Carmarthenshire County Council, the self-styled best council in Wales, has been having a bit of a torrid time of things recently, what with the Ombudsman for Public Services churning out damning reports, the Welsh Government's meddling in planning matters, criticism from MPs and Assembly Members, newspapers which refuse to write what they're told (fortunately the council can still rely on the Carmarthen Journal), and a spate of hair-raising television documentaries.
The dust has not yet settled from the Sainsbury's press release affair, and the council has begun pleading with the Welsh Government not to take too long in making up its mind about the called-in applications. The Ombudsman is also busy investigating the press release itself.
Just as the Executive Suite in County Hall was thinking that things could not get any worse, the Welsh Government has shown what it thinks of the council's competence once again by issuing a Stopper Notice on the controversial Stradey Park housing development in Llanelli.
The council's planning committee has just approved a variation on Taylor Wimpey's plans which would allow the developer a further three years of outline planning permission for up to 450 residential units (houses of various sizes and apartments). The benefit to the developer is that this extension would give them flexibility to change the types and mix of housing without having to go to the bother of seeking permission from the council.
The stopper notice means that the Welsh Government has called a halt on the development, which was due to start in three weeks from now, while it decides whether or not to take the whole matter out of the council's hands and call it in for a final decision.
One day someone may write a book about the Stradey Park row, as it has more twists and turns than an airport novel.
Prior to yesterday's bombshell, the most recent development came back in April in the run-up to the county council elections, when campaigners lost a battle to get a judicial review into the council's handling of the affair.
The Chief Executive, who just days before had said he could not comment on other matters because of political sensitivity during an election campaign, felt no such inhibitions when he weighed into campaigners at the end of April. As usual, objectors were dismissed as a small group of diehards.
This is what he had to say:
This has been an unnecessary waste of time and money, and we shall be
seeking to recover our costs on behalf of the council taxpayers of
Carmarthenshire. It has also meant a delay in the payments agreed with
Taylor Wimpey to the County Council.
We hope that Taylor Wimpey will
now get on site as soon as possible to build much needed new homes,
including affordable homes, for the people of Llanelli.
This is yet
another unfortunate example of a small group of people in Llanelli
trying to stop any development taking place; this includes the new
school for Furnace and the development of derelict land such as the
This is costing Llanelli much needed construction jobs
and investment at a time when it is sorely needed. It is also denying
the children of Ysgol Ffwrnes the opportunity to have first class
facilities in which to learn.
The Welsh Government clearly begs to differ, and the Stopper Notice is more than just another blow for the beleaguered planning department.
How much longer the council can lurch along like this remains to be seen. For the sake of the people of Carmarthenshire, someone needs to put a Stopper Notice on County Hall.