30 September 2003

Let the law run its course


The Bluestone saga took another twist yesterday when a late intervention by m' learned friends resulted in yet another postponment of the determination of the application.
I have watched with mounting dismay as what is essentially a legal question has been turned into a political circus.
The determination of planning applications is a matter of law - particularly Section 54A of the Town and Country Planning Act which provides: "Where, in making any determination under the planning Acts, regard is to be had to the development plan, the determination shall be made in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise (my italics)".
Unfortunately there is no hard and fast definition of "material considerations" though it is safe to say it does not, contrary to what some on the County Council seem to believe, include the number of friends the applicant has on the committee.
Danny Fellows, who favours the project, is quoted as saying that "There was a mass of support from the crowd here today", as if that made some difference.
The fact is that public opinion isn't a material consideration either; any more than a mob baying outside the Crown Court for the defendent's blood should be allowed to sway the jury.
The National Park Committee should be left to make the decision free from political pressure.

Interesting times

From what I hear on the grapevine, one of the big behind-the-scenes issues with regard to the Bluestone application is whether or not certain members need to declare an interest and exclude themselves from the proceedings.
With a close vote in prospect, it seems that both sides of the argument have been keen to put their opponents out of court by trying to fix them with some interest or another.
Elected members often complain about having to declare interests and, to be fair, the rules can seem unnecessarily pernickety.
But the rules do not exist for the benefit of members but to prevent local government from falling into even greater disrepute because the public comes to believe that members are only there to feather their own nests.
In the case of pecuniary interests the rules go beyond the prevention of self-enrichment because the law says that members shouldn't vote on any matter in which they have such an interest.
As Lord Goddard said in Brown v DPP " "Parliament has not said they may vote against their interest but not for their interest: it has said they must not vote on any matter in which they have a pecuniary interest".
There was an interesting case in Milford Haven some years ago when the Ombudsman applied the same principles to non-pecuniary interests and found, rather harshly, that a councillor who had voted against his friend's planning application was in breach of the Code of Conduct.
So, it would seem, anyone on the planning committee in a similar line of business to Blue stone who voted for the application would not be saved by the fact that they had voted, to their own detriment, for greater competition.

Still writless

Can it really be more that eight weeks since I first posted the allegation on this website that, despite assurances to the contrary, Dr Michael Ryan and Cllr Brian Hall had every intention to trade in Pembrokeshire.
All that time - and still no writ!
I was reasonably confident of my information when I first gave it an airing back in July and my confidence grows with every day that passes without the thud of a large brown envelope on the doormat.
The allegation, for those who have not been paying attention, is that, in October 2000, just 10 weeks after ORA International Ltd (MD and principal shareholder: Dr M Ryan) had been awarded a management consultancy contract, dated 1 August 2000, with Pembrokeshire County Council, Hall and Ryan were plotting to use their positions inside the council to line their own pockets by getting their hooks into a large development project in Pembroke Dock.
This was six weeks after Dr Ryan, in his capacity as managing Director of ORA, had written to County Council Head of Marketing and Communications, David Thomas, informing him of ORA's intention to set up a UK subsidiary and giving an assurance that, to avoid any conflict of interest, the new company would not trade in Pembrokeshire.
So Dr Ryan can't claim that he didn't know that what he was up to was wrong.
In the event, it was not a subsidiary of ORA that was set up because, on 29 December 2000, Hall and Ryan formalised their business relationship by incorporating a wholly separate company, Euro-Ryall Ltd, with Hall and Ryan as the directors and sole shareholders, and a registered office in Pembroke.
My information is that the relationship between Hall and Ryan predates, by a not inconsiderable period, their mid-October plotting.
Indeed, it is entirely possible that it predates ORA International's engagement by the County Council on 1 August 2000.
Be that as it may, what is known for certain is that Hall and Ryan, together with a Mr Pat O'Sullivan, spent the four days 16-19 November 2000 touring Pembroke Dock.
This, of itself, is highly irregular because the task of dealing with a council-employed consultant should, for sound reasons of political impartiality, be the province of officers and, furthermore, having inspected hundreds of expense forms, I have never, before or since, come across a case of an elected member claiming for such duties.
However, the real question is: how much of the time Dr Ryan spends in Pembrokeshire - particularly the four-day sojourn in Pembroke Dock in November 2000 - has been devoted to the affairs of the taxpayer and how much to the promotion of his and Hall's personal business interests?
This is not an inconsequential matter because the Council Tax payer is forking out £450-a-day, plus expenses, for Dr Ryan's services - £75,000 for the 3 years to date.
The County Council's reaction to these allegations is to keep its head down, hoping, perhaps, that I will fall under a bus, or forget about the matter.
I have bad news for them: my memory is so good that I make elephants seem absent-minded, and there's no public transport in Liddeston.

email: oldgrumpy@oldgrumpy.co.uk

Back to home page