Yesterday's decision is also covered by the Carmarthen Journal (here) whose article shows clearly the extent to which the council is now linking the new road to S4C's new headquarters. Meryl Gravell went a step further on the news last night telling viewers that the new houses (up to 1,200 of them) would be needed to house all the people that would come with S4C.
Strangely, the Carmarthen West planning brief (including the link road) was drawn up and approved long before S4C decided to relocate its headquarters, and although it is hoped that other companies will eventually move to Carmarthen to be close to S4C, the broadcaster is planning to move only 50 posts from Cardiff.
While it is true that the new S4C headquarters will generate additional traffic on an already congested road system, it seems that the council's line is now that the whole Carmarthen West project is a by-product of S4C's move.
The developers have not been slow to take advantage of this and are now understood to be telling the council that if the £5 million + link road is needed to serve S4C, why should they pay for it?
The question of who will pay for it is also unclear. The line fed to the BBC yesterday was that only some of the funds would come from the council's massive reserves, with the Welsh Government having been asked to chip in. Other money will apparently be forthcoming from unspecified "other partners".
Who would those partners be, and what is in it for them? Surely not S4C?
Finally, anyone watching this from the WLGA may wonder why the Executive Board yesterday insisted on meeting behind closed doors to approve the plan when the details have been splashed in the Carmarthenshire Herald - and this blog. So much for the new openness and transparency.
This one is set to run and run.
Update 9 March
BBC Cymru reports that the Executive Board today rubber stamped its plan to finance the link road for the controversial Carmarthen West development out of reserves. As previously stated, the decision was taken behind closed doors, with press and public excluded.
The council says that it hopes to recoup the money from the developers, and that the funding will come in part from its reserves but it will also be asking the Welsh Government for assistance along with mysterious "other sources".
Unsurprisingly, Cllr Meryl Gravell fronted the decision, which was taken unanimously by the ruling Labour-Independent coalition, with the injection of a large dollop of spin in the form of a suggestion that the road will be needed to serve the new S4C headquarters.
It can only be a question of time before the chief executive takes to the media to explain that this exciting new development will not cost taxpayers a penny.
Updated 3 March
As predicted, an item relating to the Carmarthen West development has appeared on the agenda for the Executive Board meeting on 9 March, although that part of the meeting and the report will be subject to a public interest exemption, meaning that press and public will be excluded while the rubber stamp is applied.
If you have a Labour or Independent councillor why not ask them why the council is bailing out people who live in stately homes in England but cannot afford basic services for its residents.
|Part-funded by Carmarthenshire County Council|
Last week's budget meeting saw Labour and Independent councillors reject a Plaid motion to use £6.2 million of Carmarthenshire's £73.5 million cash pile to avoid the need for cuts to public services and above-inflation increases in council tax, rents, car parking charges and school dinners.
A couple of days later the Planning Committee met to consider various applications, including the highly controversial Carmarthen West planning brief.
The plan for a tranche of 250 new homes had previously come before the committee for approval on 10 February (see A Slight Hitch), but had to be aborted at the last minute thanks to an intervention by the Welsh Government which placed a stopper order on the scheme because of concerns about the impact on the surrounding road network (i.e. gridlock).
Roll forward to 26 February, and the planning officers had some good news. The stopper order had been lifted, the Welsh Government had withdrawn its objections and it was all systems go - subject to a condition in the small print that only 60 houses could be built on the greenfield site until the completion of a new link road.
These boys could teach the council's Ministry of Spin a thing or two about how to present bad news. Boys being the appropriate word, because planning in Carmarthenshire is clearly not suited to women who are much more interested in kittens, ribbons and make-up.
To put it mildly, this is a bit of a problem because the link road, originally estimated to cost £4.5 million, is now expected to cost £5 million, and the final bill is likely to be rather higher.
The meeting was told that there were now a couple of options. Either the council could pay for the development and recover the money later, or the developers could build the road in sections as the development progresses.
By now, readers can probably guess where this is heading.
