution" from the burning of fossil fuels.
Firstly, it should be pointed out that carbon dioxide is the basic building block of all life on this planet and to describe it as pollution only goes to show how far this debate is driven by rhetoric rather than logic.
As for warming-induced hurricanes, this is what the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the driving force behind the global warming agenda - has to say on the subject:
There is no compelling evidence to indicate that the characteristics of tropical and extra tropical storms have changed.
Changes in tropical storm intensity and frequency are dominated by interdecadal to multidecadal variations, which may be substantial, e.g., in the tropical North Atlantic.
Owing to incomplete data and limited and conflicting analyses, it is uncertain as to whether there have been any long-term and large-scale increases in the intensity and frequency of extra-tropical cyclones in the Northern Hemisphere.
Regional increases have been identified in the North Pacific, parts of North America, and Europe over the past several decades. In the Southern Hemisphere, fewer analyses have been completed, but they suggest a decrease in extra-tropical cyclone activity since the 1970s. Recent analyses of changes in severe local weather (e.g., tornadoes, thunderstorm days, and hail) in a few selected regions do not provide compelling evidence to suggest long-term changes.
In general, trends in severe weather events are notoriously difficult to detect because of their relatively rare occurrence and large spatial variability.
Katrina was particularly devastating because it scored a direct hit on New Orleans.
A few tens of miles along the coast in either direction and we would hardly have heard about it.
And, if global warming causes an increase in hurricane frequency and intensity, how do you explain why this year - with less than a month of the season to run - has been one of the quietest on record?
A coming Ice Age, perhaps.
Secondly, we were told that, as heat from the sun is the principal source of energy on our planet, the hotter it gets the more energetic i.e. unstable, the weather will become.
Without getting too involved in the complexities of thermodynamics, this is not true.
What drives the weather is temperature gradients, not temperature levels.
So, a body of air at 10 degrees C overlain by a body of air at 0 degrees will set up a stronger convection current than if the relative temperatures were 100 and 97 degrees.
If temperature was the driver, winters would be more settled than summers.
And thirdly, we were told about what is known in climatological circles as the "hockey stick".
This is the diagram; produced by Professor Michael Mann and his co-workers which shows past temperatures up to 1900 as a flat line (the handle of the ice-hockey stick) and thereafter, up to the present, as a rapidly rising line (the blade).
This was a godsend to man-made global warming enthusiasts because, at a stroke, it got rid of two most awkward facts - the mediaeval warm period and the little Ice Age neither of which could have been caused by increases/decreases in human-produced CO2.
Mann's hockey stick has come under attack from statistician who claim his treatment of the numbers gives a hockey stick shaped curve even if random numbers are used.
This statistical analysis is well above the pay grade of someone with a bare pass in 'A' level Maths, but if you are interested type "hockey stick global warming" into Google and you can read both sides of the debate.
Other scientists complain that, in any case, Mann's temperature calculations are overdependent on dendrochronology, which, as those of you who participate in pub quizzes will know is a method of ageing trees by counting their annual rings.
Some scientists say that studying tree-ring thickness as a proxy for temperature is all but useless because it is not possible to separate out all the other influences on tree growth: water supply, nutrient levels and insect attack (if the caterpillars have eaten all the leaves the tree's growth will be stunted, no matter how benign the other conditions).
Click on Storch for a German scientist's views on how the debate has been distorted
Notwithstanding any of the above, Radio 4 sent its reporter Jenny Cuffe on her regular "Seven days" series to the appropriate number of locations across the UK to find evidence of global-warming induced flooding.
Before setting out Ms Cuffe interviewed a climate scientist who explained that, while it was possible that global warming might increase the frequency of unusual weather events, there was no direct evidence to link the two.
Undeterred, the breathless Ms Cuffe visited Weston-super-mare on the night of one of the the highest astronomical tides for several years.
There was clear disappointment in her voice when high tide came and went and none of the people in most immediate danger were flooded.
If Jenny wanted some dramatic copy to beam back to Broadcasting House, she was four hundred years too late.
Had she been standing on the top of the beach at Weston on 20 January 1606 she could have reported on the great Severn flood, caused by a coming together of unusually high astronomical tides, westerly gales, low atmospheric pressure and floodwaters caused by heavy rain.
The vicar of Almondsbury reported it thus:
"But the yeere 1606, the fourth of K (King) James, the ryver of Severn rose upon a sodeyn Tuesday mornyng the 20 of January beyng the full pryme day and hyghest tyde after the change of the moone by reason of a myghty strong western wynd. So that from Mynhead to Slymbryge the lowe groundes alongst the ryver Severne were that tuornyng tyde overflowen, and in Saltmarsh many howses overthrowne, sundry Chrystyans drowned, hundreds of rudder cattell and horses peryshed, and thowsandes of sheep and lambs lost. Unspeakable was the spoyle and losse on both sydes the ryver."
Contemporary reports suggest that the water was seven-feet deep across the Gwent and Somerset Levels, so all we would have heard from Ms Cuffe's satellite phone is a steady gurgle.
And that was in the middle of what is known as the Little Ice-Age!
A couple of years ago, the newspapers were full of stories about a flood in a place called Boscastle in Cornwall.
Naturally, this piddling little dribble of a flood, in which nobody was hurt, was attributed to global warming.
Rewind to 1952, when, in the same area, a deluge in the hills above Lynmouth sent a wall of water into the village, killing 38 people.
Or, if that is not dramatic enough, you could try the great North Sea flood the following year.
That was caused by a combination of a high tide, a deep depression and a northerly wind that sent a tidal surge down the North Sea.
Almost 2,000 people drowned in the Low Countries; 307 in Eastern England; and a further 230 were lost at sea.
And in the early fifties the temperature was actually falling and many of the same people who are now predicting devastating temperature rises were warning of a descent into the next Ice-Age.
Imagine what the doomsayers would make of such an event, if it were to occur today.
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