A protest was held yesterday in the village of Penybanc to highlight concerns of local residents and Cymdeithas yr Iaith about the planned housing development at Tirychen Farm which would double the population of the village.
The event was well attended, and members of the local action group spoke in detail about the plans and the effect that they would have on this community.
A request has gone to the Welsh Government to have the application called in, and it will be interesting to see how the minister responsible, Carl Sargeant, responds to a plan which borrows a proposed housing allocation from the unadopted Local Development Plan plus a whole chunk more and tries to shoe horn that into the council's existing Unitary Development Plan.
The speakers made it clear that they were not opposed to the development of 141 houses on the site, as envisaged by the UDP, just the additional 148 which the developers and the council's planners want to cram in.
It was also striking that a lot of other development is taking place in the village. A stone's throw from the village hall where the protest took place was another new housing development. All of that would certainly cater for any local need for new housing with quite a lot to spare for incomers.
Joy Davies, one of the members of the Penybanc action group, pointed out that the Local Development Plan proposes 1,200 new houses in the village and surrounding area, with no evidence of local need. The schools in the area are full, and the effect would be to create the basis for a massive inflow of people from outside the area, undermining the Welsh language and the existing communities.
The Penybanc development joins Carmarthenshire County Council's extensive gallery of rogue planning deals, and it is interesting to note that people outside the county are beginning to sit up and take note. Last week the Commissioner for the Welsh Language, Meri Huws, complained bitterly about foot dragging by the Welsh Government in coming up with new guidelines for the consideration to be given to the language in planning.
Last week also the council's head of planning, Eifion Bowen, joined the debate and called for an independent body to be set up along the lines of the Environment Agency to assess the impact of developments in Welsh-speaking areas.
As reported in an earlier post, the chair of the planning committee, Cllr Anthony Jones (Lab), is the subject of a formal complaint to the Ombudsman for Public Services. Apparently Cllr Jones saw nothing wrong with insisting on chairing the meeting and voting despite, it is claimed, having spoken in favour of the development previously.
Bearing in mind the sanctions imposed on councillors in neighbouring Ceredigion for breaching the code of conduct in planning matters in recent years, this will be an interesting case to follow.
The return trip from Penybanc along the A483 northwards provides some graphic reminders of why Carmarthenshire County Council is so frequently in the news for the wrong reasons. First, you pass close to the now mothballed police station in Ammanford. This state of the art facility is costing Dyfed Powys Police, and therefore us, £700,000 a year in PFI payments.
As Caebrwyn reported last week, the council leader Kevin Madge (Lab) has been caught out yet again. Fourteen months ago he called for a public inquiry into the scandal, but forgot to put pen to paper to make a formal request for an inquiry to the Government or the Home Office.
Heading north you pass the site of the proposed new school in Ffairfach. Plans for the new school were approved at the same meeting as the Penybanc development. Unlike the rest of Wales where building on flood plains has become something of a no-no, Carmarthenshire sees nothing wrong with the practice.
A couple of miles further on, and you pass the site of the proposed Sainsbury's store just outside Llandeilo. That application was also enthusiastically recommended by the planning officers and rubber-stamped by the planning committee before Sainsbury's realised that operating two gigantic stores in Llandeilo and nearby Cross Hands wasn't perhaps such a good idea after all.
Meanwhile the Welsh Government is looking at ways to improve what it calls "delivery" of the planning system. As Plaid Wrexham reported, attention has been drawn to the size of the planning committee in Denbighshire where 30 of the council's 47 councillors decide planning applications. In Carmarthenshire just 19 of the 74 councillors are selected for membership of this committee, and in the case of the Labour and "Independent" contingent, the principal selection criteria would appear to boil down to two things:
(i) Do you have a pulse?
(ii) Can you raise your hand at the right time?
Ability to understand the complexities of the planning system and
determination to make up your own mind on the basis of the merits of any
planning application do not appear to be requirements. Indeed, they are probably handicaps.
After all, why would you need to make up your own mind when the planning officers
and the party whips are there to do it for you?