Wednesday 2 November 2011

More Junk Mail - Carmarthenshire's view of public opinion

Carmarthenshire County Council has a lot of experience in misrepresenting the level of public opposition to its plans. If you think as a concerned member of the public that your signature on a petition, or that letter you wrote will register as an objection, think again.

The latest example of this concerns the extremely controversial proposal to close Pantycelyn School in Llandovery and merge it with Ysgol Tregib in Llandeilo. The proposal will leave this proud and ancient market town without a state secondary school, one of the most vital ingredients in creating a strong and sustainable local economy.

The county council has decided to plough ahead with its plans despite massive local opposition, with the Director of Education, Robert Sully, once again taking a swipe in the press against objectors. Previously he railed against what he felt was misrepresentation of his plans by local people and criticised the board of governors, parents and others for campaigning against them. Now he says there were just 36 objections, and as none of them had anything new to say, he feels justified in pressing on.

The consultation process is immensely complex, as Mr Sully knows from personal experience. He has tripped himself up on at least two occasions, resulting in the scandal of the school with no pupils in Capel Iwan and a cock-up over the Dinefwr consultation timetable.

The statutory consultation process was preceded by an earlier, informal, consultation in which thousands of people objected. A petition with 3,000 names fell foul of the council's rules and was initially rejected because it had not been handed in on time. Eventually the council relented.

But what many objectors failed to understand was that they were expected to write in twice to register their objection: once in the informal consultation, and again in the formal consultation. The result was that objections from organisations such as the Ysgol Pantycelyn Action Group, the board of governors and others bodies representing large numbers of parents, residents and students counted only once, and somehow, the 150-odd letters received were subsequently sifted down by the council's officers to just 36.

A couple of months ago the people of Newcastle Emlyn experienced something similar when the council decided a controversial planning application for a supermarket. When the first planning application was submitted in 2009, around 900 objections were received by the council. That application was rejected, and a new and almost identical application was re-submitted by the same developer a couple of months later. We asked if the objections from the first application could be taken into account in the second application, since apart from moving the building by a few feet, the application was in every respect the same.

No, came the answer. So objectors scrambled and collected around 700 letters of objection to the "new" application. In addition, about 130 others wrote in independently.

When the planning officer's report was finally published, the council stated that only 130-odd objections had been received. The 700 others had not been counted. The result was, of course, that the strength of public opposition to the scheme was dramatically understated.

The Action Group spearheading the campaign wrote to the Head of Planning before the planning meeting pointing out that it had signed receipts from his department for 700 letters and asked for an explanation. Silence. Minutes before the planning meeting itself, one of the spokesmen for the group asked the Head of Planning whether the committee would be told about the missing letters.

Finally, the councillors were told that another batch of 700 letters had been received, but because they were identical, they had not been counted.

So there you are, your concerns are nothing more than junk mail in the eyes of the council.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I see the saga of the Lammas Street parking meters rumbles on - no matter how many objections are registered, this WILL go through, because anyone with the slightest grain of common sense (and, that, surely EXCLUDES all the senior staff at County Hall) realises this proposal is NOT about easing the(imaginary) parking problems there, but purely about RAISING MORE MONEY to be wasted by County Hall in excessive salaries to under-performing staff - and the more senior you get, the more under-performing they are - simply interested in protecting their own positions and mini-empires!
Me? I have nothing but UTTER CONTEMPT for them all!