October 31 2013
How green is my chimney?
Old Grumpy was in Pembroke Dock recently to have another look at the former Coronation School.
I was particularly interested in the two large chimneys/turrets, the rebuilding of which had been costed at almost £14,000 (including scaffolding) in the final account for the grant-aided project.
When I visited previously, I came away with the impression that these chimneys/turrets were still in their original condition (Unseeing eye).
However, I hear on the grapevine that Cabinet members have been assured that they have been rebuilt and that the final account certificate is accurate.
Hence my return visit.
One thing I noticed on closer inspection was the extensive plant life on the south facing wall of the left hand chimney (see photo below).
I realise that Coronation School is in a conservation area, but this is taking biodiversity to ridiculous extremes.
Mind you, on reflection, this could all be part of the £20,000 planting scheme that also appears in the final account (Unseeing eye) and see below.
Though I will leave it to readers to decide whether this sort of growth is possible in the two years since these chimneys were, allegedly, rebuilt.
For a more detailed tour of this roof click here
The final account includes: slate felt and batten £46,924 and ridge tiles £3,645 (see Night on the tiles).
N.B.chimneys and roofs at bottom left hand corner of picture belong to adjoining properties.
Theory . . .
Below is a drawing that formed part of the planning application for Coronation School Pembroke Dock.
It is the former playground at the rear of the school and shows "a quiet communal garden" with trees and hedges; two communal clothes drying areas with a total of eight rotary clothes lines; and a store for "10+ bikes" (top right).
The statement that accompanied the planning application claimed that the project would: "Enhance the quality of the landscape in a communal garden format . . " and "Add to the area's cultural heritage by the use of flora and fauna that will both thrive and survive in this back garden location."
There was plenty more like this, but, as is often said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
. . . and practice
And, though £20,000 was included in the final account for "external works", this is what actually exists.
No "quiet communal garden"; no clothes lines; and no bike shed.
Just a couple of loads of chippings at a cost of a few hundred pounds.
Best of enemies
The ongoing feud between Old Grumpy and the author of a rival blog has attracted some adverse comment on that other website.
A contributer called Ianto advised: "grow up you two".
Bit too late for me (vintage 1940), I'm afraid.
Another suggested, rather flatteringly, that, instead of being constantly at each other's throats, it would be better if the "lads" (see above) cooperated.
Well, I can report that Jacob (the young upstart) and myself (the old duffer) are on very friendly terms.
So much so that, during periods when my moles are particularly active, I pass on bits of information for use on his website.
Naturally, as regular readers of both blogs will have noticed, I always keep all the most interesting stuff for myself.
Alert readers will also have spotted that hardly a week goes by without me providing a direct link to that other website.
I'd like to pretend that this is done in the spirit of altruism, but the truth is that I reckon the more people log on to his website the more they will come to appreciate what's on offer here.
That said, we're on such good terms that Jacob has offered to use his superior IT skills to design me a new website, complete with bells and whistles.
I suppose there's nothing wrong with having both style and substance.
Problem is, I'm a bit concerned that this apparently generous offer is a cunning ruse to give him the opportunity to sabotage my system by introducing malicious software.
So, for the moment, I'm proceeding on the basis of that timeless advice: beware of Geeks bearing gifts.
One recent comment on that other website contained a link to a heavily edited version of a TV programme in which I appeared some years ago.
Also on parade was the former Leader of PCC, Cllr John Davies.
The reason for his appearance was that I had criticised the decision to give his company, Cwmbetws Ltd, planning permission for a 2,800 sq ft herdsman's cottage.
In turn, Cllr Davies dismissed my concerns by acccusing me of "good old Pembrokeshire politics at its worst."
I'm afraid this is what psychologists classify as projection: a defense mechanism by which a person unconsciously rejects his or her own unacceptable attributes by ascribing them to others.
What I was objecting to was that Cllr Davies had been given a planning consent that seemed to be against policy.
In short, the worst sort of Pembrokeshire politics where those in power are not subject to the same rules as everyone else.
Or, as it is sometimes expressed: "it's not what you know, but who you know."
The first thing to note is that just a couple of weeks before the planning committee met the planning officer wrote to Cllr Davies' agent informing him that the proposed dwelling (then 3,200 sq ft) was much too big to meet the functional need set out in the Welsh Government's guidelines.
