October 30 2007

Inside track?


Old Grumpy's antennae were set atwitching when I read in the papers of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park monitoring officer's unprecedented decision to call for a deferral of a planning application at East Blockhouse, Angle while he conducts an investigation into the propriety of members and officers' actions.
On the face of it, the story is quite simple: the site was owned by Qinetic Ltd (Q) the private enterprise outfit that was spun out of the MoD in 2002.
Q decided it had no further use for the site and entered into negotiations to sell it to the national park.
The N P's Asset Management Group decided against the purchase and the site was then sold privately, without, as far as I am aware, ever being put on the open market.
Earlier this year, the NP planning committee refused an application to convert the buildings on the site to four residential units and last week's committee was to have decided on a fresh application for conversion to four holiday letting units for which the officers were recommending approval.
Where this gets interesting is that, according to the planning officer's report, the application had been brought before the committee because "the applicant is the partner of a member of staff and the application is one that cannot therefore be considered under the delegation process."
Unfortunately, neither the Western Telegraph nor the Mercury felt bold enough to name the officer though Old Grumpy can tell you that he is Gary Meopham the NP's head of estates.
As such Mr Meopham would have played a key role in the Asset Management Group that made the original decision not to buy the site.
But that was not the end of Mr Meophan's involvement because land registry records show the new owners as Mark Edward Meopham, Helen Marie Meopham, Gary Charles Meopham and Lisa Jane Bowden of 24 Longmead Gardens, Havant, Hampshire PO9 1RR - Ms Bowden being Gary Meopham's partner.
And, according to the land registry, they bought the site, which comprises some 48 acres and the buildings, for £235,000.
I suppose one of the issues the monitoring officer will have to consider is whether Mr Meopham used knowledge gained as a member of the Asset Management Group for personal benefit.
Strangely, the planning application is in the name of Lisa Bowden only.
While there is nothing illegal about this - anyone can apply for planning permission, whether they they own the land or not - it is hardly a shining example of transparency.
The application was the subject of a site inspection at which, the minutes record, Mr Gary Meopham spoke on behalf of the applicant.
It is not clear from these minutes whether Mr Meopham declared either his relationship to the applicant or his own financial interest in the site, though the monitoring officer will no doubt provide illumination in due course.
Finally, we have the officer's report recommending approval of the four holiday cottages.
As the building is in the open countryside there is a presumption against development unless certain criteria are met.
Firstly, conversion will be allowed if the building makes a positive contribution to the landscape.
However, the report says, the building is of rendered brick construction with a flat roof and as such "is an alien intrusion into the natural landscape and is of little aesthetic or architectural value"
Why, then, you might wonder, was the development being recommended for approval?
For an answer to that question I would refer you to the full report which can be found under committee/development management committee on the National Park's website http://www.pcnpa.org.uk/


Planning games

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the last meeting of county council but from what I am told I didn't miss much.
However, there were a couple of events of note on the planning front.
Firstly, during a debate on a development in Tenby, Cllr Brian Hall suggested that local businessman Cllr Mike Evans should consider whether he had an interest to declare.
You might find it strange to find Cllr Hall cast in the role of defender of the Code of Conduct and so, apparently, did Cllr Evans.
Rounding on Cllr Hall, Cllr Evans told him in no uncertain terms that he was not going to take lectures on propriety from someone with his history (see Time Lord).
I am told that Cllr Hall turned a darker shade of puce and temporarily left the chamber to rearrange his ruffled feathers.
The other incident involved a planning application for a touring caravan site near Pembroke.
The Independent Political Group had pushed this through planning committee by a large majority, but as the decision was contrary to policy it had to come before full council for ratification.
The issue was whether the development; about 1 kilometer south of Pembroke, was "well related to the settlement" as required by the JUDP.
For some reason the support the application had received at planning committee had evaporated by the time the matter came to full council.
Some suspect a bit of political arm-twisting.
Could it be, I wonder, that some of the high-ups, having seen the recent "Wales this Week" programme, which featured a district auditor's report on the unacceptable number of out-of-policy approvals granted by Anglesey County Council, fear something similar in Pembrokeshire?
It seems that the planning committee was persuaded that the site was well related to the settlement because it was connected to Pembroke by a footpath.
Clearly, that is not what the policy means.
As the planning officer says in his report "well related" means: "Physically very close to the settlement in question - really immediately adjacent to the built up area where the land is as part of the same landscape as the settlement."
That being so, the footpath argument is simply another example of the creative reasoning that gets planning committees a bad name.
Now it may well be that the council's policies on caravan sites is too restrictive.
But, in a democracy, the correct way to address that problem is not to dream up spurious interpretations to suit your own purposes, but to campaign to have the policy changed.


Good sport

A few weeks ago I reported on a bet I had struck with a Welsh supporter on the outcome of what he described as the probable quarter final clash between England and Wales at the rugby World Cup (Wine and roses).
Thinking about it, this game was never likely to happen because it would have required one of the teams to top their group.
As we all know, one of them couldn't even reach the knock out stages, so the bet was off.
However, last week a letter arrived containing a fiver and a short note congratulating me on my moral victory and telling me to upgrade from my usual £3.99 to £4.99.
Who said sportsmanship was dead?
Thank you W S.



You might think that, as an Englishman, I would be disappointed that my team failed to land the World Cup.
Not a bit of it.
In fact losing in the final was as near the perfect result as could be hoped for.
Firstly, I strongly disapprove of England's non-dimensional style of play.
Secondly, I could face all the hype.
Monday's Daily Telegraph carried ten full pages on England's non-triumph - and that was just the sports' pages.
Goodness only knows what they had planned in the event of an England victory.
Then we would have had the gut-wrenching business of the open top bus tour; the Downing Street reception; and the Honours List.
And I have to admit there is a selfish reason.
I recall how the euphoria from both the last World Cup and the Ashes triumph quickly turned to dust as both teams subsequently suffered humiliating defeats.
And I wouldn't want anything to prevent England being on the top of their game when they open their Six Nations campaign against Wales.
Fancy a flutter on that, WS?
A reader has sent me the following joke:
What's red and goes beep beep beep beep beep???
England's open top bus reversing back into the garage!!!