In the run-up to the broadcast of last night's edition of Week In Week Out Carmarthenshire County Council issued a statement to a number of its councillors, although it seems that by no means all were on the distribution list.
My comments in red.
"Tonight’s Week In Week Out programme is focusing on the Ombudsman’s report into a planning issue. Please see below for the Council’s response:
The council is not able to take part in the programme as this is a neighbour dispute involving more than just one party and we are not allowed to discuss what are private matters of individuals in a public arena. The council deals with around 600 enforcement cases every year, and many of them involve disputes between adjoining property owners where feelings can become heated. We are not at liberty to divulge confidential information about such disputes in public.
[Note that the council also refused to take part in the programmes dealing with the Delyth Jenkins case and the Towy Community Church bowling alley. In the latter case the reason given was that it could not discuss political matters in the run-up to the council elections in May, although the Chief Executive found no difficulty in criticising opposition candidates on other matters in Llanelli around the same time.
Of course, the council could have taken part and confined its comments to the wider implications and principles involved.]
We have accepted that the Ombudsman has partially upheld this complaint and we are complying with his recommendations. Where there are constructive observations as to our procedures these are being implemented.
We are disappointed that the Ombudsman, having twice dismissed these complaints over a period of years, chose to re-open a dispute which goes back to 2001.
We are also disappointed that he looked at evidence produced by one of the parties to the dispute only, which we consider did not give a balanced view as to the events of the past decade. Had he looked at both sides of the dispute we feel he may have come to different conclusions. As the local Planning authority we do not have the luxury of listening to one side only in cases of this nature.
We are also concerned that the council’s Head of Planning was not allowed to comment on the Ombudsman’s own planning officer evidence, as we have a different opinion on some aspects of planning law referred to in the report.
[This is an extraordinary attack on the Public Service Ombudsman which calls his integrity and impartiality into question. It also shows that, as in the cases of Delyth Jenkins and Mr M, the council has learned nothing and will not take the Ombudsman's extremely detailed findings to heart.]
We are satisfied that the council’s planning officers acted with integrity throughout the past ten years during which this dispute has taken place and that they have not shown any favour or bias to either of the parties. Their investigations have, during the period, involved numerous visits to the site in question and we can only act within the planning law and on the basis of evidence which is actually available at any given time.
[One of the mysteries of the case is why the council's planning officers were unable to spot what was so patently clear to everyone else, including the officer from the Planning Inspectorate.]
Welsh translation to follow.
Rheolwr y Wasg/Press Manager"
Last night's programme raises more questions than it answers. One of the biggest mysteries is why the council was so reluctant to take action against Mr Thomas. Was it just spectacular incompetence and laziness? Did the enforcement officers feel frightened and intimidated themselves? Or did one party to the dispute have helpful connections in the council?