Last week saw a dramatic development in the field of planning
law when the High Court ruled that the determination of four planning
appeals by Secretary of State John Prescott was illegal under
the recently introduced Human Rights Act.
Under the present regime, appeals are heard by an independent
inspector who makes a recommendation to the Secretary of State
in whose hands lies the final decision.
In the case before the High Court the plaintiffs argued that,
because his own government's policy was at issue, the Secretary
of State could not be impartial because there is a conflict of
The judges agreed, saying of Mr Prescott: "He cannot be
both policy-maker and decision-taker."
Presumably, the same considerations apply to whoever is Mr
Prescott's equivalent in the Welsh Assembly.
It is now widely forecast that the government will move swiftly
to set up a completely independent planning inspectorate with
the power to both hear and determine appeals.
However, that might not be the end of the matter.
Surely, what applies to the Secretary of State also applies
to local authority planning committees.
They also make policy and adjudicate on individual planning
applications, so on the basis of the High Court's ruling they
cannot be impartial either.
And, in their case, there is not only the technical matter
of a conflict of interest to consider.
A planning committee is in law a quasi-judicial body i.e. it
has all the attributes of a court and the members of such a body
have a duty to consider the evidence fairly and to arrive at a
reasoned decision based on that evidence and nothing else.
But, as anyone who has ever attended a local planning committee
meeting will know, these putative judges are often to be heard
acting as shamelessly partisan advocates for the applicant.
Even before the Human Rights Act was passed this was illegal
under the old common law principle of natural justice: a man cannot
be judge in his own cause.
This wilful disregard of the law has led to a string of shameful
episodes under both the present county council and its predecessor
district council, culminating in perhaps the most disgraceful
of all - the complete perversion of the principles of truth and
justice in the long-running Enfield saga.
I am no great fan of the Human Rights Act but if it rids us
of the corrupt planning regime under which Pembrokeshire has laboured
for too long then all I can say is: hallelujah!
Earlier this year Chancellor Gordon Brown won loud applause
when he organised a hugely complicated and successful auction
of our airwaves.
The telecom companies, afraid of missing out on the great mobile
phone bonanza, piled in with massive bids and Mr Brown collected
a staggering £22billion windfall on behalf of the British
So brilliant was Mr Brown's mathematically based bidding system
that the German and Italian governments followed suit, relieving
the telephone giants of several billion pounds more.
Amidst all the cheering could be heard the plaintive voices
of a few free market Jeremiahs pointing out that all this cash
would have to come out of someone's pockets with the front runners
being the telecom shareholders and the users of mobile phones.
But recently another runner entered the field - us.
British Telecom alone owes the banks £40 billion and
if it doesn't generate sufficient profits to service its debt
it might default.
Last week the Bank of England issued a general warning to the
clearing banks to make sure they were not over-exposed to this
The danger is that if the telecom companies are unable to service
their debts it might precipitate a banking crisis.
Clearly no government could afford to stand idly by while the
financial sector collapsed - Gordon Brown would have to intervene
through the Bank of England to shore the system up.
And where would the money come from to mount such a rescue?
Out of the pot Mr Brown raised from selling the licences, of
As Milton Friedman says: there's no such thing as a free lunch.
Last Thursday I made my way to the Kremlin on Cleddau to attend
the County Council's final meeting before the Christmas break.
As I was making my way across the car park a large, black,
chauffeur-driven people carrier pulled up opposite the main entrance
and out stepped the Chairman Bill Hitchings.
You've got to hand it to Mr Parry-Jones, he's a clever politician.
He knows that if you pander to these people's overdeveloped
sense of self-importance you will quickly have them eating out
of your hand.
And what could be more self-importance enhancing that being
picked up from your front door by an official car driven by a
flunky immaculately attired in a suit.
Somebody should ask how many schoolteachers' salaries all this
The meeting itself was a fairly boring affair.
When I left they had reached page 90 of the agenda and it was
noticeable that up to then not one member of the ruling Independent
Political (sic) Group had raised a single issue.
Whether this was because they had been studying the works of
Francis Bacon where they might have read that "silence is
the virtue of fools", or because they feared delaying their
annual free booze up, it is not possible to say.
