December 18 2007

Blogger off

I see from the Western Mail's website that the controversial plans to build a biodiesel plant at Blackbridge, Milford Haven have been scrapped.
So the county council will again have to decide who, between Milford Haven Port Authority and the consortium of local businessmen Cleddau Enterprises Ltd, should be allowed to purchase the site.
It must be said that, to date, neither the council or MHPA have covered themselves in glory (Panto mine) (Matter of trust) (Recovered memory) and I look forward to resuming my running commentary on the affair.

While nosing about on the Western Telegraph's website I came across the following:

"We want to publish your blog on our website www.westerntelegraph.co.uk. Whether you are male, female, young, old, local, or ex-pat, we want to hear from you.
"We can provide a forum for your views, your accounts, your stories. We can showcase any bit of life that you care to feature.
"We're looking for the best bloggers and all you need to do is send an e-mail to: blog@gwent-wales.co.uk with your name, age, address and phone number.
"Then tell us the sort of things you would write about each day. If you think you'll make a great blogger, we'll be in touch with you soon."

This looked like an unconditional offer that it was impossible to refuse ("We want to publish"; "we want to hear from you"; "We can showcase any bit of life that you care to feature"; If you think you'll make a great blogger" (emphasis added)), so, always on the lookout for a wider audience, I e-mailed as follows:

"I write about corruption in local politics and the totally inadequate coverage of the subject provided by the county's leading newspaper the Western Telegraph.
I think I'd make a great blogger.
Indeed, I have been blogging for the last eight years (see www.oldgrumpy.co.uk)
Old Grumpy (67)."
A week has gone by and no response has been forthcoming.
Perhaps the WT's interpretation of "soon" is different to mine.
Talking of blogging, I would recommend you take a look at the latest offering on Manorbier.com.

Laying down the law

The new monitoring officer has written to all members of the county council outlining the ethical issues surrounding the selection of "Candidate sites" during the forthcoming Local Development Plan (LDP) process.
For the uninitiated, these candidate sites are those put forward for designation in the LDP as being suitable for development .
Once included in the LDP, planning permission is a virtual certainty.
With the benefit of planning permission, a five acre field - agricultural value of roughly £40,000-£50,000 - can turn its owner into a multi-millionaire overnight.
So, naturally, owners are keen to see their land included.
With such colossal sums of money at stake, it is imperative that the system for selecting development sites is completely above board.
As the monitoring officer points out: "These occasions may raise perceptions of bias and members need to ensure that the decisions taken by the council cannot be subsequently challenged because of the members' interests influencing the decisions."
Clearly, if a member has a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in a piece of land, the Code of Conduct requires they take no part in any decision affecting it.
However, the situation is complicated by the rules on prejudgement.
As the monitoring officer puts it:
"Where members are on the committee that will decide the allocation of land for development, they should not act nor make any comment which a reasonable person might consider indicates that the member has predetermined the issue prior to the agenda item being considered at the committee meeting which will make the decision. This is the general caveat that applies to members dealing with development control [planning committee] but will become more critical as the LDP progresses through to adoption."
This requirement of impartiality is what has brought serious criticism down on the head of the current ethical framework from some commentators.
While it is perfectly reasonable that applicants for planning permission should expect to have their cases dealt with fairly, it seems perverse that a member who campaigns against a particular development should be debarred from taking part in any planning committee meeting where the matter was considered.
For instance, it would seem strange if a candidate, who fought and won the next election on a platform of opposition to the proposed biofuels plant at the former Mine Depot, had to declare an interest and withdraw from any subsequent meeting where the issue was discussed.
But that, as I understand the rules, is what would be required.
This seems offensive to the democratic principle that members have a duty to represent the interests of those who elected them.
Unfortunately, planning is a quasi judicial rather than a democratic matter and so long as we have a system where elected politicians are allowed to meddle in judicial questions, in direct conflict with the doctrine of the Separation of Powers, we will have to have silly rules to try to make this legal/political mongrel look like a pedigree animal.
It is noticeable that there is no bar on being prejudiced; merely that members "should not act nor make any comment. . ." that might indicate prejudgement.
So, you can be as biased as you like, so long as you don't let on.


Waiving the rules

 

Interestingly, this issue arose at the most recent meeting of the county council after a controversial proposal to build a farrier's workshop and dwelling in the open countryside near Wiston was approved by the planning committee.
As the proposed development was, according to planning officers, contrary to policy, the decision was outside the planning committee's plenary powers and the matter had to come before the full council for final determination.
The local member Cllr Don Evans had attended the planning committee and made an impassioned plea in favour of the application.
As he was not a member of the planning committee (the decision-making body) , Cllr Evans was not caught by the rules on prejudgement.
However, when the matter came before full council, Cllr Evans was transformed into a member of the decision-making body.
My own view is that, when full council debates such out-of-policy planning applications, it is acting as a planning committee and the same rules apply.
That is why I withdrew from the meeting when two planning applications on which I had passed comment came before the council last February (Under fire)
Cllr Michael Williams enquired whether, in view of his previously expressed support for the application, Cllr Evans now fell within the prejudgement rules.
Surprisingly, the chief executive, rather than the monitoring officer, rose to address Cllr Williams' point, though, from what I could make out, he never quite got round to answering the question.
As for Cllr Evans, he said he was disgusted by Cllr Williams' remarks.
Mind you, those in charge never like to have their power hedged about by due process.

Wrong place, wrong time

Last week, I received an e-mail from Alina in Poland.

"Hello Dear!
How are you?
I hope that all good for you and you will read my letter
with a interest.
I got your e-mail address through internet dating company.
My name is Alina. I'm from Warszawa, Poland. I'm 26 years
old.
I cannot find the man in Poland for myself because it very hard in Poland.
I am ready for creation family and want it very much."

Internet dating agency, indeed!
Good job Grumpette doesn't read my e-mails.
However, attractive as Alina's offer seemed, I realised that it had been sent to the wrong place when I read:


"I want to arrive to USA and I have good chance for this.
I need only man who can meet me in USA and probably we can to develop
our relations."
Those damn Yankees have all the luck.

Future uncertain

As next Tuesday is Christmas Day, I will be taking a break.
So can I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy Christmas.
As for a prosperous New Year, that, I'm afraid, is rather problematic as the credit crunch is likely to rule that out for many of us.
As predicted in this column, our addiction to debt has finally brought forth the day of reckoning.
The World's leading central banks have responded to the crisis by lowering interest rates, while injecting large amounts of cash into the global financial system.
As easy money caused the problem, it is difficult to see why even easier money should provide the solution.
But, then, I'm a pessimist i.e. an optimist with experience.

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