The council's Executive Board will meet this week for one of its famous pre-meeting meetings behind closed doors, and on the agenda drawn up by the chief executive it appears that there will be a proposal to take £5 million or so out of reserves to pay for the link road in the hope that a roof tax on new houses will eventually pay this money back.
If Mr James's other schemes (Stradey Park, for example) are anything to go by, taxpayers could be left waiting a very long time to see the money recouped, and experience of all these "it won't cost you a penny" projects suggests that the money may well never be recovered.
We will have to wait for the official public rubber-stamping open session on 9 March to find out, assuming that the plan is not an exempt (i.e. secret) item.
Practically nobody in Carmarthen wants the mammoth Carmarthen West project which will fundamentally alter the character of the town, but the council's top brass is determined to plough ahead regardless, despite mounting problems.
The big idea is that the link road will be financed eventually by a roof tax of around £12,500 per property. In addition to that developers will be expected to make hefty contributions to a Section 106 Agreement to help finance a new primary school as a part of the overall Carmarthen West scheme.
Under the recently adopted LDP, developers will also be expected to provide a quota of 20% of affordable houses. There have already been whispers that this may have to be relaxed.
The recent history of housing developments in Carmarthenshire is that developers sign up to S106 agreements and affordable housing schemes, get planning permission and then return to the council a couple of years later saying that the developments are no longer economically viable. The council then relents, and conditions are relaxed or dropped.
In the case of Stradey Park in Llanelli, for example, there will be no affordable homes at all, and another pet scheme for 250 houses on a greenfield site at Ffos Las is also currently asking the council to let it off its S106 and affordable home commitments.
Partly as a result of this, Carmarthenshire is one of the worst performers in Wales when it comes to delivering affordable homes (21st out of 22 local authorities according to recent government rankings).
But the problems don't end there.
Dŵr Cymru has warned that the sewage infrastructure in Carmarthen is operating at capacity, and it currently does not have the money to carry out the necessary upgrades, although it might be able to tack the project on to its capital investment programme at some unspecified point in the future.
So the council has come up with an amazing wheeze to side-step the problem by bringing in another "licensed operator", i.e. in all likelihood an English water company, to put in and operate a system just for the Carmarthen West development.
Note how once again planning officers in Carmarthen appear to be doing everything they can to "facilitate" a private sector development in the teeth of overwhelming local opposition.
The planning meeting was also told by a couple of councillors that the Tawelan brook which crosses the development site is tidal. This came as news to planning officers, but Plaid's Cllr Jeff Owens who worked for many years in the water industry assured them that he was very familiar with the area, and that flooding would be a serious consideration, especially in Johnstown.
A further concern voiced by Cllr Alun Lenny (Plaid) was the company planning to develop the site. Carmarthen Promotions Limited is, as we have seen (here), a very small company with no track record, owned by a group of landowners, a lord and business types living in East Anglia. The same individuals are involved, in varying combinations, in a whole string of other small companies which appear never to make a profit and have nothing much in the way of assets.
Whether Carmarthen Promotions has the financial clout and resources to see through a major development with huge financial risks is a legitimate question.
Needless to say, the application was passed, and the way has been opened to build 60 new executive-style houses on higher ground, well away from any potential flooding.
Viewers of the webcast will see that Labour's Cllr Peter Cooper could hardly contain his excitement and raised his hand in support of the plan before the vote had been called. Cllr Terry Davies (Lab) also gave the scheme his blessing, although the infamous Terry and Keri double act was not performing this week because Cllr Keri Thomas (Lab) was once again absent. Over on the Independent benches you will also see a small forest of hands shoot up in unison, although any suggestions that there may have been party whipping going on would be absolutely outrageous. For some reason the Indies were all huddled together around the considerable bulk of Cllr Daff Davies of Mwche Farm turbine fame.
Expect Kevin Madge to agree to dip into the reserves any day now to allow the rest of the scheme to go ahead, with the council shouldering practically all of the financial risk, while the landed gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk can look forward to making a handsome profit.