Wednesday 19 October 2011

Foregone Conclusions

Time to put the spotlight back on planning in Carmarthenshire's increasingly out of control County Council.

In recent days we have seen a Conservative cabinet minister brought down for failing to stick to the rules and putting himself and his department in a position where there was a serious lack of transparency in decision making processes, thereby leaving both himself and others open to charges of commercial favouritism and worse.

Perhaps he should have taken advice from Carmarthenshire on how to get away with it, because the top brass there have developed lack of transparency into a fine art.

Caebrwyn reports on celebrations by three senior councillors to mark a decision by the county council to partner Tesco in the development of a site at Burry Port. At the risk of sounding like an M&S advert, these are not just any old councillors, but Cllr Clive Scourfield, executive member for Regeneration (which includes planning matters). Cllr Pat Jones, executive member responsible for Social Care, and the portly Cllr Stephen James, deputy leader of the ruling Independent group of councillors.

The Tesco store in Burry Port has received what is termed "provisional" planning, but the Planning Committee has yet to meet to give final planning consent. You would not guess that from the effusive press release issued by the Council.

"This is wonderful and long-awaited news", gasps Cllr Scourfield.

Cllrs Jones and James get all weak-kneed and trembly because they have been allowed to meet some of Tesco's regional managers. Mrs Jones describes it again as a "wonderful development".

The council's PR department goes on to gush in words which were clearly dictated down the phone from Tesco HQ, "the store will offer customers a wide variety of food, from the Finest to the Value range, as well as recycling facilities, an ATM machine and improved links to all areas of the town."

Wow. But hang on a minute, the Planning Committee hasn't actually formally given the application the green light yet. Heaven forbid that the committee members would be influenced by anything the council or their superiors might have said.

At this rate it can't be long before we see banners going up over County Hall announcing things like "Buy one golf course for nothing, and get one free."

And heaven forbid that they might in any way be influenced by politics, which is strictly forbidden isn't it? It was of course purely a coincidence last month that all of the Independent and Labour members voted in favour of another supermarket planning application. And the decision by Cllrs Scourfield, Jones, Palmer and others on the Executive Board to approve the sale of a car park for redevelopment as a supermarket a year or more before the Planning Committee had decided the same application clearly had no impact on the planning process, did it?

It was also slightly unfortunate that Cllr Palmer had to rebuke gossips among the councillors who had been whispering that she had instructed three councillors on how to vote on the supermarket planning application. That would be against the rules.

It was also just coincidence, presumably, that Cllr Terry Davies, the only member of the ruling Independent/Labour group to speak in favour of the 15 September decision was elected deputy chair of the planning committee in October with the support of the entire contingent of Independent and Labour councillors. That looks a bit political, doesn't it?

For all I know the good people of Burry Port really do want a new Tesco, but if I were one of them, I'd feel a lot more comfortable if I had confidence that the planning process was truly impartial and transparent. The sight of three of the most senior councillors cavorting about in field and giving the thumbs-up sign before planning consent has been given doesn't inspire much confidence.


nospin said...

you need to address this to the minister Carl Sargeant because clearly has no regard for procedure or democracy and are quite happy to wave two fingers at both.

The only person other than the 1st minster who can do anything about this fiefdom is CS.

He has acted in Anglesey for different reasons, but there are equally if not valid reasons to do so in Carmarthen.

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks, nospin. I quite agree.

Photon said...

The last time a large multinational company inolved with Anglesey Council tried to shake my hand - to that they could gain some level of control over me - I turned away and shook someone else's hands. The look of horror at the 'usual approach' failing was quite something to behold.

It's clearly getting closer to intervention time at Carms. The sooner, the better.

Anonymous said...

It's just a small point but Cllr Terry Davies (Labour) was elected Vice Chair of Planning in place of Cllr Keri Thomas (Labour) who is on long-term sick leave. So yes, it was a coincidence.

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Anon. I suppose the disappointing thing from the public's perspective is that there were two candidates for the post of deputy chair (one from Labour and one from Plaid), and the councillors voted on purely party lines to choose Cllr Davies. Because the Independents and Labour have a small majority, they were able to win the vote, even though Plaid is also the largest party on th Planning Committee. The result is that the decision was made on purely party political grounds, and that surely goes against the spirit of what planning is all about. On this occasion it would have been nice to hear the two candidates set out their stalls before proceeding to a free vote to choose the candidate best able to fill the role rather than a whipped vote without debate. But I know that's a naive point of view.