What was also noticeable was that whenever it came to the vote
on issues raised by the minority parties the Independents' hands
shot up as if controlled by a single string.
I doubt if the Politburo showed such a degree of unanimity,
even at the height of Stalin's terror.
One item which did interest me was a letter sent to all the
elected members by the former Director of Planning Roger Anderson
in which he threatened to report the council to the Ombudsman
over the disposal of a piece of land at Castle High, Haverfordwest.
According to Mr Anderson, the members had acted on the basis
of misleading information given by an officer.
A labour member wanted to know what the council was doing about
Up popped Mr Parry-Jones to inform the meeting that, though
he had been shown the letter, it had not actually been sent to
the council, only the members.
It would have been nice to know whether Mr Parry-Jones thought
Mr Anderson's case had any merit, but on that subject he was silent.
The Leader, Maurice Hughes, intervened to urge members to ignore
Mr Anderson's complaint and proceed as agreed.
"If he reports us to the Ombudsman, so be it", he
Who needs to worry about the law when they're used to wielding
Or the code of conduct, which all members agree to abide by
on taking office, the opening words of which are: "Councillors
hold office by virtue of the law, and must at all times act within
Cyber-chums may remember that, about two months ago, a story
appeared in the Western Telegraph regarding expense claims made
by former county councillor David Edwards.
This was based on information gleaned from the County Council's
books when they were open for inspection last October.
Mr Edwards had submitted duplicate mileage claims for half
a dozen meetings he had attended when a member of the council.
This was hardly news because exactly the same story, with virtually
the same provenance, had appeared in the Mercury some six months
There was one very important difference.
While the Telegraph's "scoop" was based on publicly
available documents that in the Mercury was not.
It was founded on copies of Mr Edwards' expense claims, provided
by the County Council outside the statutory audit period.
Recently, I rang the council to request sight of the current
year's expenses claim forms and was told by Director of Finance
Mark Lewis that I would have to wait until October 2001 when the
books were open for audit.
So, why were these rules not adhered to in the case of Mr Edwards?
Sounds like a publicly funded dirty tricks campaign to me!
Not that it was much of a story anyway; councillors often make
mistakes on their expense claims.
In the same year that Mr Edwards "transgressed",
the highly respected member for Solva, Gordon Cawood, also claimed
twice for a number of meetings.
Somebody in the finance department had simply put a line through
these duplicated claims and written, "Already paid"
Why wasn't ex-councillor Edwards afforded the same treatment?
More evidence of dirty tricks, perhaps!
Two years ago during my trawl through the National Park's books
I discovered that Cllr Rev Emyr Jones had duplicated a whole month's
claims and had been paid twice.
I wrote a humorous piece about this, but at no time did I suggest,
or even suspect, that this was a deliberate attempt to swindle
These double claims I have always regarded as examples of memory
failure rather like forgetting where you have left your car keys.
Had they claimed for meetings that they hadn't attended that
would be a different matter.
And that is exactly what happened in the case of Cllr Alwyn
Luke, who is becoming something of a regular in this column (and
there's much, much more to come).
He put in a claim for £19.60 in respect of attendance
at a meeting of the Policy and Resources committee on 1 April
1999, including details of the time he left home and time returned.
The records show that he tendered his apologies to that meeting.
His activities on May 27 1999 were even more bizarre.
According to his expense claim he left home at 9.00 am to attend
a 10 o'clock meeting of the Leisure and Sports committee, claiming
£13.23 mileage allowance and £6.37 for lunch.
On the same day, his claim form reveals, he also left home
at 2 pm and drove to Haverfordwest to attend the 2.30 pm meeting
of the Cultural Services committee claiming another £13.23
As he was at home at 2 pm he couldn't possibly fulfill the
conditions for claiming lunch allowance " Four hours away
from place of residence including the hours 12 noon-2 pm"
One possible explanation is that he owns a Tardis.
But much more plausible is that he made the whole thing up,
because the minutes record that he tendered his apologies for
Now forgetting where you left the car keys is one thing.
Remembering where you left a set of car keys that have never
been in your possession is quite another.
Thanks for all the e-mails and a Happy Christmas to you
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