Before every meeting of the County Council, the members lay
aside the burdens of office while the chairmans chaplain
leads them in prayer.
This usually takes the form of a request to God that He should
endow them with wisdom and sound judgment during the forthcoming
Observing what usually follows, one can only assume that the
Almighty has more pressing business elsewhere.
It has often occurred to Old Grumpy that it would be better
to reserve these devotions for the end of the meeting when they
could beg forgiveness for the violence they have just inflicted
on language, truth and logic.
Old Grumpy has just completed his annual trawl through the
County Councils books particularly the members expense
After much patient research I have established that during
the course of the financial year 1999/2000 our elected representatives,
collectively, claimed subsistence allowances for meals consumed
while in our service on some 780 occasions.
The booklet issued to councilors in April 1999 contains the
words: Receipts should be obtained wherever possible and
attached to claims as proof of expenses incurred (their
It appears that, on at least 760 occasions, providing a receipt
Somebody in the finance department has spotted this omission
and has endorsed the claim forms no receipts
Despite this lack of evidence of expenses incurred
the claims have been paid.
When I took up this matter with the District Audit service
I was told that the words whenever possible meant
the requirement to provide receipts was purely voluntary.
According to District Audit the tribunes of the people are
the sole arbiters of what is possible in this context and what
Needless to say, I cannot agree with this view.
For a start off, subsistence payments are described in the
booklet as reimbursements.
Reimbursement, according to my Oxford dictionary means: repay
(a persons expenses).
Clearly, if you dont know the exact amount spent you
cannot possibly know how much to repay.
Of course, you could always take it on trust that the amount
claimed was the amount expended but then you would have to believe
that the members frequently forked out exactly £6.37 for
their lunch, which is, coincidentally, the sum described in the
booklet as the maximum. (Their emphasis)
Further evidence that the provision of receipts is obligatory
is to be found in the claim form itself which includes a declaration
signed by the member that: I have actually paid the fares
and made the other authorized payments shown and attach receipts
to support my claim. (Their emphasis again)
Another curious fact I discovered was that of some 780 meals
consumed by the 60 members no fewer than 107 fell victim to the
knife and fork of one man: Cllr Alwyn Luke.
The story of how the great gourmand managed to tuck into eight
times his share of the free grub will have to wait for another
time, and, possibly, another place.
Three weeks ago the controversial planning application for
Enfield, Portfield Gate made a dramatic return to the scene.
This saga goes back to March 1999 when the application first
came before the County Council planning committee.
Then Head of Development Control David Lawrence told the members
that the former farmhouse, which constituted the main part of
the proposal, was very derelict and needed almost
This, he said, amounted to the construction of a new dwelling
in the open countryside and that it was crystal clear
that this was against policy EV18(1) which requires that: The
building can be genuinely converted to accommodate the proposed
use without extensive alterations, re-building and/or extension.
In addition a structural survey would be required to establish
that the building was structurally sound.
And that was virtually the last word of truth spoken about
Despite Mr Lawrences unequivocal advice, and a plea from
the then Leader, Eric Harries, that the committee should follow
policy, the bungalow farming wing of the ruling Independent Political
(sic) Group forced the application through by eight votes to seven.
Because it was contrary to policy, the application had to go
before Policy and Resources and Full Council for further scrutiny.
No doubt, the bungalow farmers could have drummed up sufficient
support to get it through both these bodies.
But that would not be the end of the matter because, given
Mr Lawrences clear advice that it was against policy, the
Council would be bound to refer the matter to the Welsh Assembly
as a major departure from the local plan.
That raised the possibility that the Assembly, on learning
of this attempt to ride roughshod over planning law, might take
steps to overturn the decision.
Something subtler was called for and a plot was hatched which
involved fabricating a scenario in which the application would
miraculously be transformed so as to comply with policy.
So, when the application came before Policy and Resources,
the Independents proposed that it should be deferred to allow
the officers and the applicant to negotiate a scheme that would
better accord with policy.
It would seem that the Director Mr. Roger Barrett-Evans played
a leading role in these negotiations and when the revised proposals
came back to the planning committee in June 1999 Mr. Lawrences
report informed members that: Although technically the development
does not fully comply with Policy EV18 and some of the walls need
rebuilding, the amended proposal does meet the other requirements
of the policy and approval would not mean a major departure requiring
reference to the Welsh Office
When Old Grumpy inspected the files I discovered an earlier
draft of Mr. Lawrences report which said, simply: The
proposals do however still constitute development which is not
in accordance with the policies set out above.
