Wednesday 15 February 2012

Letters to the Editor - Cllr Scourfield writes

Monday's edition of the Western Mail carries a letter from Cllr Clive Scourfield (Independent) attacking Mrs Lesley Williams, a pensioner from Carmarthen, who had written in the previous week to criticise the Council's decision to fund an action for libel being brought by the council's chief executive, Mark James, against blogger Jacqui Thompson.

Mr Scourfield is a member of the council's Executive Board, or cabinet, where his responsibilities include the council's deeply controversial regeneration schemes and the Welsh language (another area in which Carmarthenshire has a truly abysmal record).

As a member of the Executive Board, Mr Scourfield approved the indemnity for the chief executive, a  decision taken behind closed doors and approved, as always, unanimously. In so doing he authorised a blank cheque to cover legal costs which may well run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, or even more. Nobody knows, not even Cllr Scourfield.

In the next few weeks, the Council will finalise its budget plans for 2012-13, and these will include a whole series of cuts to all sorts of services. £33,000 will come off respite holidays for disabled children, for example, and Mentrau Iaith, the bodies which try to support and promote the use of the Welsh language in the community, will see their budget cut by 50% or £50,000 over the next three years. Put together, those would be a small fraction of the money which the council is now spending on top-flight London barristers in the James libel case.

But, let's hear Mr Scourfield in his own words. Here is the text of his letter in full:

SIR – I read with incredulity the letter from Lesley Williams of Carmarthen (Feb 6), regarding the use of taxpayers’ money.
Is this the same Lesley Williams who cost council taxpayers of Carmarthenshire £2.1m when she and a couple of her compatriots forced a completely unnecessary and wasteful public inquiry in their misguided efforts to stop what is now (thankfully) the highly successful, much admired St Catherine’s Walk town centre development in Carmarthen?
The people of Carmarthenshire have not so easily forgotten this monumental waste of money. The people of Carmarthenshire are also well aware of her intense dislike for the council and its officers, but given the fact that she has cost them so much, it is a bit rich for her to be writing indignantly about the use of a fraction of that amount.

Clive Scourfield
(With thanks to the Western Mail - the original can be found here).

Of course to be fair, in strictly mathematical terms, anything less than £2.1m will be a fraction of that sum.
I will leave readers to judge for themselves what sort of person would write a letter like this, but let's ignore the personal abuse of Mrs Williams and "her compatriots" [note to Cllr Scourfield: compatriot means someone from the same country; presumably he is referring to the people of Wales in this case] and look instead at the facts.

The St. Catherine's Walk shopping centre development on the site of the old cattle market in Carmarthen was deeply controversial in the town. In effect, it shifted the centre of gravity in Carmarthen, and the effects on the ancient heart of the town are there for all to see: empty shops and the onset of dereliction and decay in what were once the town's principal shopping streets.

The units in St Catherine's Walk were eventually filled with a range of chain-stores and clone businesses which are the same as anything you would find from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Croydon. There is nothing Welsh about the place, and from what I can see, not one single locally owned business is operating in the shiny new centre.

We do know, because the council let it slip, that intense negotiations took place to persuade many of the stores in St. Catherine's Walk to open up there. What inducements had to be offered, and how much did that cost the taxpayer? We will probably never find out.

It is also fairly obvious to anyone who goes to the new shopping centre that the likes of Debenham's will not be jumping for joy at the levels of trading there since the place opened. Shops which have to run almost permanent "Sales" are generally not going to stick around for long.

There have even been suggestions from some respected local people (e.g. members of the Town Council) that one of the reasons the county council is so keen to see a massive new housing estate built on the edge of Carmarthen is to bring more people in to support the St. Catherine's retail experience.

But back to Cllr Scourfield's assertion that Mrs Williams and other local objectors cost the council £2.1m because of the public inquiry which the plans triggered.

The main issue at stake was the council's determination to steamroller local opposition to the closure of what had been a busy road cutting through the site. Contrary to what the Council claimed, that road was busy, as any pedestrian who tried crossing it will remember.

Where the figure of £2.1m comes from is quite another matter. What we do know, because the council was forced to reveal the information in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act (here), was that the developer of the shopping centre met all of the Council's legal costs in connection with the closure of St. Catherine's Street.


Anonymous said...

Get these people out in May. Vote Plaid!

Anonymous said...

ummm. maybe mr scourfield should write back to the western mail and explain how 2.1m was lost? (anon2)

Anonymous said...

"I read with incredulity"? what a pompous twat. And another one from the council - officer or member - who launches into a personal attack on a (quite rightly too) objecting resident. No wonder he thinks Chief Weasel's legal bills should be footed by council taxpayers' money.