Sunday 21 April 2013

Penybanc and Carmarthenshire's house of planning horrors

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?


Anonymous said...

Planning committee membershipsake for an interesting affair:

In full council in Wednesday is became apparent that a plaid councillor had voted in favour of the application! And not all labour members or independant members had voted in favour.

What I don't understand cneifwr, is that cllr jones has been reported for speaking in favour of the development, so why don't Alun Lenny and co sit out because they have written letters to the paper against the planning application? I'm not in favour or against the development (I don't live in carmaethenshire) but at least we need some consistency when allowing a councillor so speak or not.

Anonymous said...

Interesting you say party whips are there to do things for you!

Terry davies from gorslas has often called for recorded votes in planning committee, because the most party aligned group in voting terms are plaid! The only plaid councillor who doesn't vote in the plaid block is cllr Evans of llangyndeyrn.

Cneifiwr said...

For what it's worth, I think the code of conduct needs to be changed to stop the sort of nonsense we saw in Cardigan over the Sainsbury's planning application. There a councillor campaigned against the project in an election and never hid his opposition to the development.

There's a world of difference between open, honest expression such as that and failing to disclose a financial interest or voting to helps friends and family.

I know that in theory councillors are supposed to bring an open mind to planning applications, but there are cases where no matter how much lipstick you apply, a pig is still a pig.

As for the criticism of Plaid councillors, they at least try to take the views of local communities into account. A pity some of the Labour councillors don't consider that more often instead of backing companies sheltering in tax havens.

Nice to hear that Terry Davies is a fan of recorded votes, although he has probably forgotten that the council under the Labour/Independent coalition abolished recorded votes in committee a couple of years ago.

Cneifiwr said...

A message from Cllr Alun Lenny:

In reply to anonymous #1, I only spoke about the Penybanc decision AFTER the Planning Committee decision on December 18th and BEFORE the amended application for 47 less houses was submitted. I made no comment on that until the meeting on March 28th. Going by anonymous’ reasoning, every councillor who expressed an opinion (even by voting?) in December should have been barred from taking part in the March decision. It would have been a very empty chamber!

The amended application was confined to the UDP area, but with double the original density of 141 houses approved in 2008. On requesting an independent Welsh Language Impact Assessment I was told in committee by Head of Planning, Eifion Bowen, that no mechanism exists to make such an assessment. Since then, both Mr Bowen and I have publicly called for the establishment of a new independent agency to conduct assessments, in order to advise planners and the Planning Committee (e.g. as the Environment Agency does now).

Quite apart from being a controversial local issue, the Penybanc development shows that the status of the Welsh language in the field of planning is not only weak but very ambiguous, to the frustration of Planning Committee members – and probably developers also.
Cllr Alun Lenny

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post from Alun Lenny...

Did Councillor Jones make any comment outside of planning committee? Who has referred him to the ombudsman?

My problem with the ombudsman system is that Councillors reputations are tainted just be the referral. Sometimes Councillors refer each other for political gain.

Anonymous said...

How did Tussul Evans vote? I heard I voted in favour of the application?

Delyth Jenkins said...

Anon 14.59

You say that Councillors reputations are tainted just by the referral to the Ombudsman. Strange how that doesn't seem to form the same pattern where Council officers are concerned, even when the Ombudsman's report is damning of the Council. I am referring to my complaint when I was completely vindicated by the Ombudsman In 2009, yet Council officers were severely criticised and yet it seems their reputations are intact. Might have something to do with the fact that they remained anonymous, hidden behind letters of the alphabet.

Anonymous said...

Delyth, your reputation is in tact to those that matter!

Your courage and determination have earned you the highest accolade from the people who matter..... Vulnerable people and their families.

Never forget that! Look to the future, no need to waste precious energy on council officers that have no integrity, no heart, no future happiness or job satisfaction. They will never be respected by the genuine!

Your future will protect, enable, support and create genuine care for those needing it! Waste your energy on you and doing what you are here to do! Try not to forget to take time out for you too!!!

Would love to meet you and chat!

Delyth Jenkins said...

Anon 00.12

I wasn't talking about my own reputation here because I have done nothing wrong and the Ombudsman's report proves this. What I am saying is that despite being severely criticised by the Ombudsman, Officers and Senior Officers of the Council have their reputations intact because their identities are hidden behind letters of the alphabet. These officers must not have a second chance and there is no room for them within the social care service if this service is to improve. I was told by the Public Concern at Work in 2006 that I had done my bit by reporting the abuse and that I could do no more. Had I listened to that bit of advice then none of this would have been exposed. Officer M told the Ombudsman (documented) that I had become obssessed with the complaint. I would rather think that I am determined to ensure that vulnerable people are treated with dignity and respect and not harmed.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I have caused offence. The only way for these staff to be identified would be to ensure the House of Lords and House of Commons, and the Assembly are contacted, requesting then to create legislation that names and shames those that abuse vulnerable people.
It needs to be along the lines of the ASBO that names and shames etc.

The policies written by the council have far too many loopholes as they are created by guidelines from legislation. They can interpret as they wish! Unfortunately unless this changes and there is a blanket policy written by an excellent member of the queens council and a new human resources policy for social care things will remain very much the same.

I have been on the receiving end of it, so I think I may know how it feels To be vulnerable And not get any advice, support and be told to shut up! Departments look at budgets and neverl listen to disabled people and appreciate what we tolerate to be cared for. To see abuse is one thing but to experience it is another. I know several members of staff who are exemplary in their patronisation, intimidation and belittling of disabled people, let alone their personal aggressive attitude. It's called social work....... Go to work earn money, go home!

Social care would mean they had to say care, care and care some more. Job title needs altering! That's just to start with! Then we have fantastic assistants that are not fully qualified social workers! The list goes on and on and on!

Care needs to be looked at from lboth perspectives. To have sandwiches everyday rom an agency that gets paid silly money and no hot meal, sit with no lights in waiting for carers etc the list is endless. The abuse at the hands of agencies within the is shocking, the people don't tend to complain as they know no better! Agency continues to rake it in and the county continue to pay them.

Exposing people is not easy when you are the vulnerable person believe me, even when you try, things are blocked!!! I have been the, done that, got the t shirt and the soap in a rope!

The distress and pressure caused has at times been unbearable and made me extremely ill. It still continues today. Bullying is not just done to staff by staff, it is done by staff to vulnerable people quietly too!!!

I daren't give my name as I know the repercussions will be horrific!. I support you entirely I just feel that vulnerable people are denied a voice if they have something useful to say, I feel that the campaign would have to change legislation to name and shame officers and other employees that abuse vulnerable whether it be physical, mental, emotional, financial or otherwise.

Care has to be determined and defined by both the able and disabled.

Delyth Jenkins said...

Anon 21.19

No offence taken I promise you, I was just clarifying what I meant.
If you want to get in touch with me, I promise you total confidentiality. I can provide cneifiwr with my contact details, and he might be willing to pass them on to you. I am totally on the side of the vulnerable, I wouldn't have fought for the last 8 years otherwise. I have seen a lot of very good carers. What some of them need is support and nurturing, and good role models as managers. What I have seen, I am afraid, is Managers being employed for their willingness to collude, rather than for their capability and qualification to manage.
I have seen Managers who are extremely bad role models. This must stop, and the only way to do this is to have a totally new management structure within the social care service, from the top down. This is the only way forward, and I will not give up until this happens.

Anonymous said...

Would appreciate that Delyth, think there is a lot of lobbying to do to get things moving!

Delyth Jenkins said...

That's fine. I will pass on my contact details as suggested.