Wednesday 20 July 2011

Carmarthenshire's LDP - the fog descends as you pamper your pooch

County councils do a lot of important things, from running schools and social care to collecting the rubbish, but probably the subject which arouses more passions than anything else is planning, and the council's overall framework for planning is its unitary or local development plans which come along roughly once every 10 years.

These plans are among the most important things your council produces because they are about what our towns and villages will look like, and what it will be like to live and work in them for years to come.

But you would not know that if you decided to look at the council's main window on the world, which is its website.

Users who google Carmarthenshire County Council will first be presented between a choice of Welsh or English. The Welsh structure and content is so poor that sadly I would not recommend trying to use it, a subject I will come back to another time.

Having chosen English therefore, you will be presented with the home page, which has lots of menu options. In the centre of the page is a window with a selection of revolving "top stories". Until yesterday, one of those was the LDP, and you could navigate from there into the vaults. Today the LDP has disappeared, and you will see instead items telling you about how to make a complaint or compliment, about the Carmarthen Food Festival, the county's annual "Improvement Plan" and a newsletter dealing with rural crime.

The LDP is currently the subject of a major statutory consultation which runs until 19 August, but the home page now does not even mention the LDP, leave alone explain that you have a right to comment on it.

But let's imagine that you have heard something about the LDP and would like to find out more. The next logical step would be to select the menu option headed "Environment and Planning". This brings you to another page with menu options on lots of things from the dog warden service, rubbish recycling and waste to planning and biodiversity. Still no mention of the LDP.

Only when you click on Planning will you be presented with another page of menu options and find Local Development Plan listed as one of the topics.

In other words, to find out about the LDP, you have to know of its existence and tunnel away to find the information. If you are blissfully unaware of the plan, you will remain that way if you access the council's website.

As an illustration of just how bad the Welsh content of the service is, I tried searching "Cynllun Datblygu Lleol". 10 results are returned, including information on councillors' allowances, how to apply for a service and "Llaeth am Ddim" (milk for free). But there is nothing about the LDP. Zilch. Nada. Dim byd o gwbwl.

The other main window on the world for the council is its "newspaper" Carmarthenshire News. The most recent edition covers the period May and June 2011, which is also when the consultation on the LDP began. In 20 glossy pages with features on all of the current prestige development projects, pictures of the council bosses grinning as they cut cakes, ribbons, etc, a big half page piece on "dog friendly county pampers pooches", you will find not one mention of the LDP.

Both the website and the "newspaper" are run by the council's press department, the main responsibility of which, you would think, would be to ensure that the public and press are kept informed about important things like the LDP. Instead, the press office is actually a PR business which strives to ensure that good news is broadcast and bad news is buried. Pamper your pooch, by all means, but don't worry your pretty little head about that boring old LDP.

Carmarthenshire does not have a good track record on consultations, and this failure to inform and engage is only the latest example. It may come back to bite them.

No comments: