Thursday 23 February 2012

Letters - The Biter Bitten

This week's letters page in the Carmarthen Journal is dominated not by the endless debate on wind turbines but by the spiteful attack on Mrs Lesley Williams by Councillor Clive Scourfield. It was good to see so many people coming to her defence, and strangely it seems that not one person could be found to rally behind Mr Scourfield.

To recap, Mrs Williams had written a letter in a previous issue criticising the council's decision to offer an unlimited indemnity to its chief executive Mark James both to defend a libel action brought by blogger Jacqui Thompson and to bring a claim against Jacqui for allegedly libellous remarks made in her blog.

Cllr Scourfield responded by writing both to the Carmarthen Journal and the Western Mail to attack Mrs Williams for her part in a campaign a few years back to force the council to change its plans for the St Catherine's Walk shopping centre.

Objections to the St Catherine's Walk scheme eventually resulted in a public inquiry which Cllr Scourfield claimed had cost the council £2.1m. That figure is debatable, but several contributors pointed out that if the council had carried out a proper public consultation, listened to the concerns of the people of Carmarthen and showed a willingness to compromise, there would have been no need for a public inquiry. As it was, campaigners succeeded in two of their main aims, which were the siting of the market hall and keeping St Catherine's Street open to traffic.

Several of the letter writers took the opportunity to remind Cllr Scourfield that the right to object to planning applications is enshrined in law. Since Cllr Scourfield is a member of the council's Executive Board and has overall responsibility for regeneration and planning in the county, you would think that he would not need a reminder of such a basic principle. Sadly, that is not the case.

Mr Scourfield announced his intention of standing down at the next council elections back in 2010, and we can only hope he has not changed his mind. His tenure as Executive Board Member for Regeneration has been punctuated by a whole series of rows and scandals involving planning and grandiose regeneration schemes, and his attack on Mrs Williams is a classic example of both the arrogance and vindictiveness of the administration of which Mr Scourfield is a leading member.

This blog recently reminded readers how Mr Scourfield had allowed himself to be photographed by a newspaper celebrating a successful planning application by Tesco. Given his responsibilities and the fact that the council has been embroiled in other controversial supermarket planning battles, you would think he would have passed this PR opportunity and tried to stay aloof from planning decisions.

A couple of years ago, Cneifiwr was part of a group campaigning against a supermarket planning application which raised serious concerns about how that application was being handled, and the group requested a meeting with Mr Scourfield through its MP, who was also disturbed by aspects of the case. Needless to say, the request was refused.

Then in January of this year he spoke at a full meeting of the council to reply to a presentation given by the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys police. Cllr Scourfield took the opportunity to remind the chief constable that the council had never made any difficulties whenever the police had submitted a planning application, leaving listeners wondering whether there is political interference in some planning matters and whether applications from less favoured quarters could expect difficulties, as has often been alleged.

In her own response to Mr Scourfield's attack, Mrs Williams pointed out that his actions seemed to be in clear breach of the Councillors' Code of Conduct in several respects. Whether she will take this further and make a formal complaint to the Public Services Ombudsman, I do not know.

If she did, you can rest assured that Carmarthenshire would be one of the Welsh local authorities criticised by the Ombudsman for giving its councillors unlimited indemnities to fight cases of alleged breach of the code of conduct.


caebrwyn said...

Cllr Scourfield's decision to stand down came after a complaint was made against him by residents of Burry Port and Pembrey who had formally objected to the siting of the Beach Break Live festival in Pembrey Country Park. He had a similar outburst, and made statements to the press calling them "crazed opponents", and remarking that it was "a vitriolic campaign by local protagonists" even accusing them of 'acts of sabotage'.

Anonymous said...

Seems to be the culture of Carmarthenshire Council, that when criticised they hit back with personal attacks and slurs. Most unprofessional conduct, but appears to be accepted practice. I can say this as I too have first hand experience of insults and slurs on my good name when questioning their use of regulations. I should say 'misuse'.
I hope Mrs. Williams takes it further as maybe some day they might cease insulting innocent members of the public who have every right to criticise those whose salaries are paid out of the public purse when it is deserved.

lesleyw said...

I've just submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman alleging breach of the Code of Conduct by Scourfield. I've also sent him a personal letter asking him for a detailed breakdown of the 2.1m I, and my "compatriots", are alleged to have cost. No reply so far!

Anonymous said...

As a result of CCC and Cllr Scourfield bending over backwards to help Beach Breaks Live, I thought he'd be happy to give the Small Nations Festival Cilycwm (music festival run by local people since the mid 90s) a helping hand. I wrote 2 or 3 times and never got a response. Funny that obviously loves helping people and companies from outside the area but not a local venture which helped the local businesses in Llandovery