Some members of the minority groups believed this change of
tone was evidence that Mr. Lawrence had been pressurized into
producing a report more friendly to the application than his professional
judgment would warrant.
But when questioned about this Mr. Barrett-Evans denied any
arm-twisting and claimed the revised wording had been introduced
in order to make it absolutely clear that the proposal was
George Orwells Ministry of Truth would be hard pressed
to better that.
Planning committee approved the application and when it arrived
at P and R, Mr. Barrett-Evans told members that, though the application
did not comply with Policy EV18 (1), it did accord with the other
sections of Policy EV18.
That, Im afraid, is non-sense on stilts.
Policy EV18 is a sequential test and if an application fails
to satisfy 18(1) then it is impossible, logically, for it to clear
the other hurdles.
P and R duly gave the application the green light and two weeks
later it turned up at Full Council to receive the final seal of
In the meantime Old Grumpy and others had written to the Welsh
Assembly, alerting them to the dishonest process that the Council
had put in train, and requesting that they call in the application
for determination by an independent inspector.
When Mr. Barrett-Evans addressed Full Council he told the members
that the Assembly had informed the Planning Department of the
call in request but had taken no action.
If the Assembly felt this was a major departure they
would have called it in, he said, triumphantly, before the
Independents voted the application through by 31-17.
Within the hour a chastened Mr. Barrett-Evans was back on his
feet announcing that um, err, the Assembly had just been on the
phone to say they were calling the application in after all.
An inspector was appointed and in due course he recommended
refusal on the grounds that These proposals could not be
regarded as a conversion or a change of use in compliance with
policy GN4 nor could they constitute a genuine conversion without
extensive alterations, re-building and/or extension in compliance
with policy EV18. In effect they would, in total, constitute a
new dwelling in a location where development should be strictly
Remarkably similar, you will notice, to the advice given by
Mr Lawrence way back in March 1999, before Mr Barrett-Evans got
Significantly, the inspector also found that, of the two proposals
that had been before the Council, the one negotiated by Mr Barrett-Evans
was even further outside policy than the original i.e. what the
Director had negotiated was not something more in accord
with policy but something which was more in accord with
the applicants desire to disregard policy and build a large
new dwelling in the open countryside.
That the Director, who is supposed to be the guardian of the
local plan, should be involved in this deliberate attempt to subvert
it is nothing short of disgraceful.
I was first alerted to the resurrection of the Enfield application
by a public notice in the Western Telegraph on September 27 2000.
The application was being advertised because: The proposed
development does not accord with the development plan in force
in the area in which the land to which the application relates
Imagine my surprise when I read the agenda for the Planning
Committee of November 1 and found that there was no mention whatsoever
in the officers report on Enfield that the proposals were
contrary to policy.
Even more surprising was that the officers recommendation
was for approval, implying that the application was
Fortunately the Welsh Assembly was alerted to what was afoot,
not by the Council, which should have notified them at the time
the public notice was published, but by members of the public,
and they contacted the Council on the day before the meeting and
extracted a written promise that the application, if approved,
would be reported to the Assembly as a major departure and no
consent would be issued until the Assembly had considered what,
if any, action to take.
When questioned about this, planning officer Alf Williams said
it was fully accepted by the planning department that the proposals
were outside policy and, he claimed, it had always been the intention
to subject the application to the full departure procedure.
But he failed to explain why none of this was contained in
his report, the purpose of which is to inform members of the relevant
policies and how the particular application stands in respect
of those policies.
Mr Williams explanation didnt satisfy Cllr Phil
Llewellyn who said that, on reading the officers report,
he had formed the impression the application was now within policy
and could be determined by the Planning Committee under its plenary
We have been led up the garden path by the officers
report, he said.
Not for the first time nor the last, I fear.
Please feel free to print off copies of this article and distribute
them to your friends (or enemies if they happen to be County Councillors)
Anyone who wishes to join my vast network of moles can e-mail
me at. Stods@freenetname.co.uk
Complete confidentiality guaranteed. Despite several extensive
mole-hunts in Kremlin on Cleddau not one of my moles has come
even remotely close to losing so much as a whisker.
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