He suggested that something between 1,300 and 1,500 sq ft would be more in keeping with policy.
However when the proposal for the 2,800 sq ft model (roughly twice what the planning officer thought appropriate) came before planning committee it was recommended for approval.
Interestingly, there was no mention of the functional test in the officer's report and though Cllrs Tony Brinsden, Malcolm Calver and John Cole tried to raise the issue they were quickly silenced by the chairman Cllr Bill Hitchings.
The recommendation for approval was backed up by a calculation of the farm's labour requirements which included the twice-daily milking of 165 cows.
It later came to light that the cows had already been sold when the planning decision was made, though Cllr Davies neglected to inform the planning department of this rather crucial fact (No udder conclusion).
As I pointed out in the TV programme, had it been a benefit claimant who had failed to report this change of circumstances they would most likely have found themselves up in front of one of the JPs who served alongside Cllr Davies in the Cabinet.
It is also worth pointing out that the Welsh Government guidelines also require that agricultural planning consents should only be given when the dwelling is required to meet a present, rather than a future need.
When I checked with my north county mole less than a year ago, this dwelling still hadn't been built although the planning consent is now more than eight years old.
Though I understand some foundations have been put in so there's no danger of the consent lapsing.
"Present" must have a different meaning where Cllr Davies is concerned.
When challenged about the absence of the cows Cllr Davies told the TV reporter: "I may have sold the cows but I still have my herd".
Alice in Wonderland has nothing on this!
For a more comprehensive account of twisted IPG (as it was then known) thinking see (Herd instinct).
But the sale of the cows was not the only bit of information the former Leader kept to himself.
On 26 November 2006 the council's standards committee met to consider an Ombudsman's finding that Cllr Brian Hall had brought the office of councillor into disrepute by making threats against a BBC journalist during a reception in St Davids.The minutes of that meeting are here
One the crucial issues was whether Cllr Hall had attended the reception in his private or official capacity.
The Ombudsman suggested that one way to resolve this question was to determine whether Cllr Hall had claimed travelling expenses from the council.
When his legal team were unable to cast any light on the matter, the meeting was adjourned.
When the committee reconvened two months later on 31 January 2007 the chairman of the standards committee announced that she now had a copy of Cllr Hall's expense claim showing that he had sought reimbursement for the journey to St Davids.
The committee found as a fact that: "Councillor Hall claimed expenses for travelling to the
function at St Davids organised by BBC Wales on 14th January 2005 and signed a declaration that the reimbursement claimed had been incurred for the purposes of performing the approved duty shown as a Member of Pembrokeshire County Council and not in any other capacity.
The complete minutes can be found here
That might sound conclusive, but Cllr Hall's solicitor argued, successfully, that the fact that his client had claimed travelling expenses didn't prove he was on official duty.
Ah! I hear you say, if he wasn't on official duty he must have claimed travelling expenses to which he wasn't entitled.
But Cllr Hall was quite happy to admit to that because that wasn't the basis for his appearance in front of the standards committee.
That prompted me to put down a question to the Leader at the meeting of full council on March 1 2007.
Did the Leader nominate Councillor Hall to be his representative at the
BBC reception in St Davids in January 2005?"
Answer: "Yes, together with other Cabinet Members who could attend."
So he was at the reception in his official capacity.
Now you might expect that sometime between November 2006 and January 2007 Cllr Davies would have thought to impart this crucial piece of information to the standards committee.
I suppose he might claim that he was unaware of what was going on, but it would have demonstrated a remarkable lack of curiosity if he hadn't made enquiries about the progress of a standards committee hearing that affected the future one of his closest Cabinet colleagues.
I recall when Cllr Davies first became Leader of the council he made a rousing speech in which he said that, as a north county Baptist boy, he would ensure that the council conducted its business to "the highest ethical standards."
Sadly, these good intentions were quickly overtaken by "good old Pembrokeshire politics at its worst".
If you have the stamina to read more on this subject (Cottage industry) provides another example of how the system works to the advantage of powerful.
Also during the TV programme Cllr Davies denied being a Tory, though, as we all remember, that didn't stop him trying to carpetbag his way into the role of Tory party candidate for Police Commissioner.
Just to show there is no ill-feeling between me and the young whippersnapper, I am happy to concede that this was one of his best ever scoops. And if you want to encourage him by boosting his readership figures, you can read it here.
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